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Today in White Sox History: February 12

A fleet center fielder is born

Texas Rangers vs Chicago White Sox
Chet Lemon enjoys a moment of reading repose on the concrete floor of his Arlington Stadium locker before a White Sox game at Texas in 1980.
Set Number: X24506 TK1 R4


Chet Lemon, who would become the best defensive center fielder in White Sox history, is born in Jackson, Miss.

Moving to Los Angeles at a young age, Lemon played youth baseball with Hall-of-Famers Eddie Murray and Ozzie Smith, and was drafted in the first round out of high school at age 17 by Oakland. However, just three years later the A’s shipped Lemon and Dave Hamilton to the White Sox for Stan Bahnsen and Skip Pitlock. (The shortsightedness of the deal can be forgiven in that Oakland was trying for a fourth consecutive World Series title.)

Ironically, the future defensive wizard was poor with the glove at his drafted positions, shortstop-third base. After the White Sox acquired him and Chuck Tanner noticed how aggressive Lemon was at third base in his short call-up to the White Sox in 1975, the White Sox moved him to center — where he had played just 10 games in his life.

After a strong rookie year in 1976 that saw Lemon make the Topps Rookie All-Star Team, he exploded in 1977. At just age 22, Lemon slugged with the best of the South Side Hit Men (38 doubles, 19 homers, .804 OPS). Moreover, he set AL records for both putouts (411) and chances (431) — records that have yet to be broken.

Lemon remained the best two-way player on the White Sox and was at times the only star on the roster during the lean years of the late 1970s and early 1980s. After agreeing to a contract extension but then pulling out after the White Sox signed Carlton Fisk in 1981 to a bigger deal, the White Sox shipped Lemon to the Detroit Tigers after the 1981 season. He went on to win a World Series with Detroit in 1984.

For his major league career, Lemon ranks ninth all-time in range factor in center field (2.83) and 29th all-time as an outfielder overall (2.65). JAWS ranks Lemon as the 21st-best center fielder ever to play the game.

In White Sox annals, Lemon is the 18th-best position player all-time (24.9 WAR) and ranks 16th in offensive win percentage (.610).