In 1956 Lary started poorly. By July 1, he had won only four and lost 10. Then he began using a knuckle ball as a change of pace, and in the second half of the season he won 17 and lost only three for a mark of 21-13. That winter Northport held a Lary family day, honoring Frank, Al, who had won eight for Tulsa in the Texas League, and Gene, who had won 21 for Mobile in the Southern Association. Mayor Hiram (Diz) Darden presented Mitt with a key to the town in the form of a baseball bat, and the Larys helped the festivities by playing mandolins, fiddles and guitars for the square dancing. (Al and Gene are still in the minors. Gene is having a so-so season with Mobile, but Al is doing so well for Houston Detroit may buy him.)
In spite of some arm trouble, this has been Lary's best season. He throws a fast ball ("It's faster than it looks from the stands," says Scheffing), a curve, a sinker and a slider. Some hitters say he also throws a spitter. "He wouldn't use a spitter," says Mitt. He has used the knuckler sparingly because "my other pitches have been working for me a lot better." On the mound, he insists on calling his own game. He'll give a sign of his own, or he'll shake the catcher's sign off until he gets the signal he wants. "When I'm pitching a ball game, it's my game," Lary says. "He throws what he wants to throw," is the word around the Detroit clubhouse. Unless he's hit hard early in the game, which has been seldom, Lary stays to the end no matter how tired he may appear. Scheffing, who doesn't like to change pitchers just for the sake of a change, has learned that Lary is at his best when things look worst, particularly against the Yankees.
Lary cannot explain his success against New York. "There's no answer to it," he says. "I just pitch another ball game." Homel says the Yankees have reached the point, understandably, where they feel Lary is a jinx. "It's become a mental thing," he says. "I've also noticed over the years that when our club goes into the Stadium, it gets hepped up. You see it in the attitude, the speech, everything about the guys. Like a horse that's kicking up its heels before a race."
Lary feels this as much, or more, than anyone. But he still likes to clown around off the mound, even at Yankee Stadium. "You got to have a little fun," he says. Recently a newspaper photographer ran into the clubhouse looking for Norm Cash. "I'm Cash," said Lary, seizing a bat and striking a pose. The photographer shot away. Just before he left, Lary identified himself. "Taters didn't want the guy to get into trouble," Homel says.
In the dugout, Lary responds to a teammate's remarks by cocking his head and crossing his eyes. "He has them crossed half the time," says Homel. "You know that guy who works in the sewer with Jackie Gleason? Yeah, Art Carney. Well Taters can be like him with people. Let somebody ask him for an autograph. Right away he'll get a dumb expression on his face. Then he'll flick both wrists maybe 50 times as though he's warming up to write before he signs his name. Most people don't know what to expect from Lary." The Yankees, however, know too well what to expect.