Versatile defensive skills, a hot bat off the bench, and speed on the basepaths made McLemore desired through the 1990s, even though he was not was always called upon to be an everyday player.
Picked in the 1982 draft by the California Angels, McLemore became the Halos’ regular second baseman in 1987, hitting .236 with 25 steals. When an elbow injury forced him to the disabled list for two months in 1988, Johnny Ray stepped in and won the starting job.
Having lost his opportunity, McLemore spent two years traveling between Triple-A and California, and was traded to the Cleveland Indians in August 1990 to complete an earlier trade between the two teams. But McLemore lasted just the rest of the season with the Tribe before being released in December 1990. He signed with the Houston Astros in January 1991, fell victim to leg injuries again, was released when he got off the DL in June, and signed with the Baltimore Orioles to finish out the year in the minors.
The next spring, McLemore won a platoon job with Billy Ripken at second, but soon after began to make use of his defensive adaptability, logging time both at third and in the outfield. During his three years in Baltimore, McLemore flashed speed on the paths with a decent average, despite two injuries that began to hamper his wheels.
Signing with the Texas Rangers in December 1994, McLemore saw more time in the outfield. After platooning for part of a year with Jeff Frye at second, McLemore got a full-time shot as an outfielder in 1996. Bum knees slowed him down for some of his tenure there, and he underwent four knee surgeries in two years. Arthroscopic surgery in October 1997 finally cured him of knee ills — but when he entered mid-June batting over .300, he pulled a hamstring, hit the disabled list for two weeks, and hit only .202 for the rest of the year.
Rather than re-sign with Texas, McLemore was successfully wooed in December 1999 by the rising Seattle Mariners, who were attracted to his defensive versatility. Though he would only platoon in the Pacific Northwest, McLemore opted with the M’s for a better chance at the postseason; while he had made the Division Series with the Rangers, he felt that the Mariners had a greater shot at defeating the New York Yankees, to whom the Rangers had weakly succumbed in the Octobers of 1996, ’98, and ’99. He proved extremely useful to manager Lou Piniella, who utilized him not only at second and in the outfield, but also at third, en route to the Mariners’ march to the ALCS, which Seattle promptly lost — to the Yankees.
After regularly attending a special martial arts class to increase his physical and mental control in the mid-’90s, McLemore got into the habit of carrying notes of confidence he wrote to himself at the end of his training. He credited the notes — one of which succinctly warned himself to “stay out of my way” — with giving him the poise to achieve what he could in the game, even as a utility player.