Chet Lemon

February 11, 2010

My wife, friends, family, cats, job, hopes, dreams: all these things should probably not expect too much from me over the next couple months, as I will be involved in not one but two imaginary baseball leagues that are already threatening to make a ghost out of me in this world. The second of the two leagues won’t be starting for a couple weeks, and it will heavily involve the 1977 Boston Red Sox and my first addiction (if you don’t count television), Strat-O-Matic, but I’ll talk more about that when it gets underway. Today I want, with your help, to address a pressing issue concerning the team I have in the first league, which has had its draft and which is days away from its first games.

This league is situated in the fevered minds of its players and on the web at Rob Neyer Baseball. Rob invited me to be a part of a “media league” along with the following fellow managers: Craig Calcaterra, Gordon Edes, Jonah Keri, Rany Jazayerli, Bob Keisser, Richard Lally, Norm Wamer, Carson Cistulli, the namesake of the site himself, and two of the site’s guru/owners, Barry Koren and Charles Wolfson. (The latter two handicapped themselves with a lower salary cap than the rest of us, which will make it so much more enjoyable when they beat our asses anyway.)

Speaking as a longtime addict of simulated baseball, I give the game itself high marks in its ability to destroy entire days, and I’m saying that even before the season starts. The player pool is vast and the amount of time that can be spent considering all the variables of team-building seems to be infinite. Partly to limit the variables so as to save my sanity, and partly because I live in the 1970s, and partly because I honestly (albeit unobjectively) believe the 1970s and maybe a little of the 1980s to be the historical peak of baseball, I decided to forego the joys of selecting deadball era guys named Three-Finger or Smokey or members of the Gas House Gang or steroidal juicers or Negro Leaguers or anyone at all who had the misfortune of playing outside the era when I cared the most about the game.

This drafting strategy (which was augmented by an attempt to gather hitters and pitchers who would seem to be fairly well-suited to a ballpark that is good for home runs but not so good for batting average; I went with US Cellular, which I can take public transportation to in case the imaginary scenarios ever spill into the real world, which is the kind of thing all madmen both hope for and dread) raises a couple questions. The first—can a team formed from players from the Cardboard Gods era compete with teams drawing on players from every corner of baseball history?—will be revisited throughout the season here on this site. The second can be answered right now, with input from visitors to this site, who would know:

Who should be the captain of my squad?

The card at the top of this page should let you know where I’m leaning, but I’m willing to put it to a vote. Before presenting the candidates (i.e., my entire roster), a couple words about Chet’s candidacy:

He is one of the better players on my team. I actually wasn’t planning to draft him, but Gordon Edes, damn him, swiped my top choice for my first pick, Jim Wynn, and I had to go back to the drawing board. Lemon offered a slightly cheaper version of the things Wynn would give me. Now that I have him I’m glad I do. From what I read, he played hard all the time, and he did everything well, definitely good things to have in a captain. Also, perhaps more importantly, a captain of my team has to have a sense of what the team is all about, and in this regard only Bill Lee and Oscar Gamble would be better qualified than Chet Lemon, who while not possessing the era-embracing quirks and iconoclasm and imagination of my top lefty starter or the epochal ecliptic Afro of my leftfielder can still definitely call himself a deep traveler in the lands of the 1970s. Chet Lemon wore the lapels of the White Sox, and wore the white hat with the giant “SOX” across the crown, and even for god’s sake wore those shorts the White Sox took the field with one day in 1976. My fellow Americans, let me conclude with this: he was the starting centerfielder on Disco Demolition Night.  

So my vote’s for Chet Lemon, but please don’t let that stop you from making the case for any of the following. (Note: I had to bend my 1975-1981 Cardboard Gods roster-inclusion rules slightly to include leadoff hitter Don Buford and bullpen catcher John Bateman, who both hung it up in 1972, and Carmelo Martinez, who didn’t make it to the majors until 1983.)

