Following Callum’s stray into popular baseball icons with the bio on Christy Matthewson we will go down a more familiar MUD.com by reviewing the life of a semi-star with some quirky records.
During the depression, it was common for scouts to patrol local sandlots, looking for unrefined talent. During this time in baseball history a disproportionate amount of Southerners dominated organised ball. So when a Detroit Tigers scout stumbled upon an 18 year old outfielder named Virgil Trucks in Birmingham, Alabama he was just working the beaten path that many scouts probably had been.
Teams would offer young players contracts that only paid them a signing bonus, this was the practise at the time as many teams play take the “let’s see what sticks” approach. This was Virgil’s case, and while playing in a Georgia semi-pro league he became a pitcher. Virgil’s talent as a moundsman was evident immediately as he posted organised ball records for strikeouts in the 1938 season with 420. He finished the Class D Alabama League season with a 25-3 record and 2 no-hitters. At only 19 Trucks’ fastball is said to have been clocked over 100mph. The Tigers took notice again and signed him to a minor league contract.
After toiling in the minors for a couple of seasons Trucks made the Tigers in 1942. He joined a contending Tigers team that featured the only pitcher in history, Hal Newhouser, to win back to back MVP Awards. As a 25 year old pitcher Trucks started 20 games and had respectable ERA and WHIP and K numbers. Virgil didn’t suffer in his sophomore season as he replicated his rookie season’s numbers.
Before the 1943 season began, Virgil’s major league career was interrupted by war. He was recruited by Mickey Cochrane to come to Chicago to play for the Great Lakes Naval Team. Virgil played for the Tiger great for the ’44 and ’45 seasons. Stats for the Armed Forces Leagues are scarce but sources say Vigil had a 31-1 record during his stint in the Navy.
Virgil, was released from the Navy at the suggestion of Cochrane in September ’45 in an attempt to help out the Tigers who were in a pennant race with the Washington Senators. Having played only a single game in the regular season manager Steve O’Neil had enough confidence in Trucks to start game 2 of the 1945 Series against a Chicago Cubs team that only the night before had got to ace Newhouser early and often, knocking the 25 game winner out in the third inning en route to a 9-0 victory infront of 55,000 Detroit faithful.
Virgil did not disappoint. He shut down the hard hitting Cubbies in game 2 of which would prove to be one of the classic World Series’. The now 28 year old Trucks held the Cubs to one run on 7 hits holding on for the complete game victory. Truck also got the call in game 6 with the Tigers having a chance to clinch but didn’t figure into the 12 inning decision in which the Cubs forced a 7th game that the Tigers won.
Interestingly, due to wartime travel limitations the first three games of the ’45 Series were played in Detroit with the final 4 being played at Wrigley Field. The Tigers lost 2 of 3 at home and had to win 3 of 4 on the road to clinch the series.
Trucks holds the record as the only player to have more wins in the postseason than in the regular season in a single season.
While many players came out off the battlefields and back into baseball, Virgil had been playing ball while in the service. He didn’t miss a beat in the next couple of seasons in Detroit, proving that he was a bona fide major leaguer. He had solid seasons with the Tigers, often pitching 250+ inning and leading the AL in strikeouts in 1949.
Then in 1952 at the age of 35 Virgil’s age seems to be catching up to him as he slipped to a miserable 5-19 with an ERA near 4 and a WHIP at 1.4. However, of his 5 wins, 3 were shutouts and of those 3 shutouts, 2 were no-hitters! He is one of only 4 players to throw 2 gems in a single season.
The next year, Virgil made the all-star team, splitting the season between the Browns and the White Sox. He was revitilised with the change of scenery where he enjoyed his only 20 win season and was in the running for league MVP. It was while playing in St. Louis briefly that Virgil met and befriended a fellow Alabama-born pitcher, Satchel Paige. Despite growing up in the south pre-civil rights Paige and Trucks formed a lasting friendship until Paige’s death.
Trucks finished his career in 1958 at 41 with the Yankees. Trucks worked on the Southern Pacific while he wasn’t on the ballfield but was able to work in baseball as a scout and minor league instructor, mostly with the Tigers until the mid 1970’s.
Trucks is the uncle of Southern rock pioneer Butch Trucks who is the co-founder of the Allman Brothers Band. He is the great-uncle of guitar virtuoso/ having a hot-wife virtuoso Derek Trucks.
Virgil “Fire” Trucks celebrated his 91st birthday this week and he is currently the oldest living pitcher to toss a no-hitter and the last remaining member of the ’45 Tigers World Championship team. Virgil has outlived four wives and currently resides in Shelby County, Alabama.
The Allman Brothers band playing with another former Yankee, Bernie Williams.