There might not be a Hall of Fame story that is as unlikely as Bob Lemon's. It wasn't until five seasons after his MLB debut that Lemon would make his first pitching start and yet 13 seasons later he had established himself as the leading workhorse pitcher in the American League and also a Cleveland Indians' fan favorite. This list of the top Bob Lemon cards takes a look at his expansive cardboard history, including his years as a successful manager, and helps you identify the more valuable and notable options.
Like his future teammate Bob Feller, Lemon signed with the Indians when he was just 17 years old. Also like Feller, he lost several years of his career to service in the Navy during World War II. Upon his return to the game during the 1946 season, he took up pitching full time. Feller would develop into the second starter on one of the greatest pitching line-ups in history, including Bob Feller, Early Wynn and Mike Garcia. The formidable rotation helped the team win the 1948 World Series and set the single-season victory record for the American League at 111 wins in 1954. Over the course of his career, Lemon would lead the league in innings pitched four times and complete games five times.
There are a few Bob Lemon cards that didn't make the final cut but certainly should be included in a complete collection. Before becoming the manager of the Royals, White Sox, and Yankees, Lemon was a pitching coach for the Indians and was featured on the 1960 Topps Indians' coaches card. His 1978 Topps card features him as the White Sox manager and a "remember when" photo from his playing days.
Although Lemon didn't have a proper 1953 Topps card, you can find one mocked-up in 1991 Topps Archives The Ultimate 1953 set. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1974, Lemon was also included in the memorable 1983 Donruss Hall of Fame Heroes set featuring Dick Perez original art. In 2015 Topps Archives you can find a Lemon card with the 1976 Topps design, giving Lemon collectors an oddball addition to his cardboard resume.
Like his career, the list of the top Bob Lemon cards is a distinctive collection of his best cardboard choices, including some from his time as a manager. While value was a main factor in determining the rankings, weight was also put on developing a strong, complete collection of Bob Lemon cards.
Are there any other Bob Lemon cards that you think deserve a place on the list? Let us know in the comments.
Top 10 Bob Lemon Baseball Cards
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While it barely qualifies as a traditional card for Bob Lemon, this 1979 Topps subset card is for the entire New York Yankees team and it is an important card for Lemon as it was the year he managed the Yanks to a World Series title. After Billy Martin resigned halfway through the season, Lemon was named manager. Fired from the White Sox just a month earlier, when Lemon led the Yankees to the championship, he became the first American League manager to do so after taking over a team midway through the season.
Before winning MLB Manager of the Year Awards for both the White Sox and Yankees, Bob Lemon started his career as a skipper with the Kansas City Royals. He led them to their first winning season in their existence and his 1971 Topps card was his first as a manager. At its release, the 1971 set was unique for its black design and lower-case lettering of the player's name and position.
Bob Lemon has a few jersey cards featured in several SP Legendary Cuts sets in the early 2000s for collectors to choose from. His card in the 2001 set was his first and the design is based on the infield dirt. This actually works very well in combination with his Indians' aged woolen jersey swatch.
1957 Topps is a personal favorite because of the full-color photography and it also gives you a good idea of what batters faced when he was on the mound. Bob Lemon would often hold the ball behind him as he got the sign from the catcher (as pictured on the card) and he would then throw one of the best sliders in the league.
Lemon passed away in 2000, resulting in very few certified autograph cards. Several of these options are from Upper Deck, who included Lemon cut autographs into a few of their SP Legendary Cuts products. Obviously, each cut is different, so there is quite a bit of variation in the structure of the autograph used. It might be a well-placed index card autograph, as in the card pictured below, or it might be a signature cut from a photograph that doesn't blend as well with the surrounding design.
Bob Lemon had Bowman cards in each of the sets from 1949 to 1955, which is a rare feat during the years of contract disputes with Topps. Even more rare, though, is that Lemon escaped the image duplication issue that was frequently seen in Bowman as he has six different images over the course of his cards. The reverse side of his 1951 card reminds collectors of Lemon's strength at the bat which was where he began his career before moving to the mound in 1946.
The black-and-white photograph on Lemon's 1953 Bowman card is one of the best of the set and features Bob gripping the ball and preparing to throw his signature slider. 1953 saw Lemon appear in his sixth of seven consecutive All-Star games and he led the league in innings pitched.
Bob Lemon first debuted on a Topps card in the 1952 set. One of the innovations Sy Berger brought to trading cards in the 1952 set was the inclusion of team logos for the first time with the Indians logo certainly being one of the most striking.
1950 Bowman is a good reminder for collectors to always pay attention to details. For nearly every other early set made by Bowman and Topps, it is the high-numbered cards that typically command an increased price because of their scarcity. However, in 1950 Bowman, it is the first series of cards (#1-72) that have proven to be more scarce and hold more value. Because of this, Lemon's second-year card can still reach $150+ for nicely graded versions.
Bob Lemon's playing career started just after Play Ball stopped issuing cards and so he would have to wait until he was a two-time All-Star to get his first trading card in the 1949 Bowman set. Because Lemon's card is in the final series, a nameplate is included on the front. The earlier series (#1-#108) don't feature the player's name. Mid-to-high graded versions of his card can reach over several hundred dollars at auction.