Virgil Trucks

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Virgil Trucks in 1941

Virgil Oliver "Fire" Trucks (born April 26, 1917 in Birmingham; died March 23, 2013) was a Major League pitcher who started as a right-hander from 1941 to 1958 and recorded two no-hitters in a single season in 1952, one of only four pitchers to have done so. He resided in Calera.

Biography

Trucks was one of 13 children born to Oliver and Lula Bell Trucks. He played outfield on his father's sandlot team and for American Legion teams as a boy. After high school he joined a textile league team in Shawmut (Chambers County), where catcher Brunner Nix coached his conversion into a pitcher. His pitching caught the notice of the Andalusia Bulldogs of the Alabama-Florida League (Class D) and he agreed to play for $35 a game during the 1937 league playoffs. He won two games and Andalusia defeated Union Springs for the league championship.

Trucks was offered a full-time contract with the team for 1938, but Eddie Goosetree had already signed him up with the Detroit Tigers who wanted him to play for their minor league affiliate in Beaumont, Texas. He didn't report to either camp and, instead, went back to his textile league team in 1938. While there his Shawmut team defeated the Atlanta Crackers 2-1 in an exhibition game in which Trucks pitched six shutout innings. When Atlanta's Paul Richards tried to sign him to yet another contract, it fell to team manager Bob James to sort out the offers. Since Detroit had pigeonholed their contract, Trucks was told to report to Andalusia. He arrived just in time to pitch the opening game of the 1938 season. He set a record that year with 418 regular-season strikeouts, which is still the fourth-best total ever recorded by a minor league pitcher. He struck out another 30 batters in two playoff games. His record was 25-6 with a 1.25 ERA. The team used their star only for home games to maximize his drawing power.

Goosetree was dispatched to sign the right-hander back to Detroit under the threat of losing his job. He offered the Bulldogs $10,000 for Trucks, enough to pay off their stadium lights. He pitched for Beaumont in 1939 and 1940, then was promoted to Buffalo in 1941. He was called up to the majors and debuted in a Tigers uniform on September 27, 1941. He pitched in relief in his only start that season, and allowed Joe Kuhel to steal home.

Major League career

Over the next two seasons Trucks recorded 30 wins with an ERA well below 3.00. In 1944 he joined the U. S. Navy and reported to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center where his Navy team went 50-2. He pitched the opening game of the Army-Navy World Series in Hawaii organized by Admiral Nimitz, winning it 5-0 on the way to a 9-1-1 series record.

He served his tour in the South Pacific and rejoined the Tigers at the end of the 1945 season during a pennant race with the Washington Senators. He allowed one run in 6 innings in the only game he started against St Louis. The Browns rallied to go up three going into the ninth, but Detroit's Greenberg hit a grand slam to send the Tigers to the World Series. Trucks pitched a complete game to win the second in the series against the Cubs, which the Tigers won, 4 games to 3. Though he had only pitched in three games, the team voted to give him a half-share of the championship bonus.

Trucks won 14 games in 1946, 10 in 1947, 14 in 1948 and 19 in 1949. That year he led the league with 6 shutouts and 153 strikeouts. He made the roster for his first All-Star team.

In 1950 he suffered from a sore arm for most of the season, but came back in 1951 with 13 wins. In 1952 Trucks combined what was probably his best season with his worst record as a starter. He pitched two no-hitters and retired 27 straight batters after a lead-off single in a third game, but managed only a 5-19 record to go with his 3.97 ERA. Only a temporary reassignment to the bullpen kept him from losing a 20th game.

1958 Virgil Trucks baseball card

Trucks was traded to St Louis for the 1953 season. He went 5-4 for the Browns before being traded again, this time to the hard-hitting White Sox. He won 15 games for the Sox to put together his first and only 20-win campaign with 149 strikeouts and a 2.93 ERA. He finished fifth in the voting for that year's American League MVP, behind Al Rosen, Yogi Berra, Mickey Vernon and Minnie Miñoso. He followed that up with 19 wins, an AL-leading 5 shutouts, and an All Star berth in 1954 and 13 wins in 1955. In 1956 he was back in Detroit and making the transition to reliever. For 1957 he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics and won 9 games with a 3.03 ERA. On June 15, 1958 Trucks was traded to the New York Yankees, where he pitched relief.

Upset at not making the World Series roster that year, Trucks threatened to walk away from his contract. After a long talk with Milt and Art Richman he agreed to stay on and pitch batting practice. He reported to spring training in 1959, but had lost too much of his fire and was cut from the team. He played for a while with the International League Miami Marlins and barnstormed on Satchel Paige's teams before retiring from play.

In his 17-season Major League career, Trucks posted an overall 177-135 record with 1,534 strikeouts and a 3.39 ERA in 2682.2 innings pitched. His prime years were with the woeful Detroit Tigers who provided neither offensive or defensive support for his pitching, possibly costing him wins that could have put him in the Hall of Fame.

In 1963 Trucks was hired as a pitching coach by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He also coached for the Braves and scouted for the Seattle Pilots and for the Tigers before retiring in 1974. Trucks resided in Calera until his death in 2013. He is buried at the Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo.

Trucks' family is known for its musical accomplishments. Virgil Trucks is the uncle of Butch Trucks, a founding member of the Allman Brothers Band. His great nephew, Derek Trucks, is currently a member of that band and fronts his own band, the Derek Trucks Band.

References

  • Trucks, Virgil O. (2004) Throwing Heat: The Life and Times of Virgil "Fire" Trucks. Pepperpot Press.
  • Joyner, Ronnie "Virgil Trucks: Throwing Heat was Fire’s Department." Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society.
  • Segrest, Doug (May 2, 2007) "55 years after throwing no-hitters, Virgil Trucks still a hit with fans." The Birmingham News
  • "Virgil Trucks." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 2 May 2007, 14:08 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 2 May 2007 [1].
  • "Virgil 'Fire' Trucks, Sr." obituary (March 25, 2013) The Birmingham News

External links