Bob Lemon, pitcher-outfielder
Padres: 1958 At the age of 26, after eight seasons of pro ball, Bob Lemon focused on pitching. It was the start of a Hall of Fame (1976) career. He was a twenty-game winner for the Cleveland Indians seven times in nine years, anchoring their 1948 and 1954 pennant-winning ballclubs. Having compiled a 207-128 record in the big leagues, physical problems brought him to the minor leagues and San Diego for a final comeback attempt. Team owner C. Arnholt Smith had just built a new ballpark in Mission Valley.
[Bob Lemon, interview by Jim Smith, 19 February 1995, tape recording.]
Westgate Park in 1958? Ralph Kiner, the general manager, told me the contractor had put in only nine lockers in the clubhouses. So Ralph says, “That’s not enough.” And he [the builder] says, “How many men are on the club?” Ralph says, “Well, nine–but there’s certainly a lot more coming . . .” Ralph was quite shocked, but they had it ready for the opening.
It was brand new. A very fine park. It accommodated the fans very well. They were very close. There wasn’t a bad seat in the house. Everything modern, well-groomed–the upkeep was outstanding. One of the best minor league clubs I’d ever played on. I thought the lights were outstanding, with a nice sod infield and outfield.
Of course, Lane Field had trouble with fog at times. The lights didn’t do much good then. I played exhibition games there with Bob Feller in the late ’40s. We started barnstorming in ’46 and ’47 and played Satchel Paige’s and Jackie Robinson’s all stars there at Lane Field. That was in the winter, after our season, when they allowed us thirty days and we played 34-36 games. We traveled by Flying Tiger DC-3s. Anyway, I thought it was a fine ballpark. Of course, after playing in Long Beach at Rec Park, where there wasn’t a blade of grass inside the fences, playing on grass was something.
When I came to the Padres in 1958, George Metkovich was the manager (we played together at Cleveland in ’46). And I knew Les Cook, the trainer, from our exhibition games. He recalled some of the old days, as did Jimmie Reese, who was a coach at Westgate and of course had played at Lane. I had surgery that winter and was just trying to get my arm strong enough to come back, but by that time everything else was breaking down. I was thirty-eight-years old, pitched [2-5] and played left field ’cause George asked me. It beat sitting on the bench and not playing. I came to San Diego because of the connection with Cleveland. They “outrighted” me there, assigned my contract there.
When the season was completed, I got a release slip from Ralph: no letter, no nuthin’. I called him and says, “I thought we were friends. The least you could do was write me a letter.” He says,” Ah, I always wanted to release a big league star.” We are good friends. We were on Cleveland together [in 1955].
When I came to the Padres the Pacific Coast League was “open classification.” There were some on their way up, others had been there–it was a mixture. It was a good league. Major league expansion? Earlier, I had heard about a plan for Connie Mack [of the Philadelphia Athletics] to move to L.A. but it didn’t come through. Bill Veeck had once researched it, too. We knew it was inevitable.
Growing up, I saw some of the great PCL players at Wrigley Field [Los Angeles]: Bill Rumler, Jimmie Reese, and an outstanding outfielder, Arnold [“Jigger”] Statz. My favorite was Dudley Lee, ’cause I played shortstop. He was a flashy dude–him and Johnny Kerr.