The Top 100 Cubs Of All Time - #61 Larry French


Photo taken in either 1935 or 1936, because those were the only years the Cubs wore that uniform while French was a Cub. He was thus either 27 or 28 when the photo was taken -- sure looks older than that to me.

A constant in Cubs history has been the dearth of reliable left-handed starting pitching. Larry French was the first steady rotation lefty since Jim Vaughn. He was a workhorse for three teams in his fourteen major-league seasons. Unique among the star ballplayers who went to war in the `40s, he gave up the game to make a new career in the military, retiring after 27 years of naval service.

Lawrence Herbert French was born November 1, 1907, in Visalia, California. At age 18, he was set to enter UC Berkeley as a pre-med student, when he threw his fourth semipro no-hitter for Eugene, Oregon. This game was witnessed by Ray Mack, son of Connie, who convinced French, and his parents, to give pro ball his first attention. After three minor league seasons, French made his major-league debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates in May, 1929.

From his first full season in 1930, French piled up starts, innings, and decisions with clockwork regularity. His W-L records for his five full Pirate seasons: 17-18, 15-13, 18-16, 18-13, 12-18. Pittsburgh finished second in `32 and `33, but slipped badly in `34, a sub-.500 year. French's 12-18 was seen as a disappointment, and he was traded to the Cubs after that season. It was a major deal; the Cubs acquired French and Fred Lindstrom in exchange for Guy Bush, Jim Weaver, and Babe Herman.

French pitched seven seasons for the Cubs, posting a 95-74 record, with 21 shutouts. During the late-season 21-game winning streak that earned the Cubs the 1935 pennant, French won five games. He was 10-19 for the 1938 pennant winners, his only losing year for the Cubs except his last. In his two Cub World Series, his record was 0-2. His only WS start was a loss in game 6 in 1935, the clinching win for the Detroit Tigers.

A thumb injury contributed to a 4-15 record in 1941, and late in the season the Cubs sent French to the Dodgers for the waiver price. Adjusting to the situation, French worked on a knuckleball during the offseason, and gave Brooklyn one of his finest years in 1942, 15-4, leading the league in winning percentage. His last start in `42 was a 6-0 one-hitter aginst the Phillies in which he faced only 28 batters, one over the minimum.

It was to be his final season as a ballplayer. He joined the Navy in 1943, with his lifetime record at 197-171, with 40 shutouts. He vowed to return to get the milestone 200th victory, but made the military his career instead. He participated in the Normandy invasion as a landing craft material officer, and saw action in the Pacific theatre. He retired from active service in 1969, with the rank of Captain.

French died in San Diego on February 9, 1987.

Larry French's career stats from baseball-reference.com

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