Detroit Tigers History

Detroit Tigers: A Chet Lemon value appreciation post

ANAHEIM, CA: Chet Lemon of the Detroit Tigers bats against the California Angels at the Big A in Anahiem, California. (Photo by Owen C. Shaw/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CA: Chet Lemon of the Detroit Tigers bats against the California Angels at the Big A in Anahiem, California. (Photo by Owen C. Shaw/Getty Images) /
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Growing up as a Detroit Tigers fan in the ’80s, names like Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Jack Morris, and others come to your mind. The image of Sparky Anderson on the steps with his pipe and his glasses may also come to mind.

One image that stands out in the TV medium was this “highlight reel” catch by Tigers centerfield Chet Lemon.

Fun fact. The catch in the WDIV promo was from a July 24 1983 game against the Angels. You can piece together based on the SABR Bio Project piece by Mike McClary, which is the inspiration behind this post.

A Cliff Notes version of the Detroit Tigers trade for Chet Lemon

Our site historian Sebastian Oslund did a great job discussing Chet Lemon and Larry Herndon in a four-part series for Black History Month last year and how pivotal they were to the 1984 championship. In this case, I wanted to focus just on Chet. Now, there are several people who do not like that baseball is driven by stats and do not want to hear about WAR but in this case, it will be a key dynamic.

Until Miguel Cabrera, Chet Lemon in terms of WAR was the best return on a trade the Detroit Tigers ever have had.  General Manager Jim Campbell had traded a fan favorite and the first overall pick in the 1976 January draft Steve Kemp to the White Sox for Lemon. (Correction, thank you to the reader who pointed this out. Norm Cash had the highest WAR until Miguel Cabrera.)

But Campbell had his eye on Chet for quite some time.

"“Lemon is a player we’ve had our eyes on for a long time,” Campbell said. “He hits for power and average and is one of the better defensive outfielders in our league.”"

Manager Sparky Anderson wanted a right-handed bat for a lineup at the time that was primarily left-handed.

"“It was a question of what I wanted to look at (from home plate) from a pitching point of view. Last year, we look at about 42 percent left-handed pitching”"

Instead of the avenue of social media, fans took the Free Press to air their grievances about the trade at

the time.

Chet Lemon by the numbers

For how much we remember Chet Lemon as a hard-nosed player and making the clutch plays,  let’s look at his stats.

  • 15th all-time in terms of WAR among Detroit Tigers players (30.7)
  • 20th all-time in Tigers history in home runs with 145.
  • 3rd highest career WAR among offense regulars on the 1984 Detroit Tigers World Series team.
  • His career 55.6 WAR between Detroit and Chicago in 16 seasons is better than his former Hall-of-Fame teammate Harold Baines in 22 seasons. (Yes, Baines had better offensive numbers but still found that interesting.)

Overall, among the many moves Jim Campbell made, Chet Lemon is among one of his best.

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