Frank Lary
Frank Lary.jpg
Born: (1930-04-10)April 10, 1930
Northport, Alabama
Died: December 13, 2017(2017-12-13) (aged 87)
Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Batted: Right
Threw: Right
MLB debut
September 14, 1954, for the Detroit Tigers
Last MLB appearance
September 21, 1965, for the Chicago White Sox
MLB statistics
Win–loss record128–116
Earned run average3.49
Career highlights and awards

Frank Strong Lary (April 10, 1930 – December 13, 2017) was a Major League Baseball pitcher for the Detroit Tigers (19541964), New York Mets (1964, 1965), Milwaukee Braves (1964), and Chicago White Sox (1965). He led the American League with 21 wins in 1956 and ranked second in the same category with 23 wins in 1961. Lary was selected to the American League All-Star team in 1960 and 1961 and won the Gold Glove Award in 1961. He was known variously as "Taters", "Mule", and the "Yankee Killer." The latter nickname was won due to his 27–10 record against the New York Yankees from 1955 to 1961.

Early years

Lary was born in Northport, Alabama, in April 1930 as the sixth of seven children in the family.[1] He was raised with his six brothers at a two-bedroom house[2] in his family's farm near Northport.[3] His father, Joseph Milton "Mitt" Lary, was a cotton farmer and a former semipro spitball pitcher,[4][1] who coached young Lary and five of his brothers when they were not working in the farm.[1] His mother, Margaret,[1] was a fiddle maker.[2] Lary attended Tuscaloosa County High School and then went on to play baseball for the University of Alabama.[5][6] His older brother Al Lary was briefly a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs, but spent most of his baseball career in the minor leagues. Lary followed his older brothers to the University of Alabama,[7] where he had a 10–1 record in 1950 and won two more games in the College World Series.[5] Lary dropped out of Alabama after two years to play professional baseball.[5]

Minor leagues

After his performance in the 1950 College World Series, Lary signed a $6,000 contract with the Toledo Mud Hens, the Detroit Tigers' American Association farm club.[5] He began his minor league career playing at Thomasville, Georgia, in the Georgia–Florida League. After winning four consecutive games in Thomasville, he moved to Jamestown, New York, in the PONY League, where he compiled a 5–2 record.[5] Lary missed the 1951 and 1952 seasons due to service in the U.S. Army.[5] He was considered a leading prospect with the Buffalo Bisons of the International League in 1953 and 1954.[8] During the 1953 season, he compiled a 17–11 record and threw a no-hitter against Ottawa. In 1954, he compiled a 15–11 record and won 10 of his last 12 games.[5][9]

Detroit Tigers

Lary was called up to the Tigers late in the 1954 season, making his Major League debut on September 14.[10] He played in parts of 11 seasons for the Tigers, and his 123 wins rank tenth in team history.[11]

In 1955, Lary stepped into the Tigers' rotation as a starter and compiled a record of 14–15 in 36 games.[10][12]

In 1956, Lary compiled a 21–13 record and became the Tigers' first 20-game winner since Hal Newhouser won 21 games in 1948. His record was 17-3 after July 1.[13] Lary also led the American League in multiple statistical categories in 1956, including wins (21), games started (38), innings pitched (294), hits allowed (289), hit batsmen (12), and batters faced (1,269), and finished 17th in the voting for Most Valuable Player in the American League.[10] His total of 1,269 batters faced was the highest total by a pitcher in the American League during the 1950s.[14]

During his years with the Tigers, Lary became known as "The Yankee Killer." He had a 27–10 record against the New York Yankees from 1955 to 1961, years during which the Yankees won six American League pennants. In 1956, he compiled a record of 5–1 against a Yankees team that had an overall record of 97–57. In 1958, he was 7–1 against a Yankees team that had an overall record of 92–62. He became the first pitcher to win seven games in one year against the Yankees since Ed Cicotte accomplished the feat in 1916. A good hitting pitcher, Lary defeated the Yankees 4–3 on May 12, 1961, by hitting a lead off home run in the top of the ninth inning. This took place immediately following the ejection of teammate, outfielder Rocky Colavito, who had bolted into the stands at Yankee Stadium when he observed a Yankee fan tussling with his father.[3][15][16] In The Sporting News, Joe Falls wrote: "As far as Frank Lary is concerned, the war between the states never did end. There merely was an 89-year interlude between Lee's surrender at Appomattox in 1865 and Lary's arrival in the major leagues in 1954. The objective has remained the same: rout the Yankees."[3] He was also 5–1 against the Yankees in 1959. Yankees manager Casey Stengel once delayed the appearance of his star pitcher, Whitey Ford, by one day so Ford would not have to face Lary. Stengel explained to reporters, "If Lary is going to beat us anyway, why should I waste my best pitcher?"

