Frank Lary, the star Detroit Tigers pitcher who was called the Yankee Killer because of his success against New York’s big-hitting lineup, died on Dec. 13 in Tuscaloosa, Ala. He was 87.
His nephew Joe Lary confirmed the death. He said his uncle had been hospitalized with pneumonia.
Lary, a 5-foot-11 right-hander, pitched for the Tigers from 1954 to 1964. He twice made the American League All-Star team and led the league with 21 wins in 1956.
He won the Gold Glove Award in 1961, when he went 23-9 and finished third in the Cy Young Award voting, behind Whitey Ford of the Yankees and Warren Spahn of the Milwaukee Braves. (At the time, there was just one Cy Young Award for both leagues.)
Lary began his career as mainly a power pitcher, but as he grew older he came to rely more on his curve, sinker, slider and the occasional knuckler. He became known for calling his own game, often shaking off his catcher’s signal and choosing his own pitch.
“Frank Lary is a classic kind of ballplayer — the type, alas, you don’t see much of these days,” Sports Illustrated said in 1961, when the Tigers battled the Yankees for the pennant. “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 and a lot of success. He is mean on the mound and a joker off it.”
He got his nickname by going 27-10 against the Yankees from 1955 to 1961, a span during which they won six pennants.
“He always said, ‘You don’t think I can do something, I’ll show you,’” Joe Lary said of his uncle. “I think that’s probably the attitude he took with the Bronx Bombers.”
Lary also played for the Mets, the Braves and the Chicago White Sox during a 12-year career in which he won 128 games and lost 116.
Frank Strong Lary was born on April 10, 1930, in Northport, Ala., the sixth of seven sons of Joseph and Margaret Lary. His father was a cotton farmer and a former semipro pitcher who coached the boys in baseball when they were not working on the farm.
Lary and many of his brothers played baseball for the University of Alabama, and his pitching helped lead the team to the College World Series in 1950. His brother Al also pitched professionally, for the Chicago Cubs.
Lary served stateside in the Army during the Korean War, mostly in South Carolina.
He is survived by his wife, Mary, as well as children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
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