Wednesday, August 17, 2011
An excuse to write about Chet Lemon
By David Schoenfield
If you're too young to remember Chet Lemon, he was a superb ballplayer. He could them run down in center field -- in fact, his 512 putouts with the White Sox in 1977 remains the American League record, not bad for a guy who had converted from third base as a rookie the year before. He hit .300 three times, had some power, drew some walks, got hit by 10 to 20 pitches a season. He did a lot to help his teams win.
Being tagged out was a familiar feeling for former Tigers outfielder Chet Lemon, shown being picked off first base in the 1984 All-Star game.
What Chet Lemon wasn't very good at was stealing bases.
(How did Chet Lemon's name came up today, you ask? I was talking with SweetSpot contributor Christina Kahrl about Kirk Gibson, which led to the 1984 Tigers, which led to Chet Lemon, which led to Christina making a comment about his basestealing abilities.)
Sure enough, Lemon was terrible on the bases; for his career, he had 56 stolen bases and 78 caught stealing. That included an 0-for-7 campaign in 1983 (Pete Runnels once went 0-for-10, the single-season "record"), a 5-for-14 season and a 7-for-18 year. Is his career percentage of 41.8 percent the worst ever?
Actually, not quite. Among players with at least 100 attempts, he's third:
Pat Duncan: 55 for 139, 39.6 percent
Buddy Bell: 55 for 134, 41.0 percent
Duncan was a left fielder with the Reds from 1919 through 1924, a career .307 hitter. But he had one season where he was 12 for 40 on the bases and another where he was 7 for 25. Here's a photo of Duncan from 1923.
Buddy Bell you probably know about. Bell went 7 for 22 in his second season and didn't run much after that, but must have been on the wrong end of enough busted hit-and-runs (he was 5 for 24 with the Indians from 1976 through '78 and later had a 2-for-10 season with the Reds). Those Indians teams were actually something else. The '76 squad had 75 SB, 69 CS, helped by Duane Kuiper's 10 for 27. In '77, they were even at 87 and 87. In '78, they were 64 and 63. Kuiper, by the way, was 52 for 123 (42.2 percent). But he made up for it with his power.