Virgil Trucks career highlightsby Chris Jaffe
March 26, 2013
This past weekend, Virgil Trucks passed away at the ripe old age of 95—just shy of 96, in fact. He was a former AL pitcher, mostly with the Tigers, who was a terrific talent. In his New Historical Baseball Abstract from about a decade ago, Bill James ranked Trucks one of the 100 best pitchers in baseball history.
He’s most famous for his 1952 season, where he became one of the five pitchers in baseball history to throw two no-hitters in a season—yet finished 5-19 on the year, largely to some woeful offensive support.
At any rate, when a person dies, it’s fitting to take that opportunity to look back on his life and career. I’ll let others handle his life as a person. For now, let’s look back at his career. Here are some of his career highlights, milestones, and most memorable games.
Minor league days
Aug. 24, 1938: With Andalusia in the Alabama-Florida League, 21-year-old Virgil Trucks fans his 418th batter of the season. That’s the most by any pitcher at any level of organized baseball since 1900.
Sept. 27, 1941: Now 24, Trucks finally makes it to the majors. He throws two innings of relief against the White Sox for Detroit. Trucks allows two runs on four hits, but fans three.
June 24, 1942: Trucks allows a home run to Red Sox star slugger Ted Williams. This is the first of a dozen dingers Teddy Ballgame belts off Trucks, the most he has against any pitcher.
Aug. 26, 1942: Trucks gets the win with the bare minimum of offensive support: a 1-0 complete game shutout against the A’s. It’s the first of 10 CG SHO wins for Trucks.
June 24, 1943: There’s a riot going on, but then again there is a baseball game going on. Detroit is in the midst of one of the worst race riots of the 20th century—so bad that the day before several hundred troopers were in Tiger Stadium (Briggs Stadium, as it was known then). But today Trucks goes the distance in an 11-4 win over Cleveland.
Aug. 19, 1943: He may have once fanned over 400 batters in a minor league season, but today Trucks gets a complete game without fanning a single batter. He doesn’t need it, as the Tigers trounce Boston, 10-0.
Oct. 2, 1943: This will turn out to be Trucks last game until the end of World War II, and he goes out a winner, fanning 11 in a 12-5 complete game win over Washington.
Sept. 30, 1945: The war is over and so is Trucks' military duty. He returns just in time to help settle the pennant race. The Tigers lead Washington by a game heading into this, the last day of the season. Washington has the day off, but the Tigers have a doubleheader scheduled against the Browns. Trucks, in his first game in two years, would start the first game. He allowed just three runs, but left trailing, 3-2. In the ninth star slugger Hank Greenberg belted a grand slam to claim the pennant. The teams ended up not playing the second game.
Oct. 4, 1945: World Series Game Two: In the first postseason start of his career, Trucks delivers, guiding the Tigers to a 4-1 win over the Cubs to even the Series at a game apiece.
Oct. 8, 1945: World Series Game Six: Trucks has a chance to clinch a world championship for Detroit with a win today. He isn’t able to do it, as a four-run Cubs rally in the fifth inning chases him. The Cubs win it 8-7 in extra innings, but Detroit wins the Series finale to make Trucks a world champion.
(Random fact: with Trucks' death, only one man who played for the Tigers in this World Series still lives—Ed Mierkowicz. He relieved Greenberg in left field for the last inning of Game Seven and never batted. Andy Pafko and Lennie Merullo are still alive from the Cubs squad).
April 26, 1946: Oops. Trucks loses one on a walk-off home run. The bomber is Browns pinch hitter Joe Grace. This will be his only homer all year for the Browns (though he hits two more for Washington after a midseason trade—but that it’s in over 500 PA).
July 30, 1946: It’s like the minor leagues all over again. Virgil Trucks fans 13 batters, a personal big league best. Trucks and the Tigers top the Yankees, 6-5.
Sept. 3, 1946: It’s one of the greatest performances of his career. Trucks records 46 outs in one game—in 15.1 innings pitched—allowing just three runs. All it gets him is a no-decision as the White Sox win 4-3. It’s 2-2 after 15 frames, but the Tigers score one to go ahead in the top of the 16th. Trucks coughs up the lead and reliever Stubby Overmire then coughs up the game. Still—15.1 IP!