Ellie Hendricks, Tim Laudner, and John Bateman

Willie Aikens, Deron Johnson, Ron Oester, Julio Cruz, Dave Concepcion, Jerry Royster, Mike Cubbage, and Don Buford

Oscar Gamble, Chet Lemon, Bobby Bonds, Mike Jorgenson, Carmelo Martinez, and Rick Manning

Rick Reuschel, Bill Lee, Jim Beattie, Mike LaCoss, Luke Walker, Terry Forster, Kevin Saucier, Dale Murray, Warren Brusstar, Tim Stoddard, and, last but never ever least, Dick Pole 


  1. Oddly, for all my Strat-o-Matic playing, I have never been involved in a Strat-o-Matic league. However, I too am beyond psyched for the 1977 season. I’ve been jonesing for thr ’77 Yankees in Strat since I started playing (which was around ’79 or ’80).

    Josh, make it to NYC and we’ll have a Strat tourney with Pete F.

  2. Chet Lemon or Dave Concepcion would be good captains.

    Chet Lemon is/was such an underrated and under-appreciated player, which is the case for a lot of center fielders. Excellent defensive center fielder who had a career 120ops+ and ranks 168th all time in career WAR. Kind of like a slightly lesser Carlos Beltran with less power but with a higher batting average.

    How the heck did Lemon never win a gold glove? Seriously he should have easily won 7-9 gold glove awards in his career. There were seasons in Chicago where he had something like 500 put-outs in Center field. That’s why gold glove awards should be taken with a grain of salt.

    He was originally on the A’s until the White Sox traded for him. and Then the White Sox did a stupid thing and traded him for Steve Kemp.

    I wonder how those 80’s White Sox would have done with Chet Lemon instead of Rudy Law playing center field.

    On the flip side, the Tigers didn’t really have a center fielder before Lemon came, they were playing Kirk Gibson, Rick Peters, a “past his prime” Al Cowens, and Glen Wilson in Center. A lot of the Tigers success in the 80’s and part of Jack Morris’ HOF bid came from having Lemon in center instead of Glen Wilson.

  3. You might have made a case for Rick Manning as captain, as his career trajectory seems to reflects some of your forays into occasionally (if I may say so) self-flagellating autobiography. A poignant parallel might have been made — even the span of his career (1975-1987) seems to fit.

    Then again, Opening Day is just around the corner, which would seem to call for a more inspirational leader. Perhaps Manning would be a better fit as a post-mortem….

  4. Lemon had some stiff competition in centerfield for gold gloves–just when Freddy Lynn was slowing down Dwayne Murphy took over as the top dog in CF. I don’t know what the numbers say about those guys, but their anecdotal repuation as fielders was pretty sublime. Also, I think they had stronger throwing arms than Lemon.

  5. I’d go with Willie Mays Aikens. Not only is his name cool, but he can either scare the younger (the 50-year-olds, I guess) guys away from drugs or find really good drugs for them, depending on how prison has changed him.

  6. Rick Manning.

    Because Alan Ashby isn’t available, and nobody (Nobody) can “Represent” the 1970’s Cleveland Indians quite like the Man man can. He learned at the proverbial knee of Frank Robinson, and thus has a decent aptitude for open-mindedness while maintaining a good-natured ability to keep some measure of focus and decorum in what promises to be a somewhat unruly dugout. Plus he was once traded for Gorman Thomas.

  7. I like the vote for Willie Mays Aikens, and I’m definitely enjoying the grassroots groundswell for Rick Manning, especially with the added spark he could indirectly give to the team if, during a prolonged slump, I acquire Dennis Eckersley so that Rick can re-steal Eck’s wife.

