In the summer of 1938, a tall, thin, good-looking 17-year-old
infielder from California came to Oswego,
New York with a dream and a $100.00 a month contract to play baseball.
The Cleveland Indians had just signed Bob
Lemon, a lefty hitter, and his passion to play professional baseball
began to be realized with the Oswego Netherlands. The “NETS”,
as they were called by The Palladium Sports Editor, Russ Gill, were the
local entry of the Canadian-American Class C Minor Baseball League.
Many a tranquil afternoon was spent by hundreds of fans at Otis Field watching
their local heroes do battle in a weekend doubleheader against the Ogdensburg
Although the Nets were successful on the field, it was always a constant struggle to keep the team in Oswego and solvent. Many dedicated business, civic and church leaders worked all year long to maintain fan support and solicit funds. Local sports pioneer, the legendary Max Ziel, would organize benefit basketball games against teams from Syracuse that would pack the Oswego Armory on cold January nights. In the spring, the Oswego Netherlands would play exhibition games against “barnstorming” teams such as the “House of David”. The full-bearded “House of David” players would take the field attired in long jackets and tall hats, and play baseball while riding mules.
Under the tutelage of manager Blaine Kunes, the Nets, then nicknamed the "Kunesmen” played an aggressive style of baseball. Led by such players as the flashy outfielder, Arnie Cohen, who later settled in Oswego and worked at the Marathon Paper Factory, the Nets bold on-the-field play inspired large caravans of family and fans to make weekend treks to see the Oswego contingent play all over New York state and in Canada.
Bob Lemon turned heads in 1938 when he batted .312 in 75 games while playing infield for the Nets. He got to pitch one inning of a game and he struck out one batter. This was the harbinger of great things to come. Lemon honed his pitching skills in the US Navy during WWII. In 1948, ten years after his debut in Oswego, the big right-handed pitcher hurled a no-hitter against the Detroit Tigers. Lemon pitched in the 1948 and 1954 World Series. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY in 1976. But Lemon wasn’t finished with baseball. He was the manager of the 1978 World Champion New York Yankees. Bob Lemon passed away on January 12, 2000.
Professional baseball in Oswego did not fare as well as Bob Lemon. When WWII began a lack of money and a lack of players signaled the demise of the sport in the Port City. But every so often, we are reminded of the “good old days” when fledgling stars like Bob Lemon suited up to play a little baseball for teams like the Oswego Netherlands in small cities like Oswego, New York.
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Copyright (c) Douglas G. Phillips
This page last updated on November 27, 2000