May 19, 1947: Rats. Pitching in relief, Trucks retires just one of the three batters he faces, and gives up his first career walk-off home run for a 5-4 loss to Boston. It’s the second of three career walk-off home runs allowed.
Aug. 15, 1947: Trucks one-ups himself—he allows two runs but scores a personal best three runs. The Tigers top the White Sox, 9-2.
Aug. 11, 1948: Trucks does something he never does before or since:leg out a triple. Unfortunately, he does it with two out and none on, and is stranded there. Even worse, he and the Tigers end up losing, 2-1. Doubly worse: Trucks loses despite allowing just two hits—both to the same batter. If it wasn’t for Dave Philley, Trucks might’ve had a no-hitter. Or not—the White Sox manufacture a run in the seventh despite not getting a hit (a walk, two productive outs, and two errors), so the game would’ve gone into extra innings without Philley.
Aug. 24, 1948: Back then, there was no such thing as starters and relievers—all pitchers were swingmen. Thus, alongside his 328 starts, Trucks had 189 relief appearances. His longest relief appearance came here, 7.1 IP, as he lasts from the first to the ninth in a 7-4 win over the A’s.
April 30, 1949: It looks like Virgil Trucks took part in a beanball war. Facing off against the defending world champion Cleveland Indians and their legendary pitcher Satchel Paige, things start to get ugly in the bottom of the fourth. Cleveland enters the inning up 3-0, but two Tigers homers tie it, the game-tying blow oming off the bat of the weak-hitting Sam Vico. Up right after Vico is Trucks, and Paige promptly drills him (one of only two career HBP for Trucks). Immediately after that, Trucks plunks Cleveland player-manager Lou Boudreau in the top of the fifth, and a pinch runner is needed. I don’t have a game account handy, but it looks like Boudreau was ejected. It all ends there, though, and Trucks hangs on to win, 7-5.
May 22, 1949: It’s big, long, and ugly. Trucks has one of the longest starts of his career, pitching 11.2 innings in a complete game loss. The loss comes in the most humbling way possible—a walk-off, game-winning single by the opposing pitcher (Mel Parnell, who also goes the distance). Trucks also walks a personal high 11 batters in the game.
June 5, 1949: Something is up with Trucks’ control. Just two weeks after issuing 11 base on balls, he walks nine in just seven innings work. In July he’ll have back-to-back starts of seven and eight walks, and then have another eight-walk game in August. No wonder he ends the year with 124 free passes.
June 14, 1949: Trucks throws a one-hitter in a 4-0 win over Connie Mack’s A’s. Only a single by Hank Majeski leading off the fifth breaks up Trucks’ day.
July 12, 1949: Trucks makes his first All-Star team—and comes away with the win. He doesn’t pitch very well, allowing two runs in two innings on three hits and a pair of walks, but the AL takes a 6-5 lead as soon as he leaves, and holds it for the rest of the way for a 11-7 triumph over the Senior Circuit.
Sept. 11, 1949: For the second time in his career, Trucks posts a 1-0 win with a complete game victory.
Sept. 18, 1949: For the second and last time in his career, Trucks throws a complete game despite fanning zero batters. What’s especially odd is he does it onthe way to leading the league in strikeouts in 1949. He’ll make up for it next time with 10 Ks. In fact, that 10-K game proves to be the difference, as he edges teammate Hal Newhouser for the strikeout lead by nine, 153 to 144. It was a very different time.
May 13, 1950: It’s one of the greatest games of Trucks’ career. He goes the distance in an 11-inning affair for a complete game shutout 1-0 win over the Browns. He allows just five hits and five walks while fanning eight.
May 19, 1950: It looks like the 11-inning game six days earlier was at least one inning too long. Today, Trucks has to leave in the third, and he won’t return all year. This is bad for him and bad for the Tigers, as they’ll come up short in a tightly contested pennant race. Losing Trucks for the last 130 games might’ve made the difference.
