Frank Lary was a pitcher with a locker full of nicknames. His rural Alabama roots led him to be dubbed “Mule” and “Taters,” while his mastery of the New York Yankees had members of the press calling him “Yankee Killer.” After the Detroit Tigers’ 1962 home opener – a miserably cold Friday the 13th – Lary was simply called unlucky.
April 13, 1962, was the Tigers’ first-ever opener against the perennial champions from the Bronx. The Tigers had for years traditionally opened against either the St. Louis Browns or the Cleveland Indians.
The home nine was down by a run when Lary came to bat in the seventh inning. “There was rain and sleet,” Lary recalled years later. “I remember hitting the ball, and as I was rounding first base, I could feel the mud sticking to my shoes. I ended up pulling a leg muscle.”
Lame leg and all, Lary chugged into third base with a triple that knotted the score at 3-3. The Tigers added two more runs off Luis Arroyo to carve out a 5-3 win, with Jim Bunning replacing Lary on the mound to preserve the victory. The triumph extended Lary’s career record against New York to a remarkable 28-10, a .737 winning percentage.
At the same time, it was perhaps the costliest three-base hit in club history. The 32-year-old ace, who’d compiled a 23-9 record the previous season as the Tigers won 101 games en route to a frustrating second-place finish to the Yankees, slightly altered his pitching motion to compensate for his ailing leg. This led to a series of arm and shoulder problems.
“As a pitcher, when you have an injury like that, it’s possible that you favor it and do something to your delivery,” Lary reflected.
Over the next two years, Lary won only five more games for Detroit before being shipped to the New York Mets early in the 1964 season. He went on to pitch ineffectively for Milwaukee and the Chicago White Sox before retiring in 1965 with a lifetime mark of 128-116. He was only 10-23 after his injury, including several losses to the Yankees, the team he had once dominated so efficiently as a Tiger.