He pitched two scoreless innings in the 1952 World Series against the powerhouse New York Yankees and in parts of five major league seasons in total, but Ken Lehman experienced his greatest success on the diamond in Montreal.
In three seasons with the Montreal Royals from 1953 to 1955, the six-foot left-hander won a Junior World Series in 1953, tied for the team lead with 18 wins in 1954 and topped the International League with 22 victories in 1955.
He also tossed a seven-inning perfect game for the Royals against the Columbus Jets on August 18, 1955.
But the true highlight of Lehman’s tenure in Montreal was meeting his wife Patricia, whom he would be married to for more than 50 years.
Born in 1928 in Seattle, Lehman attended high school in Kirkland, Wash., and was scouted by the Brooklyn Dodgers while he was pitching for the Kirkland Shipyard semi-pro squad as a 16-year-old. The Dodgers signed him in 1946.
The following year, Lehman reported to the Dodgers’ Class-D affiliate in Valdosta, where he posted a 2.49 ERA in 21 appearances before being promoted to Class-C Santa Barbara. In 1948, he tallied 17 wins with the Idaho Falls Russets of the Class-C Pioneer League and he would notch another 16 victories with Class-A Pueblo in 1949, before he was assigned to the Dodgers’ Triple-A Pacific Coast League Hollywood Stars in 1950.
Later that year, he enlisted in the U.S. army and fought in the Korean War for a year and a half, before returning to win three games in four starts for the Triple-A St. Paul Saints in 1952. That was enough to earn him his first big league call-up from Brooklyn. He would make three regular season starts for the pennant-winning Dodgers and appear in Game 2 of the World Series, where he held a Yankees lineup featuring Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto and Mickey Mantle off the scoreboard in the eighth and ninth innings.
In 1953, Lehman was assigned to Montreal and won 13 games to help the Royals win the league championship and the Junior World Series.
Unfortunately, Lehman found himself behind Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine, Russ Meyer, Billy Loes, Preacher Roe and Johnny Podres in the competition for a big league rotation spot, so he returned to Montreal in 1954, where he pitched alongside Tommy Lasorda and in front of a young outfielder named Roberto Clemente. Lehman would post an 18-10 record and a 3.35 ERA to help the Royals to a second-place finish.
Assigned to Montreal again in 1955, Lehman put together his finest professional season, finishing with a 22-9 record and a 2.76 ERA in 32 starts. But this still wasn’t enough to earn him a promotion from the Dodgers.
Lehman did, however, crack the Dodgers roster as a reliever and spot starter the following spring and he proceeded to post a 5.66 ERA in 25 appearances. But after heading north with the Dodgers again in 1957, he was sold to the Baltimore Orioles that June for $30,000. It was with the O’s that Lehman enjoyed his most successful stretch in the big leagues, compiling an 8-3 record and a 2.78 ERA in 30 appearances that season.
The versatile southpaw was almost equally effective with the Orioles in 1958 (3.48 ERA in 31 games), before he was claimed on waivers by the Philadelphia Phillies on October 2, 1958. He spent two more seasons in Triple-A prior to landing a spot in the Phils’ bullpen in 1961.
Lehman was traded to the Cleveland Indians on March 20, 1962, but he toiled in Triple-A for the entire campaign and opted to retire following the season.
Lehman returned to his home state and coached the University of Washington baseball team from 1964 to 1971 and then took a job as a bus driver and field house janitor for the Mount Baker School District.
He and his wife, Patricia, settled in Whatcom County with their three children, Bruce, Leeza and Mark. Leeza told the Seattle Times that her father could tell some great stories about his playing days, but he wasn’t boastful about his big league past.
“He never brought up any of that kind of stuff unless people asked about it,” she told the Seattle Times. “He wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I used to play pro ball. Did you know I know so-and-so? Did you know I played with Jackie Robinson? Did you know this? Did you know that?’ If somebody would find out, or send him a letter or something, he would be happy to talk to somebody about it, but he was never the first one to say that, so you never thought anything about him.”
In the final years of their lives, Lehman and his wife, Patricia, resided with Leeza. Patricia passed away on November 11, 2010 and Lehman died just three weeks later.
“He was a tremendous guy that knew how to pitch in the big leagues,” Lehman’s former teammate Tommy Lasorda told the Seattle Times. “A typical Dodger player; hard-nosed, and when he was on that mound, he was tough. Outstanding guy. I was shocked when I heard about his death.”
*This is the 11th article in my series about members of the 1954 Montreal Royals. You can read my articles about Roberto Clemente, Billy Harris, Don Thompson, Gino Cimoli,Chico Fernandez, Glenn Cox , Joe Black, Ed Roebuck, Jack Cassini and Bobby Wilson by clicking on their names.