Northport native Frank Lary, a standout pitcher who made his name as the Detroit Tigers’ “Yankee Killer” during a 12-year major league career, died on Wednesday night. He was 87.
Lary pitched for 12 years in the major leagues, including 11 with the Detroit Tigers. He attended Tuscaloosa County High and pitched for the University of Alabama baseball team, helping the Crimson Tide to the 1950 College World Series. He was an American League all-star in 1960 and 1961.
“My remembrances of him other than being a great role model and a great athlete, he was very compassionate, too,” said Joe Lary, a nephew of Frank. “One Christmas he gave me a baseball autographed by all of the American League members of the 1961 all-star game. I’ve still got that, still treasure it.”
Lary was best known for his outstanding performances against the New York Yankees. From 1955-61 he went 27-10 against the Bronx Bombers in an era that featured players like Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Roger Maris, among others.
The Yankees won three World Series from 1955-61 and lost three more. He won 14 of 15 starts in one stretch of his career against the Yankees.
“When you pitch against a team as many times as I did against them, you memorize them,” Frank Lary told The Tuscaloosa News in a story from 2005. “You remember what worked and what didn’t the last time. You remember what worked the year before or the year before that. If you got them out, you stay with it. They had all those guys who were petty good ballplayers. They swing the bat good.”
His best season came in 1961, when he was an all-star, won a Gold Glove as the best-fielding pitcher and went 23-9. Only Whitey Ford had more wins in the American League that season.
Lary’s baseball career was put on hold when he served in the military during the Korean War. He didn’t make his major league debut until 1954, when he was 24, after his military service.
He finished his major league career with 128 wins and 116 losses. He had a career ERA of 3.49 and posted 1,099 strikeouts in his career.
“One thing most people probably don’t realize is that he and Mickey Mantle were good friends,” Joe Lary said. “When he would go into New York and play, Mickey would have him over to his place. When the Yankees came into Detroit, Frank would have Mickey and Yogi and several of the players come over to drink beer and play country music. Particularly Mickey, he loved country music. They had a similar upbringing on the farm. He and Mickey got along real well. I don’t think Mickey liked (Frank) striking him out all the time, but they were good friends anyway.”
The Larys were a family of athletes. Frank was the youngest of seven boys. Several of his brothers played football or baseball for Alabama, and his brother Al had a brief stint as a major league pitcher. Frank was the runt of the family, standing 5-11 while all of his brothers were over 6-foot.
“That’s one thing that made him so competitive,” Joe Lary said. “He didn’t want his older brothers showing him up in sports.”
Frank Lary and his brothers were also musicians, playing at the Grand Ole Opry sometime in the 1950s or 60s as a group. Frank and Al, who passed away in 2001, were both inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
He spent a couple of years as a pitching instructor with the New York Mets after his playing career ended. Then he returned home to Northport. He’d remained active in recent years
“He’s really going to be missed,” Joe Lary said. “He was a great athlete at Alabama, he was a great athlete in pro baseball, obviously, and he was just an all-around great guy.”
Services will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Magnolia Chapel Funeral Home North. Visitation will be from noon until the service begins.