Sunday, June 26, 2022

1986 Sportflics Decade Greats - Lemon/Newcombe/Roberts


Bob Lemon originally came up with the Indians as a third baseman, appearing in five games each in 1941 and 1942. After three years in the Navy, he returned as the team's Opening Day center fielder in 1946. His diving catch on April 30th saved Bob Feller's no-hitter against the Yankees. However, Lemon was struggling at the plate, and several players who had played against him in the Navy convinced manager Lou Boudreau to move Lemon to the mound, where he had excelled in wartime ball. Lemon reluctantly agreed and quickly became a star. From 1948 to 1956 he was one of the best pitchers in the American League, winning at least 20 games in seven of those nine seasons. Overall in 13 seasons he went 207-128 with 1,277 strikeouts and a 3.23 ERA. After his career he managed three teams, most notably the Yankees for whom he famously became the calming presence the team needed when he joined in mid-1978 and led the comeback from 14.5 games out to a World Championship. He died in 2000.

Don Newcombe came up with the Dodgers in 1949 and immediately had a big impact, going 56-29 over his first three seasons. He lost his age-26 and -27 seasons to military service in Korea, but returned in 1954 and had his best two seasons in 1955 and 1956, going 47-12. After that he struggled to maintain his form, struggles that he later attributed to severe alcoholism. He spent some time in Cincinnati, Cleveland and Japan but never consistently returned to his original form. Overall in 12 seasons he went 153-96 with 1,187 strikeouts and a 3.57 ERA. After his playing career, he was able to conquer his alcoholism, and devoted much of his time to helping others do the same. He died in 2019.

Robin Roberts was probably the best pitcher in the National League during the first half of the 1950s. He won 20 games each year from 1950 to 1955, leading the NL in wins each year from 1952 to 1955, and in strikeouts in 1953 and 1954. In 1957 he turned 30, and he struggled to make the transition from power pitcher to finesse artist. After going 1-10 with the Phillies in 1961 he was released by the team, and he signed with the Yankees, who feared losing some pitchers to the military draft. He spent the first month of the '62 season with the Yankees but never appeared in a game. He was released by the Yankees and signed with the Orioles, and also spent time with the Astros and Cubs before retiring after the 1966 season. Overall in 19 seasons he went  286-245 with 2,357 strikeouts and a 3.41 ERA. Roberts was involved in a lot of different pursuits, including owning restaurants and being president of a frozen shrimp company while still an active big leaguer. After his career he owned a minor league hockey team, was a broker for Lehman Brothers, and coached the University of South Florida baseball team from 1977 to 1985. He died in 2010.