    But I feel I need to bring up a potential team chemistry issue with his possible captaincy. For this I quote White Shadow, season 2, episode 2 (air date: September 24, 1979): In this episode the team is nearly ripped apart by Coach Reeves’ decision to name Salami team captain over Hayward. I fear a similar uprising could occur if a white guy (a bench guy, no less, just like Salami) is given the leadership role on a team in which the only white guys are platoonists, benchwarmers, or that brand of loner known as a pitcher.

  8. Manning can’t win the big games. Except that one time.

  9. I’d go with Ellie Hendricks, but maybe he’s more the quiet sorta guy. Actually, Chet Lemon seems right on the money. Man, he was a good player.

    Or how about Oscar Gamble’s afro as captain?

  10. Josh,

    Lynn won 3 from 1978-1980 which he probably deserved. Murphy won 6 From 1980-1985 in which he only really deserved 1, the 1980 award. And ironically he deserved the ’86 award which he didn’t win. The gold glove is odd it’s kind of like you win one award because you have a great year and then they just assume you’re doing the same thing year after year.

    Dave Winfield was not a good fielder and had no business winning 5 gold glove awards during the 80’s.

    There’s also some odd choices during Lemon’s career.

    Yaz in 1977? Juan Beniquez and Al Cowens were great with the glove in 1976 but didn’t win so they both won the award in ’77 when they were average.

    Rick Miller in 1978? Miller was very good from ’73-76 but didn’t win the award and then he won in 1978 for some reason. Sixto Lezcano in 1978?

    The gold glove is just an odd award and really shouldn’t carry much weight. It would be like awarding the “golden bat” award for the hitter with the best looking swing.

  11. Since this post is in part a shout-out to Rob Neyer Baseball, I’ll pass along the ratings in that game of some of the centerfielders during Lemon’s day. (The site is “powered by Diamond Mind”; I think Diamond Mind puts a lot of work into crunching the numbers on this kind of thing.) Only four players who appeared during that time get the game’s highest mark of “excellent”: Willie Wilson, Paul Blair, Garry Maddox, and Willie Davis. (Blair is the only one of the four rated with an above average throwing arm–his arm rates as “very good”.) Lynn, Dwayne Murphy, and Lemon are all rated as “very good” centerfielders.

    The best fielding centerfielder of all-time, according to the game, is Tris Speaker, the only “excellent” centerfielder with an “excellent” arm.

    (Is this as nerdy as an all-nite game of Dungeons and Dragons yet?!?)

  12. Chet seems a solid choice for team captain, but not just because of his stats.

    At first glance, it appears the only other player on this squad with “championship experience” is Dave Concepcion (please correct me if I’m wrong). The guys that win it all likely know what it takes to get there again. And while every other ballplayer toils through the seasons, year in and year out, feeling somewhat Sisyphean for sure, here’s a guy who has been to the top. He made the Summit!

    Not that imaginary baseball could ever factor this into the equation, so to speak, but doesn’t somebody like that, regardless of their individual performance, deserve some modicum of respect from the others?

  13. Josh,

    that Rob Neyer game looks really cool. I’m afraid to sign up for it because then I probably won’t leave my house for a month.

    How do they figure out the skills of the players? Is it just an amalgam of each individual player’s career?

  14. 4b34r:
    Besides Chet, Buford and Hendricks won titles (with Baltimore in ’70). Maybe a couple of the bullpen guys did, too. Not sure if Forster was on the Dodgers in ’81, or if Stoddard stuck around with the O’s until ’83. Was Luke Walker a ’71 Pirate? (Too lazy to look it up.) Laudner won one in ’87, I think. Really, it’s a pretty anemic collection of players, in that sense, considering the giant player pool I had at my disposal for the draft. Maybe it’ll make my guys hungrier.

    It’s my sense that each player in Rob’s game is designed to reflect an average peak season, more or less.

