- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Jim Lemon, former outfielder for the original Washington Senators and manager of the expansion Senators, died Sunday at his home in Brandon, Miss., at 78. He had melanoma.

Lemon was one of four right-handed sluggers who turned the Senators into a hard-hitting club in the late 1950s after owner Calvin Griffith installed a beer garden at Griffith Stadium that lessened the distance to the left-field wall from 405 to 350 feet.

The quartet had its most productive season in 1959, when Harmon Killebrew hit 42 home runs, Lemon 33, Bob Allison 30 and Roy Sievers 21. However, poor pitching doomed the team to last place in the American League with a 63-91 record.

“Jim was a very nice, gentle man, different than most ballplayers,” said Bob Wolff, a longtime broadcaster for the club who had Lemon as a member of his “Singing Senators” group that performed on NBC’s “Today” show in the late 1950s.

Lemon had his best year in 1960 with 38 home runs and 100 RBI as the Senators improved to fifth place with a 73-81 record before moving to Minnesota. In 12 seasons with Cleveland, Washington, Minnesota, Philadelphia and the Chicago White Sox, he batted .262 with 164 home runs and 529 RBI.

Lemon’s biggest game came in August 1956, when he hit three consecutive home runs off Whitey Ford, the New York Yankees’ ace left-hander and a future Hall of Famer. President Dwight Eisenhower was at the game and congratulated Lemon afterward.

“I think we had 28,000 at the game that night,” Lemon once told The Washington Post. “I’m convinced now we must have had 428,000. At least a dozen guys have claimed they caught two of the homers.”

At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, big for his day, Lemon was merely an ordinary outfielder without much range. At the plate, his highest batting average was .284 in 1957, but the next season he fell to .246, although his home run total increased from 17 to 26. When it came to swinging a bat, Big Jim was pretty much an all-or-nothing guy.

After earlier managing in the minors, Lemon returned to Washington as manager of the expansion Senators when Gil Hodges defected to the New York Mets after the 1967 season. The Senators finished 10th and last with a 65-96 record in 1968, the final season before the American League split into two divisions.

When Bob Short bought the club during the offseason, he replaced Lemon with Hall of Fame hitter Ted Williams, under whom the Senators improved to 86-76 in 1969. After that, Lemon left baseball momentarily and operated a grocery store in Hyattsville. In the 1980s, he returned to the game as a hitting instructor and scout in the Twins’ minor league system.

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