From 1954 to 1965, the New York Yankees made nine World Series appearances, winning four championships. "The Mantle Years," as one may be wont to call them, were one of the most dominant eras in MLB history. This dominance spawned a bit of jealousy from fans of other clubs, so it stands to reason that a player dubbed "The Yankee Killer" would be quite popular. Frank Lary was that player, and now he's #35 on our countdown.
Frank Strong Lary was born on April 10th, 1930 in Northport, Alabama. He attended the University of Alabama, one of five Lary children to letter in baseball at the school. Frank's brother Al later pitched for the Chicago Cubs, while two others played minor league baseball. Frank, the sixth of seven boys, signed with the Tigers as an amateur free agent in 1950. In 14 appearances (12 starts) between the Georgia-Florida League and the PONY League, Lary went 9-2 with a 2.25 ERA.
After the 1950 season, Lary was drafted by the Army to serve in the Korean War. He was never deported overseas, but still missed the 1951 and '52 seasons. He showed no signs of rust in 1953, pitching his way to a 17-11 record and 4.00 ERA in 223 innings at Triple-A Buffalo. A disappointing Spring Training in 1954 saw Frank back with Buffalo, where he initially struggled with his command. The team corrected a flaw in his delivery, and Lary finished the year with a 15-11 record and 3.39 ERA. He was called up to the big leagues late in the season, where he allowed a run in 3 2/3 innings of relief work.
Lary made a seamless transition to the Tigers' rotation in 1955, allowing a 3.10 ERA in 235 innings. His 4.8 WAR and 125 ERA+ were fifth and seventh in the American League, respectively, but he finished with a lowly 14-15 record. Lary's record improved as the Tigers' did in 1956, and he won a league-high 21 games with a 3.15 ERA in 294 innings. He finished a distant 17th in MVP voting despite being tied for sixth in the league with 6.3 WAR.
Top Tigers countdown #34: Schoolboy Rowe
Despite the 1930s and '40s being one of the most hitter-friendly eras in baseball history, the Tigers had a slew of great pitchers in that era. Schoolboy Rowe was a three-time All-Star and a member of the 1935 championship squad.
Lary's numbers regressed slightly in 1957, but he came back with one of the strongest seasons of his career in 1958. He tossed a league-high 260 1/3 innings and allowed a 2.90 ERA, the best of his career. This netted him nothing more than a 23rd place finish in the AL MVP voting as the Tigers finished with a .500 record. He continued to pitch well over the next three seasons, allowing a 3.42 ERA in 772 2/3 innings from 1959 to 1961. He led the league in strikeout-to-walk ratio in 1959 and made consecutive All-Star appearances in 1960 and 1961. He finished third in the Cy Young voting and seventh in the AL MVP race after a 23-9 campaign in 1961.
Unfortunately, the exciting 1961 pennant race would be the last of Frank Lary's dominance in a Tigers uniform. He still remained with the club until the 1964 season, but an injury-riddled 1962 and luck-based 1963 -- his BABIP was just .220 that year -- were nowhere near the caliber that Tigers fans had come to expect from him. His Tigers career ended on May 30th, 1964 when he was sold to the New York Mets. Lary appeared in games for the Mets (twice), Milwaukee Braves, and Chicago White Sox over the next two years before retiring from baseball.
Throughout his career, Lary earned the nickname "The Yankee Killer" for his ability to shut down the Bronx Bombers when hardly anyone else could. Despite the Yankees' dominance detailed in the lede, Lary sported a 28-13 record and 3.32 ERA in 49 career starts against the Yanks. In arguably the most famous start of his career, Lary struck out 10 in a 4-3 Tigers victory on July 4th, 1961 at Yankee Stadium. The victory gave the 50-28 Tigers a one-game lead in a tight pennant race. While the Yankees would eventually win the division by eight games, Lary went 4-2 against them that year.
At the end of his career, Lary retired with a 3.49 ERA in 2162 1/3 innings. He tossed 2008 2/3 of those innings as a Tiger and is one of two starters in franchise history with at least 35 WAR in fewer than 2500 innings (the other is dating Kate Upton).