  15. Warren Brusstar was an ’80 Phillie and pitched in the WS.

  16. And, as mentioned previously, Concepcion was a champ with the Reds in ’75 and ’76.

    I didn’t nominate Concepcion as captain because I just read Joe Posnanski’s great book The Machine and Concepcion didn’t come across in the book as an obvious leader of men, but more the somewhat goofy, boisterous younger brother who always wanted to hang around with his big brother and friends (i.e., he wanted to be a member of the elite upper echelon on the team of Perez, Rose, Bench, and Morgan, but could never quite gain entry). His nickname among teammates was “Bozo.”

  17. Of course! Brusstar!

  18. Bill Lee is your only choice for team captain. Really, it’s not even close. Did you watch the documentary on him and his baseball travels in Cuba they were running on MLB? As someone who has been pounded from behind by Mickey Rivers, experienced every drug obtainable on Earth and still actually believes in global warming, he is an inspiration to ballplayers and humans everywhere. And Captain Spaceman just has the perfect ring to it.

  19. Hmm, maybe you could have worded what Rivers did to Lee a little differently.

  20. I’m sorry, blankeman. You’re right. I meant to say jumped by him and Nettles and driven into the ground.

  21. I know, I was just goofing on you as it struck me as funny.

  22. It’s frightening that I see “Ron Oester” and immediately think, “Reds 2b,” and “his 1981 APBA card really helped my team out.” That’s my life, knowing that Ron Oester hit .271 in ’81 and forgetting my cell phone number today. My memory works in an odd way, 1979 baseball is at my fingertips and concerns of this afternoon are lost in a fog. I shudder to think what the next 20 years will bring.

    “Hmm, maybe you could have worded what Rivers did to Lee a little differently.”– Ha ha!

  23. Here is a big shout out for Rick Reuschel . . . The Whale can wheel in the most free hot dogs. I think his brother Paul might actually be willing to saunter in with some free chili and beer.

  24. after looking at your roster I can finally conclude that you were replaced with the current managerial brain trust that is the Pittsburgh Pirates…. Once you are 20 games into the season and are only 4-16 and 10 games behaind Chet Lemon will be the sweetest fruit on this Team of a Lemon. Will you trade Rick Reuschel for a Hot Dog or will he be worth only the bun!!!! a .500 season would be a miracle let alone playoffs!!!!

  25. after looking at your roster I can finally conclude that you were replaced with the current managerial brain trust that is the Pittsburgh Pirates…. Once you are 20 games into the season and are only 4-16 and 10 games behind Chet Lemon will be the sweetest fruit on this Team of a Lemon. Will you trade Rick Reuschel for a Hot Dog or will he be worth only the bun!!!! a .500 season would be a miracle let alone playoffs!!!!

  26. “4b34r:
    Besides Chet, Buford and … Maybe it’ll make my guys hungrier.”

    Thanks for the 411, Josh. A little fact finding revealed that Luke Walker was a part of the ’71 Bucs. Threw out the first pitch in night game WS history too.

  27. “a .500 season would be a miracle”

    Ha! You’re almost certainly right, bigdaddyfilth. I mostly expect to get my clock cleaned, but to be honest there is some small part of me hoping for that miracle. I did have a plan in building this collection of flotsam and jetsam. Basically: I wanted decent power and OBP up and down the lineup, something I tried to save money on in spots by using platoons at three positions; good fielders up the middle; and fairly cheap mushballing pitchers who had a knack, if nothing else, for keeping the ball in the park. The fielding should be pretty good–only the Aikens/Deron Johnson platoon at first is iron glove territory, but what’s first base for if you can’t stash a couple clumsy manglers there? The pitching might well get beaten to death, I don’t know. I think there’s an element in the complex game in which money is funneled into a team’s budget throughout the season, so a midseason acquisition of, say, a decent pitcher is a possibility. But all this said, it’s true: I know not what I’m doing.

  28. I would err on the side of caution and choose either a cleric or “level 2” wizard with high weapons points and agility. What’s important here, Josh, are “applications.”. Are you playing with twelve, or fifteen-sided dice?