Sept. 2, 1951: For the fourth time, Trucks gets a complete game victory in a 1-0 win. It’s a five-hitter over the White Sox.
Sept. 7, 1951: Chicago must be sick of Trucks. Five days after a 1-0 complete game shutout, Trucks comes back with an even more impressive performance. In a 14-inning marathon, Trucks and Sox starter Billy Pierce go the distance, and Trucks wins, 2-1. Trucks allows just five hits and four walks—and the run is unearned. His Game Score is 103.
Sept. 13, 1951:After his two impressive starts against Chicago, it’s a nice career milestone for Trucks, as he chalks up his 100th win. His record is 100-80 so far. He’ll go 77-55 from here on out.
Sept. 30, 1951: Trucks would like to thank today’s clear hitting star for Detroit—himself. In a 2-1 win over the Indians, Trucks drives in both of the team’s runs. They come on a seventh-inning bases-loaded single against Cleveland pitcher Toothpick Sam Jones, who is making just his second big league appearance.
May 15, 1952: Here it is—the season people remember Trucks for, the time he went 5-19 despite throwing two no-hitters. This is the first of the no-hitters (giving him a record of 1-2 on the year). Trucks no-hits a Senators team that hits .239 on the year. Incredibly—and rather fitting for Trucks’ 1952, his no-hitter nearly isn’t good enough. It’s 0-0 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth when Vic Wertz wins it with a walk-off solo homer. It’s the first of three 1-0 victories for Trucks on the year. Trucks issues one walk and hits two batters.
June 20, 1952: Trucks sets a personal worst with his sixth straight loss and a record of 2-8 and counting. It’s wrong to say “personal worst” as it’s hitters that are to blame. They’ve scored eight runs in his six starts since his last win. Trucks has a 3.56 ERA in that time, but no wins.
June 29, 1952: And now, for something that will be a theme for Trucks in 1952: He loses on a walk-off hit. It’s 0-0 Tigers-Browns after seven, but some late scoring by Detroit gives Trucks a 2-0 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth. Alas, after getting the first two batters out, an error keeps the game alive for the Browns. After a single, first baseman Dick Kryhoski hits a three run homer for a 3-2 Tigers loss. Trucks allows zero earned runs, but his record falls to 3-9 anyway.
July 22, 1952: Incredible but true: Not only does Trucks throw two no-hitters while going 5-19 in 1952, but he throws a one-hitter, too. That comes in this game, one of his three 1-0 complete game shutouts on the year. Washington leadoff hitter Eddie Yost gets a single in the first—and that’s it. Trucks walks three batters, but allows only one hit. Detroit also does its damage early, scoring the game’s only run with one out in the bottom of the first. His record improves to 4-11.
July 27, 1952: Sometimes, they don’t see it coming. Virgil Trucks, at age 35, attempts his first steal ever—and pulls it off. It’s his only career stolen base. He loses anyway, 6-0 to the Yankees (of course there was no run support!) to fall to 4-12 on the year despite his 3.63 ERA.
July 31, 1952: If no one is going to score for him, Trucks will have to do it himself. He hits his first career home run in today’s game against the A’s. Typically, it’s not enough as he loses 3-2 in a complete game effort.
Aug. 6, 1952: Virgil Trucks throws nine shutout innings, but because it’s 1952 he still doesn’t get the win. Instead, the St. Louis Browns win 1-0 in 12 innings as ageless wonder Satchel Paige throws a complete game victory in what might be his greatest post-integration game. Afterward Paige crows to the press that as old as he is (born 1906 AD), he can still get batters out.
Aug. 8, 1952: Pitching in relief on one day’s rest, Trucks enters a game against the White Sox with the Tigers up 3-1 with one out and the bases loaded. Trucks fans the first batter to greatly reduce the threat, but then allows a single that ties and another that loses it. It’s his second walk-off hit of the year, but for once he doesn’t get stuck with the loss himself. (Just think, if he’d gotten the loss either here or on Aug. 6, he would’ve had a two-no-hitter year with 20 losses. Unreal).
