Houston Astros Memories: Remember Mark Lemongello? Probably Not…But I Do
I don’t know, probably because the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft just completed day two, and some former top prospects of the Houston Astros have been going through my head, but Mark Lemongello’s name crossed my mind.
I was nine-years-old when Lemongello first appeared with the Astros as a 20-year-old, back in 1976.
Immediately, I had interest in Lemongello. Probably because I was nine, and I liked his name. I mean, come on…L-E-M-O-N-G-E-L-L-O. What youngster wouldn’t like that?
But Lemongello was impressive too, going 3-1, with a 2.79 ERA in four starts with the Astros at the close of the 1976 season.
I remember the Astros’ broadcasters, including Hall of Famer Gene Elston, Loel Passe, and another Hall of Famer, Bob Prince (yes, Prince did the Astros for a year) talk about how impressive Lemongello was.
The Astros won 80 games in 1976, which was a 16-game improvement from 1975, and with a pitching staff that featured the likes of J.R. Richard, Joaquin Andujar, Ken Forsch, Joe Niekro, Joe Sambito, a young Floyd Bannister, and my man, Lemongello, I was fired-up about the Astros’ chances heading into the 1977 season.
Lemongello was awful to begin the 1977 season, starting the year 1-10, but he rebounded, going 8-4 the rest of the way, to finish at 9-14, with a 3.48 ERA.
Was that great? No. But we’re talking about a 21-year-old, who showed flashes in the second half of the year, so I was still all about Lemongello.
As a team, the Astros went 81-81. They were kind of like Lemongello, going 43-50 over their first 93 games, before going 38-31 the rest of the way, to finish at the .500 mark.
Being the eternal Astros’ optimist, I was sky high on the team heading into the 1978 season.
Again, Lemongello failed to really establish himself, going 9-14 again, but his ERA rose to 3.94.
As a still very young 22-year-old, you normally wouldn’t want to give up on someone like that, but the Astros, and myself, started to develop some concerns about Lemongello. He would slap himself in the face when he delivered a bad pitch, and he started to develop the reputation of being difficult to deal with.
The Astros disappointed in ’78, going 74-88, and you knew changes were coming prior to 1979.
One of the first changes was to unload Lemongello, who was becoming known as somebody that was uncontrollable. The Astros traded him, along with Joe Cannon, and Pedro Hernandez, to the Toronto Blue Jays, in exchange for catcher Alan Ashby.
Lemongello wasn’t exactly pleased, asking if Canadians “spoke American.”
And he didn’t exactly endear himself to the Blue Jays’ organization early on, either with his antics of destroying equipment and objects, or his pitching. He began 1979 going 1-9, with an ERA over 6.00.
The Blue Jays demoted Lemogello to the minor leagues, and he wasn’t happy, reportedly throwing an ashtray at General Manager Peter Bavasi.
The Astros, on the other hand, had their fortunes reversed in ’79, going 89-73, and finishing only one-and-a-half games behind the Cincinnati Reds in the National League West.
The Astros would go on to win the division title in 1980, thanks in part to the solid play of Ashby, who the team got in the Lemongello trade, but the same couldn’t be said for the guy with the catchy name, who never appeared in the Major Leagues again.
Things got worse for Lemongello…a lot worse.
In 1982, Lemongello, along with, Manuel Seoane, a guy who pitched briefly for the Phillies and Cubs in his short big league career, were both arrested on kidnapping charges.
Mark Lemongello’s cousins are Peter Lemongello, an entertainer, and Mike Lemongello, a former pro bowler, who are brothers.
Mark Lemongello and Seoane held the brothers at gun point, forcing them into a van, and then forced them to withdraw $50,000 from a safe deposit box at a bank.
They then left the brothers in a nearby wooded area in Florida.
Lemongello and Seoane were ordered to spend ten years on probation.
Wow!…hard to believe that was 30 years ago.
Mark Lemongello is 56-years-old now, and to his credit, I haven’t heard anymore slip-ups with the law concerning him.
I hope he’s cleaned his act up, and has become a better person, and I wish him well.
The young right-hander with the funny name never really panned out, but I’ll always remember Mark Lemongello…positive and negative.