- 3B, CF, DH, OF, LF, RF, 2B
- The Jet
- March 12, 1955
- 190 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 9-09-1975 with CHA
“Chet wasn’t a very good outfielder at first because he came up as an infielder and made the change but Chet worked very hard. He hustled, he learned. He had trouble running the bases at first despite the fact that he was fast, but he picked up.” — Jimmy Piersall, from an interview with Mark Liptak
Detroit Tiger fan-favorite Chet Lemon set a single-season major league record for putouts by an outfielder in just his second season. In one of the best trades in Tiger history, he was dealt to Detroit prior to the 1982 season for Steve Kemp, and finished his career with the team, starring on the 1984 World Series champions. He was an excellent outfielder and had good power at the plate, hitting 20 homers three times.
Lemon was drafted in the first round (22 overall) of the 1972 Major League Baseball Draft by the Oakland Athletics out of John C. Fremont High School in Los Angeles, California. Midway through his fourth season in Oakland's farm system, Lemon was dealt to the Chicago White Sox with Dave Hamilton for Stan Bahnsen and Skip Pitlock. He batted .307 with eight home runs and 49 runs batted in for the triple A Denver Bears to earn a call up to the White Sox that September.
Chicago White Sox
An infielder in the minor leagues, Lemon played third base during his brief stint with the Chisox in 1975. He entered Spring training 1976 as the leading candidate for the third base job, but after failing to impress manager Paul Richards with his glove, was moved to the outfield. He made the transition seamlessly, as he made only three errors all season while logging a .992 fielding percentage in centerfield. He batted .246 with four home runs, 38 RBIs and 46 runs scored to earn Topps Rookie All-Star honors.
He came into his own as both a hitter and centerfielder in 1977. He scored a career high 99 runs, while showing a dramatic increase in power, hitting fifteen more home runs than he had his rookie season. He also set an American League record with 524 total chances and 512 putouts in the outfield.
With the White Sox in sixth place in the American League West, ahead only of the expansion Seattle Mariners, Lemon was selected as his team's lone representative at the 1978 All-Star Game. Though he did not receive an at-bat, he entered the game in left field in the eighth inning, and committed an error in the National League's four run eighth. The Chisox finished the season in fifth, eventually passing the Oakland A's in the standings. Lemon went 2-for-5 on the second to last day of the season to bring his season batting average to .300. He sat out his team's final game.
In 1979, Lemon was again the sole White Sox player on the American League All-Star team. He entered the game in the second inning, and scored in the third after being hit by a Joaquin Andujar pitch. He ended the season with a .318 batting average and 86 RBIs, both career highs. He also hit 44 doubles, tying the Milwaukee Brewers' Cecil Cooper for the American League season best total.
The White Sox finished near the bottom of the division standings during most of Lemon's tenure with the club. With the addition of free agent catcher Carlton Fisk and designated hitter Greg Luzinski, the team improved to 31-22 and finished in third in the first half of the strike shortened 1981 season. For his part, Lemon batted .299 with three home runs and 22 RBIs in the first half. Though his team finished in sixth place in the second half, Lemon's stats improved, as he batted .305 with six home runs and drove in 28. Following the season, Lemon was traded to the Detroit Tigers for outfielder Steve Kemp.
Lemon joined a Tiger team with a talented, young nucleus of Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Jack Morris, Kirk Gibson and Lance Parrish. The team got off to a 35-5 start in 1984, and went on to take the American League East by fifteen games over the Toronto Blue Jays. Lemon arguably had his best season in 1984, as he hit .287 with twenty home runs and 76 RBIs, and collected a .990 fielding percentage while handling 421 total chances. He was also the starting center fielder for the American League at the 1984 All-Star game.
Reaching the post-season for the first time in his career, Lemon went hitless in thirteen at-bats in the Tigers' three game sweep of the Kansas City Royals in the 1984 American League Championship Series. He showed dramatic improvement in the World Series, batting .294 with a run scored and a run batted in.
In 1988, Lemon moved from center field to right field to make room for speedy new acquisition Gary Pettis. On September 20, he hit his 200th career home run off the Cleveland Indians's Scott Bailes. In the same game, Darrell Evans hit his 400th career home run.
Following the 1990 season, he became ill with a serious spleen disease, polycythemia vera. In December 1990, Lemon successfully underwent surgery at the University of Michigan. He attempted a comeback with the Tigers in 1991, but was unsuccessful, and retired. Shortly after his retirement, he required a second surgery.
Lemon recorded 400 or more outfield putouts in five different seasons, an American League record. He also had a unique ability to be hit by a pitch; in the 1980s, he was second only to Don Baylor by getting plunked 108 times. He also had a penchant for diving headfirst into first base.