Aug. 19, 1952: Make that three walk-off hits surrendered in 1952—and counting. This time Trucks is the pitcher of record as he throws a complete game, but loses 4-3 to the A’s. With the game tied 3-3, Pete Suder singles off Trucks, steals second, and scores on a Gus Zernial single. Trucks is now 4-15 on the year.
Aug. 25, 1952: Trucks knows just one guaranteed method to get a win in 1952: Throw a no-hitter. For the second time this year, that’s what he does, topping the Yankees, 1-0. (It’s his third 1-0 win of the year – he’s 2-19 when not throwing a shutout). If his first no-hitter came against a lackluster lineup, this one is against one of the greatest lineups ever no-hit, the 1952 Yankees featuring manager Casey Stengel, Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer, Phil Rizzuto, and others. It even has a pinch-hit appearance from Johnny Mize. The quality of the Yankees lineup makes this one of the most impressive no-hitters of all-time. The Yankees get three base runners, on a walk, an error, and a swinging strike three in the dirt. Trucks is now 5-15 on the season.
Sept. 2, 1952: For the fourth time this year, and third time in less than a month, Trucks allows a walk-off hit. He doesn’t get tagged with the loss, as he’s a reliever and it’s an inherited runner, but it’s still part of Trucks’ year of frustration. Trucks faces just one batter, Rocky Krsnich, who triples in the tying and winning runs for a 6-5 White Sox victory.
Sept. 22, 1952: Even in 1952 Trucks deserves to lose some of them. He sets a personal worst by allowing 21 base runners here—11 hits, eight walks, and two errors by infielder Harvey Kuenn. All things considered, Trucks is lucky to lose just 6-3. It leaves him 5-18 on the year.
Sept. 27, 1952: Trucks saves the worst for last. In the season finale, he lasts just a third of an inning while allowing five runs on six hits. Two weeks ago he was 5-16 with an ERA of 3.40, but his last dismal games pushed his ERA up to 3.97. Detroit assumes he’s done and trades him—just in time to miss his two best seasons.
April 14, 1953: It’s a new era, as Trucks pitches in the majors for the first time as something other than a Detroit Tiger. As it happens, he’s pitching against the Tigers, and leads the Browns to a 10-0 win. (Fun fact: the losing pitcher is former Browns star pitcher Ned Garver). As it happens, his next two games also will be against the Tigers —and the Browns will win them all. Trucks pitches in relief in the 11th inning for a save, and gets a no-decision in the other.
April 24, 1953: Virgil Trucks makes two errors in a game, something he’s never done before. In his first game neither for nor against Detroit, Trucks loses, 3-0 (with one unearned run).
May 20, 1953: Same as it ever was: For the second time this year, Trucks makes two errors in a game. He’ll never do that again. He make six errors this season, twice as many as his next highest year.
White Sox tenure
July 22, 1953: For the eighth time in his career, Virgil Trucks goes the distance in a 1-0 win as Chicago tops the Red Sox. Trucks allows just four hits and two walks along the way.
Aug. 29, 1953: Trucks is on the mound for one of the rarest of all plays: a walk-off triple play. Entering in relief in the ninth, Trucks gives up a single to the first batter and walks the second one. Then, outfielder Karl Olson lines to first baseman Ferris Fain, who catches it for the first out, steps on the base to double up the trailing runner, and then throws to shortstop Chico Carrasquel to end the inning and game. The White Sox top the Red Sox, 5-1.
Sept. 11, 1953: They call it helping your own cause. Trucks hits his second and final career homer in today’s 9-4 win over the A’s. In all, Trucks is 2-for-4 with a personal best three RBIs.
Sept. 20, 1953: Trucks achieves a noteworthy personal milestone when he wins his 20th game. He’s lost his previous start and this was his last chance to join the club. Good thing he did, because it’s his only 20-win season. He was 5-4 with St. Louis and 15-6 with the White Sox.
May 1, 1954: Trucks throws the third one-hitter of his career in a 3-0 win over Boston. Left fielder Billy Goodman gets the only Red Sox safety when he singles to left in the sixth inning.
June 8, 1954: It’s Trucks’ greatest game with the glove ever. He makes six assists and one putout—seven chances in all. That includes participating in a double play, one of three in his career. By helping himself out, he helps the White Sox top the A’s, 9-3.
