This weekend in baseball history

A long-time reader who is covering the 1961 baseball season for Power Line filed this report:

On May 12, 1961, during a game at Yankee Stadium, Rocky Colavito charged into the stands to intervene in a fight between his father and a fan who had been harassing Rocky’s wife. Colavito was followed by a posse of his Detroit Tiger teammates who were hoping both to restrain and protect him. Rocky bowled over a few season ticket holders and shook off one of his teammates to reach the scene of the altercation. When got there, the police were already on the scene. They escorted the “drunken bum” (Colavito’s words) out of the Stadium.

Umpire Ed Hurley sent Colavito to the showers for violating the rule against invading the stands. However, he decided not to eject the Tigers who violated the same rule for the purpose of restraining Rocky (Norm Cash had already been tossed for arguing about a called strike). And League President Joe Cronin later decided not to fine Colavito. “It wasn’t the right thing for the boy to go up into the stands,” the Hall of Fame shortstop reasoned, “but I guess it was natural for him to want to help his father.”

The game itself was a tense and odd affair. The Tigers came into town in first place with a two and a half game lead over New York. The previous day, the Tigers had held back Frank “Yankee Killer” Lary from his usual start so that he would be available to face the Yankees. Journeyman reliever Bill Fischer had started in Lary’s place against the hapless Washington Senators, who proceeded to beat the Tigers 9-4.
Against the Yankees, Lary breezed through the first three innings and took a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the fourth. But a Hector Lopez home run with two outs put New York ahead 2-1. And things continued to go downhill in the fifth. With one out, Kubek singled, Maris walked, Berra doubled home Kubek, and Lary hit Moose Skowron with a pitch.

A modern-day manager might well have hooked Lary at this point. But relying, presumably, on Lary’s reputation for handling the Yankees, Detroit skipper Bob Scheffing stayed with his starter. Lary rewarded him by retiring Blanchard and Lopez.

The Tigers scored in the top of the sixth to reduce the Yankee lead to 3-2, and that was score in the top of the seventh with Lary due to lead off. Lary had batted .183 the previous season, which was roughly his lifetime mark. Surely, Scheffing would pinch hit for his pitcher, who had given up three runs and six hits in the previous three innings.

But Scheffing didn’t, and again his faith was rewarded. Lary doubled and scored the tying run on a Jake Wood single.
Lary continued to struggle on the mound, though. In the bottom of the seventh, Kubek and Maris led off with singles and Lary wild pitched them to second and third. But then he retired Berra on a pop-up and struck out Skowron. After Lary walked Blanchard intentionally, Lopez grounded out.
In the bottom of the eighth, Lary gave up another hit and two walks, but escaped unscathed because reserve Yankee catcher Jesse Gonder was thrown out trying to steal second, after Lary had walked him with one out.

In the top of the ninth it was again Lary’s turn to lead off. Again Scheffing let him hit. This time Lary rewarded his manager’s magical thinking with a home run off of Jim Coates. It was one of only six that Lary hit in 734 career at-bats (his double in the seventh inning was one of 12).

The bottom of the ninth began smoothly for Lary, as he retired Berra and Skowron. But then Blanchard singled and Mantle (batting for Lopez; injury had limited him to pinch hitting) walked.

Did Scheffing finally pull Lary at this point? Don’t be silly. Lary stayed on and retired Clete Boyer on a ground ball to end the game.

Over the last six innings, Lary had given up ten hits and five walks, and he had hit a batter. But the Yankees could only plate three of these runners, and Lary had managed to beat them with his bat (not for the last time in 1961).
Lary would retire with a record of 128-116. His career mark against the Yankees was 28-13.

What was the secret of that success? Lary always responded with the same question-begging answer: “I just throw them that breaking stuff of mine.” And when that didn’t work, he’d slug a couple extra base hits.

UPDATE: Our long-time reader adds that Colavito must still have been steaming the following day, when he went 4-5 with two home runs to lead the Tigers to an 8-3 victory over the Yanks.


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