Somehow it was inevitable that Virgil Trucks‘ nickname would be “Fire.” Fire Trucks could throw a wicked fastball and that made the combination obvious. And he must not have minded because when he wrote his biography the name on the cover included “Fire.”
Trucks was 95 years old when he died the other day. He won 177 games during his 17-year pitching career between 1941 and 1958, all spent in the American League. But he is best remembered for throwing two no-hitters in one season for the Detroit Tigers in 1952. That is not a unique feat, but a rare one, also accomplished by Nolan Ryan, Allie Reynolds, Johnny Vander Meer, and Roy Halladay. Halladay’s achievement in 2010 included a post-season no-hitter.
As always, baseball shows itself to be a quirky game and the year Trucks hurled two no-hitters the Tigers were awful at 54-100 and except for those two beauties it was the worst season of his career. The same pitcher who twice won 19 games, and also won 16, and 14 three times, went 5-19 that year. And his earned run average of 3.97 wasn’t that bad. Go figure.
Apparently, Trucks did. “We were last in runs scored and near the bottom in fielding, a deadly combination for you if you’re a pitcher,” Trucks said in his book “Throwing Heat-The Life And Times of Virgil “Fire” Trucks. “1952 was about as mixed a year for me as any pitcher could have had,” Trucks wrote. “I feel like I pitched as well as I did the year before when I won 13 ball games.”
Actually, Trucks did win 20 games in one season, but that season was split between two teams. He began the 1953 campaign with the St. Louis Browns and after 12 appearances he was 5-4. Then he got traded again to the Chicago White Sox and went 15-6 with the Sox. So just a year after suffering with the 5-19 record, Trucks went 20-10.
In 1945, Trucks won a game in the World Series that the Tigers captured from the Chicago Cubs. It was his sole Series pitching effort.
Trucks wore another uniform, that of the United States Army, during World War II, and estimated that he surely would have won more than 200 career games if it hadn’t missed two seasons of baseball while serving his country. Bob Feller, the Indians great, who was a Trucks contemporary, played golf with him in retirement, and he said Trucks was a tough guy on the mound. “He never tired out,” said Feller, who died in 2010. “He was like a workhorse.”
Although the bulk of the right-hander’s career was spent with the Tigers, Trucks also played for the White Sox, Browns, New York Yankees and Kansas City Athletics, too. One of his 19-victory seasons was for the White Sox in 1954. The White Sox won a surprising 94 games that year, yet didn’t come anywhere near capturing the AL pennant. The Cleveland Indians won 111 games and the Yankees won 103. Trucks was 19-12 with a 2.79 ERA.
“Going to the White Sox was like going to the Yankees after where I’d been,” Trucks said.
Les Moss, a catcher who played with Trucks in Chicago, and was his roommate for a while, called him “a real great guy” and said when Trucks was at his best on the mound, “on given day he could be virtually unhittable.”
While Trucks did not have the same sustained success as they did, in the 2000s he said that the current-day pitchers who most reminded him of how he pitched were Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling. Trucks, who played 12 of his 17 years in the big leagues with Detroit, also said he was sorry to see old Tiger Stadium be torn down in favor of a new park.
“They invited all the ex-Tigers who were living,” Trucks noted of saying goodbye to the structure. “It was a sad day for all involved because of all the great memories that had taken place in that old building.”
Trucks, who was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1917, was living Alabama when he died. Up until near the end of his life Trucks said he still got at least one letter a day from baseball fans asking for autographs and he said it was great to be remembered.