The Yankees' Winning Formula? A New Manager Who Is Calm, Agreeable and Not Billy Martin

Manager Bob Lemon was being photographed in the clubhouse before a game at Yankee Stadium. Outfielder Reggie Jackson sat down to talk about his bruised thumb. “Boy,” Reggie said to Lemon, “when I hang around you, I get my picture taken.” “Do you think they’ll name a candy bar after me?” the manager asked wryly. “No,” said Jackson, “but they might name a fruit after you.”

They laughed, which is more than either was doing barely two months ago. Although he was UPl’s American League manager of the year with the Chicago White Sox in 1977, Lemon was fired in June after the Sox began the 1978 season badly. Unruffled, the former big league pitcher planned to attend Old Timer games and go to Mexico to fish. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be here,” he says now, looking around his New York office.

The defending champion Yankees, meanwhile, had been floundering under Billy Martin, whose summer of discontent ended when he publicly bad-mouthed both Jackson and Yankee owner George Steinbrenner. His resignation/firing came on July 24; the team was 10 games out of first place.

Lemon, a former manager of the Kansas City Royals and New York’s pitching coach in 1976, had been out of work 24 days when he got a 1:30 a.m. phone call at his Long Beach, Calif. home. It was from Yankee President Al Rosen. The next day Lemon was trying on pinstripes; in the two months following, the Yankees caught the Red Sox, then passed them at a gallop.

“The players are the ones that turned it around,” demurs the manager. “I just put in the lineup I saw beat the Dodgers in the World Series last fall.” Indeed, coinciding with Lemon’s arrival were the return of injured players (Mickey Rivers, Willie Randolph, Bucky Dent), the rejuvenation of Catfish Hunter and performances by other stars commensurate with their astronomical salaries. “I was dumb as hell in Chicago,” chuckles Lemon, “and I’m supposed to be smart as hell here.”

But Yankee coach Dick Howser, who had been mentioned as a possible successor to Martin, says, “Lemon was perfect to pick in our situation.” Adds Jackson, who was all but benched by Martin, “Lem believes in me. That’s a lot different from playing for a guy who just wants you to look bad.”

The Yankee clubhouse is, in fact, almost boringly serene. “He’s a real player’s manager,” says second baseman Randolph. “If you can’t play for Lem,” sums up Hunter, “you can’t play for anyone.”

Now 58, Lemon has been in baseball for 40 years. He shed his uniform only once after his playing career ended, whereupon he proved to be a bushleague insurance salesman. “I guess I didn’t have the right personality,” he says. The son of a semipro ballplayer, he signed with Cleveland at 17 for $300. Originally an infielder, he returned from World War II to pitch 13 years for the Indians and win 207 games. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1976.

Lemon and wife Jane have owned the same house in Long Beach for 29 years; they have three children. But Bob has been living alone in a New Jersey hotel since July. “After 40 years in the game,” he says philosophically, “you get used to it.”

In the off-season he likes to fish, play golf and loaf. “I can loaf as good as anybody,” Lemon boasts. “I’m happy just to sit around and watch TV.” He may have more time for that come 1980. In one of the more bizarre arrangements in baseball history, Steinbrenner says that after next season Lemon will become general manager and Martin will return to run the team.

Meantime Lemon hopes to become the first mid-season managerial transplant to win an American League pennant. What would he do on the night they clinch? Same thing he does after every game—”Get rid of the press and have a drink.”

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