June 22, 1954: The White Sox beat the Senators, 7-5, giving Trucks his seventh straight win, a personal best. He sports a 3.24 ERA in this stretch with 37 Ks and 22 walks in 66.2 IP.
July 6, 1954: For the fourth and final time, Trucks throws a one-hitter. It’s against his former teammates in Detroit for a 4-0 Chicago triumph. Harvey Kuenn gets the hit, a third inning single.
July 13, 1954: For the second time, Trucks is selected to the All-Star Game and again he not only appears in it, but plays a notable role. Trucks throws a scoreless ninth to pick up a save and preserve an 11-9 AL win.
Aug. 11, 1954: For the ninth time, Trucks pitches a shutout to win, 1-0. This time the Orioles are the victims. It’s amazing he manages the shutout, given that he allowed nine hits and four walks, but none came around to score. Baltimore leaves 12 men on base. George Kell singles in fellow future Hall of Famer Nellie Fox for Chicago’s score. This game also allows Trucks to tie his personal best with seven straight wins. He’s won 14 of his last 16 decisions and sports a 17-5 record on the year.
Aug. 15, 1954: Trucks’ winning ways come to an end, and not just slightly. He posts the worst Game Score of his career, 10, thanks to the following line: 3.1 IP, 10 H, 8 R, 7 ER, 2 BB, and 2 K in an 8-7 Tigers win over Chicago.
Sept. 14, 1954: A win today would give Trucks his second straight 20 win season, but it’s not to be. Instead he loses to the A’s, 1-0, on a run in the top of the first. It’s the second and final time he loses a 1-0 game while throwing a complete game himself.
Trucks will have two more starts, but lose those as well. Trucks ends up dropping six of his last seven decision despite a 3.68 ERA in that span. Random fact: if he’d made it to 20, Trucks would’ve been the only man to win 20 games for manager Paul Richards. Though known as a greater handler of hurlers, Richards will become the first notable manager in history to never have a 20-game winner under his watch.
May 6, 1955: For a 10th and final time, Trucks pitches a complete game shutout when his team provides him with just one run in support. It’s an unearned run in the seventh that gives Trucks a 1-0 win over Detroit Tigers pitcher Ned Garver.
Tigers tenure, part two
April 29, 1956: Virgil Trucks returns to the team he toiled with for many years. In Detroit, Trucks isn’t able to recapture the magic of old, allowing four runs in just three innings of relief. That proves to be the difference, as Detroit loses, 8-4 to Cleveland.
May 7, 1956: Trucks makes his first start for the Tigers and it’s the greatest performance of his career—at the plate, that is. Trucks gets three hits, something he’s done a half-dozen other times, but this is the only time he does it in just three PA. He also gets a pair of doubles, the only time he as two extra base hits in one game. Despite his heroics, the Orioles win 4-3 when they rally against the Tiger bullpen in the ninth.
July 25, 1956: Sometimes there’s a reason why people didn’t see it coming. At age 39 and in his 421st game, Trucks decides to do something different—steal a base. Unlike his previous attempt years ago, this one is unsuccessful, for his only career caught steal. It happens after Trucks led off the sixth with a single with Detroit trailing, 1-0. (The Tigers will win, 6-2).
July 16, 1957: For the 12th and final time, Ted Williams homers off Trucks. Yeah, Williams had his number. Then again, Williams had a lot of guys’ number.
May 4, 1958: In the eighth inning, Trucks fans Roy Sievers for his 1,500th career strikeout. That may not sound like too much nowadays, but it makes Trucks just the 14th pitcher in AL history with that many career strikeouts.
Sept. 26, 1958: One day shy of the anniversary of his first big league game, Trucks appears in his 517th and final game. He pitches the 11th and 12th innings in relief against the Orioles, and allows two runs, sinking sink New York, 3-2. Trucks does fan the last batter he ever faces, but he walked in a run immediately before that. The Yankees will play in the World Series, but Trucks will not join them. That’s how careers often end, as the last man on the bench. But at least it was the bench of a pennant winner.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.