Lary, circa 1959
Lary, circa 1959

Lary also was known by the nickname "Taters" after a teammate noticed him write "Taters" for potatoes on a dining car order during a 1955 road trip. "He has been 'Taters' around the clubhouse and in the dugout ever since."[5] In a 1961 profile of Lary, Sports Illustrated wrote:

"Frank Lary is a classic kind of ballplayer—the type, alas, you don't see much of these days. He is a throwback to the Cardinals of the 30s, a cotton pickin', gee-tar strummin', red clay Alabama farm boy, unspoiled by a little college or a lot of success. He is mean on the mound and a joker off it. To strangers he is quiet, but to the Tigers he is the Jonathan Winters of the dugout, keeping them loose and laughing. Sometimes he is a Casey Stengel, his legs bowed, his pants rolled above his knees. Then he is the trainer, complete in white shirt, white trousers and with a Turkish towel wrapped around his head."[4]

In 1960, Lary was selected for the first time as an All-Star. He led the American League that year in games started (36), complete games (15), innings pitched (279.1) and hit batsmen (19).[10]

In 1961, Lary had the best season of his career. With a record of 23–9, he was the top pitcher on a 1961 Detroit Tigers team that compiled a record of 101–61. Lary's 23 wins were a career-high and second in the American League to Ford. Lary also threw a career-high and league-leading 22 complete games in 1961.[10] Lary was also selected for the American League All-Star team and won the Gold Glove Award in 1961.[10] He finished third in the 1961 Cy Young Award behind Ford and Warren Spahn.[17]

Lary was a workhorse for the Tigers from 1955 to 1961. During that seven-year span, Lary led the American League in wins (117), complete games (115), innings pitched (1,799+23), games started (242), and batters faced (7,569).[18] He started more than 30 games in each of those seven season and led the American League in complete games three times in four years from 1958 to 1961.[10]

In 1962, the workload caught up with Lary, as he began having shoulder problems. He began the season with a 2–6 record and had only two complete games in 13 starts. He was placed on the disabled list in August 1962.[19] Lary started the 1963 season in the minor leagues,[20] and compiled a record of 4-9 after being recalled to the Tigers.[10] He began the 1963 season with an 0–2 record for Detroit, giving him a record of 6–17 in his final three seasons in Detroit.[10]

Mets, Braves and White Sox

In May 1964, the New York Mets purchased Lary from the Tigers.[21] Lary compiled a 2–3 record for the Mets, and threw a two-hit shutout in his last game for the team during the 1964 season. In August 1964, the Mets traded Lary to the Milwaukee Braves in exchange for Dennis Ribant and $25,000.[22] He was reacquired by the Mets in March 1965.[23] Lary had a 1–3 record for the Mets in 1965.[10] In July 1965, the Mets traded Lary to the Chicago White Sox for a player to be named later.[24] Lary appeared in 14 games for the White Sox and compiled a 1–0 record.[10]

Career statistics

In 12 seasons, Lary recorded a 128-116 won-loss record, a .525 winning percentage with a 3.49 earned run average in 350 appearances with 21 shutouts and 1,099 strikeouts in 2,162.1 innings pitched. As a hitter, Lary posted a .177 batting average (130-for-734) with 68 runs, 6 triples, 6 home runs, 54 RBI and 39 bases on balls. Defensively, he finished his career with a .962 fielding percentage[10]

Pitching style

When Lary first came up, he relied on a hard fastball and a slider. Ned Garver suggested he try adding a changeup to fool hitters, though Garver later reflected that this new approach did not help Lary much. However, pitching coach Johnny Sain got Lary to try throwing a knuckleball. Lary had difficulty with the pitch at first but ultimately improved at throwing it, to the point that he could throw it as a strike.[25]

Later years

After finishing his pitching career, Lary went on to coach and scout for various teams. After retiring from baseball, Lary lived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he began a construction business.[7] In 1986, he was living in Northport and working for a company that paved roads.[26]

