Remembering the modesty of Ken Lehman, former UW coach and major-leaguer
Ken Lehman dies at 82
Special to The Seattle Times
Ken Lehman, a former major-league pitcher and University of Washington baseball coach, died Dec. 4 at the age of 82.
Tommy Lasorda, a former teammate of Lehman and a Hall of Fame manager, said Lehman was a special man.
"He was a tremendous guy that knew how to pitch in the big leagues," Lasorda said. "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."
Lehman pitched five years in the majors, finishing with a 14-10 record and a 3.91 earned-run average.
Born in Seattle on June 12, 1928, Lehman spent his youth in Kirkland, where he attended Kirkland High School. At age 16, while playing for the Kirkland Shipyard semipro baseball team, he was discovered by the Brooklyn Dodgers, who signed him in 1946. By signing with the Dodgers, he turned down an offer to play baseball for the Huskies.
Appearing destined to crack the Dodgers' major-league roster by the end of the 1950 season, Lehman instead enlisted in the Army and fought in the Korean War.
After a year and a half in the service, Lehman made his major-league debut with Brooklyn in 1952 as a starter. Lehman pitched two scoreless innings in Game 2 of the World Series that year, against the Yankees.
Lehman spent the next three years in the minor leagues and was back with the Dodgers in 1956 as a reliever. During the 1957 season, he was sold to the Baltimore Orioles, with whom he posted the two best years of his career.
Despite success out of the bullpen, Lehman was put on waivers by Baltimore and selected by the Philadelphia Phillies. He spent two seasons with the Phillies in the minors before cracking a major-league roster, for the last time, in 1961.
After another season in the minors in 1962, Lehman retired.
One of Lehman's three children, Leeza Millman, said Lehman had an immense personality, full of many great stories from his career, which he had a knack for telling. She also said it wasn't something he would boast about.
"He never brought up any of that kind of stuff unless people asked about it," Millman said. "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."
Following his playing days, Lehman and his wife, Patricia — whom he met in Montreal in the minor leagues — moved to Seattle, where Lehman took over the UW baseball coach position in 1964. He remained there until 1971 when he retired with a record of 96-177.
With every facet of his baseball career over, Lehman and Patricia — with children Bruce, Leeza and Mark — moved to Whatcom County. Post-baseball, Lehman spent the first couple months working as a logger in Alaska, but soon returned to Washington, where he took a job at the Mount Baker School District as a bus driver and field-house janitor. He retired after 31 years.
Lehman and Patricia lived with their daughter, Leeza, for the past several years, until Patricia died Nov. 11. With Patricia gone, Lehman died three weeks later. He left behind his children, 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
With all of his achievements in life, it is easy to get caught up in Lehman's triumphs, but Mark Lehman said people close to his father will remember much more.
"Players, the kids he coached, teammates — you couldn't find a person that didn't like my dad," Mark said. "You couldn't find a person who wouldn't do anything in the world for my dad."