    My memory of the Kree-Skrull Wars and the Korvac/Guardians of the Galaxy conflict have grown hazy….. Before your ultimate choice of Captain, however, I suggest you peruse a certain lengthy narrative that describes Colonel Forbin’s entrance into the land of Gamehendge and his encounter with Rutherford the Brave, an errant knight, who explains the sad history of the Lizards and their subjugation by the evil King Wilson, who keeps them in check by preventing them from gaining access to the Helping Friendly Book, the sacred tome of Icculus…

  29. Chet Lemon used to live in the western suburbs of Chicago (Wheaton…fundamentalist, Billy Graham country), which is just south of the blue collar, lackluster Catholic, pre-marital sex-loving community I grew up in. I moved back to this formally blue collar town five years ago. Gave up the church. I’m about four blocks away from the small kennel Chet used to keep his dogs at when he went away on road trips. The dump is still there, and on summer nights when the breeze comes in from the west, I can hear the scared little yappers going at it. Wait: Am I supposed be voting for Chet for something? Well then, YES I vote for Chet for something. His dogs used to hang around my neighborhood, we like blood brothers.

  30. GREAT name for a new rock band: Chet Lemon’s Dogs.

  31. ‘I didn’t nominate Concepcion as captain because I just read Joe Posnanski’s great book The Machine and Concepcion didn’t come across in the book as an obvious leader of men, but more the somewhat goofy, boisterous younger brother who always wanted to hang around with his big brother and friends (i.e., he wanted to be a member of the elite upper echelon on the team of Perez, Rose, Bench, and Morgan, but could never quite gain entry). His nickname among teammates was “Bozo.”’

    Nevertheless, Concepcion actually WAS captain of the Reds later in his career. In fact I don’t even remember them having one before him, but they even put a little “C” on the front of his uniform and everything. He was still quite young during the BRM era.

  32. Perry534,

    That’s the time period I was referencing when I brought up Concepcion’s name.

  33. Well, I was looking for the sign that I should start posting comments, and I got it. As a confessed and non-recovering addict of Micro-League Baseball (Apple II discs) and current Owner/GM of the 1975 SF Giants versus the 1986 NL (current record: 53-57), I’d like to suggest Jerry Royster as your Team Captain.

    I say this for several reasons. First, Royster played every position but 1B and Catcher–he even DH’d a few times. Further, he played on winners and losers, so he knows intimately the ups and downs of the game. Finally, making Royster your team captain at this level could serve him well if he ever gets another shot at managing in the big leagues.

  34. My vote (if I have one) goes to Don Buford. (1) He, along with Deron Johnson, is clearly one of the “veterans” of your squad. (2) He “knows how to win”, having been part of the 69-71 Orioles team. (3) He knows how to play “small ball” having been a part of some anemically hitting White Sox teams; this may be a critical skill given the relative lack of firepower on your roster:)(4) Anyone who led the AL in caught stealing three times in four years must have the kind of fortitude that your team is going to need (5) I remember watching him sprint up and down the 1st base line as a 68 year old coach of the Washingon Nationals in 2005; in that off season he took one for the team by being fired so that management could gutlessly send a warning to Frank Robinson.
    Best of luck, but around game 90 be open to making some trading deadline deals and moving your talent to a contender in exchange for prospects (say, a 21 year old kid named Eddie Murray and a 22 year old hurler named Jack Morris)

  35. Very early returns on this team are in, and if they are an accurate preview of how the season will go it seems I am indeed a moron of team-building: the squad is 1-3, showing a porous defense, an inept pitching staff, and an offense capable only of jacking a solo home run every several innings, nothing more. I want a do-over!

  36. yes, you do indeed have a lemon of a team. the only real way to have any chance at all is to put dick pole in charge and have opponents laugh their asses off while you sneak out little victories. team nickname: pole position. or, of course, the dickheads. (yes, i’m only three and a half years old.)

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