Lary died on the night of December 13, 2017 at a hospital in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, south of Northport from pneumonia at the age of 87.[27][1][2][28]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e "Frank Lary, Pitcher Known as the Yankee Killer, Dies at 87". The New York Times. 15 December 2017.
  2. ^ a b c Dow, Bill (16 December 2017). "Remembering the Detroit Tigers "Yankee Killer," Frank Lary". Detroit Free Press.
  3. ^ a b c Joe Falls (March 18, 1959). "Lary Lived It Up While Downing Yanks: First in 42 Years to Top N.Y. 7 Times; Detroit Moundsman Mystery in Mastery Over Champs; Other Clubs Clobber Him". The Sporting News.
  4. ^ a b Robert H. Boyle (September 4, 1961). "Taters Keeps The Tigers Up There: Yankee beater Frank Lary leads Detroit into New York as the Tigers again challenge for the league lead". Sports Illustrated.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Hal Middlewsorth (March 1956). "The Tiger That Growls Like a Bulldog". Baseball Digest.
  6. ^ Furman Bisher (January 30, 1957). "Winningest Pitching Family in Game: Frank Lary one of Six Brother Moundsmen; Detroit Ace Won 21, Gene 21 at Mobile; All Flashed in High School at Northport, Ala., Later at University of Alabama". The Sporting News.
  7. ^ a b Moss Klein (July 1978). "Frank Lary Recalls His Days as a Yankee Killer". Baseball Digest.
  8. ^ Cy Kritzer (September 8, 1954). "Near No-Hitter Lary Gets Back on Beam With Lakeman's Aid: Buffalo Righthander Tipped by Veteran Catcher That He Changed His Delivery". The Sporting News.
  9. ^ Watson Spoelstra (March 10, 1954). "Alabamans Lary and House Make Tigers See Stars: Fireball-Throwing Rookie, Up From Buffalo, to Get Plenty of Chances in Grapefruit League". The Sporting News.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Frank Lary".
  11. ^ "Detroit Tigers statistics". Detroit Tigers.
  12. ^ Watson Spoelstra (August 29, 1956). "Knuckler Change-Up Helps Change Lary Into Winner: Tiger Righthander Masters Control of Butterfly and Develops Into 'Stopper'". The Sporting News.
  13. ^ Hal Middlesworth (November 21, 1956). "New Pitch Helped Frank to Sensational Second-Half Surge: Lary Started Soaring on Butterfly Ball; He Won 17 Lost Only 3 After July 1". The Sporting News.
  14. ^ Bob Lemon faced 1,254 batters in 1950 to rank second behind Lary.
  15. ^ "Detroit Tigers at New York Yankees Box Score, May 12, 1961 |".
  16. ^ Arthur Richman (June 1959). "Even Lary Can't Explain How He Hex-Rays Yanks". Baseball Digest.
  17. ^ "1961 Awards Voting".
  18. ^ Whitey Ford ranked second in wins during the same period with 115. Billy Pierce ranked second in complete games with 97. Early Wynn ranked second in games started (225), innings pitched (1,613+23) and batters faced (6,827).
  19. ^ "Tigers Send Frank Lary to Sidelines". The Spokesman-Review. August 1, 1962.
  20. ^ Jerry Green (July 4, 1963). "Tigers Call Frank Lary To Detroit". The Windsor Star (AP story).
  21. ^ "Mets Buy Frank Lary". The Pittsburgh Press. May 31, 1964.
  22. ^ "Mets Trade Frank Lary To Milwaukee". The Tuscaloosa News. August 9, 1964.
  23. ^ "Mets Obtain Frank Lary". Herald-Journal (AP story). March 29, 1965.
  24. ^ "Frank Lary Goes to Chicago Club". Spokane Daily Chronicle. July 8, 1965.
  25. ^ Garver, Ned; Bozman, Bill; Joyner, Ronnie (2003). Touching All the Bases. Pepperpot Productions, Inc. p. 102. ASIN B00B6JBVV6.
  26. ^ "Where Are They Now?". Baseball Digest. September 1986.
  27. ^ "Report: Former Detroit Tigers pitcher Frank Lary dead at 87". Detroit Free Press. December 14, 2017. Retrieved December 14, 2017.
  28. ^ "Frank Lary, pitcher known as 'the Yankee killer,' dead at 87". Newsday. 15 December 2017.