Virgil Trucks was one of the Tigers' best pitchers in the late 1940s and 1950s, and was the lone bright spot on a 1952 squad that finished with a then-franchise-worst 50-104-2 record. He and Justin Verlander are the only two Tigers pitchers with multiple no-hitters, though Jim Bunning collected a second no-no with the Philadelphia Phillies after leaving Detroit. Trucks is the fourth pitcher from the 1945 championship squad to land on our countdown.
*Played for the St. Louis Browns from April 153 to June 1953.
**Played for the Chicago White Sox from June 1953 to 1955.
***Played for the Kansas City Athletics from 1957 to June 1958.
****Played for the New York Yankees from June 1958 to September 1958.
Virgil Oliver Trucks was born on April 26th, 1917 in Birmingham, Alabama. He played for the Andalusia Bulldogs in 1938 and was given the nickname "Fire" due to his 420 strikeouts in 273 innings, a league record. Trucks signed with the Tigers later that year and spent the next three years in their farm system before debuting late in 1941. In his major league debut, Chicago White Sox first baseman Joe Kuhel stole home with Trucks on the mound.
Trucks' 1942 season got off to a shaky start when he walked nine batters in his first three games, allowing 16 runs. He settled down after that, however, tossing back-to-back complete games. At the end of the year, Trucks was 14-6 with a 2.74 ERA. He allowed just three home runs in 167 2/3 innings, the lowest home run rate in baseball that year. The 1943 season would bring more of the same for Trucks. He finished second on the team in wins and WAR, and first in strikeout-to-walk ratio. Despite a rotation that finished the season with a 2.87 ERA -- second-best in the American League -- the Tigers went 78-76 and finished fifth in the league.
In 1944, Trucks enlisted in the navy and spent the year playing for a naval baseball team led by former Tigers catcher and manager Mickey Cochrane. Trucks played with former Tiger Schoolboy Rowe on that squad, then with a naval "All-Star" team of sorts in a competition against the army. As part of SABR's Biography Project, Gregory Wolf detailed the legendary talent on that team.
Admiral Chester Nimitz of the navy challenged the army to a Military Service World Series in Hawaii. Both rosters comprised major league stars, but the navy squad, managed by Bill Dickey, may have been the most talented service team ever assembled; it included Phil Rizzuto, Johnny Mize, Dom DiMaggio, Pee Wee Reese, Johnny Vander Meer, and Virgil Trucks.
Trucks spent 1944 and most of 1945 away on active duty, but was discharged when he injured his knee. He rejoined the Tigers in time for their trip to the World Series, where Trucks allowed a single run in a complete game victory in Game 2.
Trucks continued to be a solid part of the Tigers' rotation for the remainder of the decade. From 1946 to 1949, he went 57-45 with a 3.49 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. He accumulated 15.5 WAR during this stretch, second among Tigers pitchers to Hal Newhouser. While Trucks never approached the strikeout totals he amassed in the minor leagues, he was also second on the team with 545 strikeouts during that stretch. He led the league in shutouts and strikeouts in 1949, and made the only All-Star appearance of his Tigers career.
After missing most of the 1950 season with a shoulder injury, Trucks spent the first half of the 1951 season coming out of the bullpen, where he struggled mightily. His ERA ballooned to 6.43 by August 1st, but rejoined the rotation and brought his ERA down to a modest 4.33 by the end of the season. In 13 appearances (12 starts) to close out the 1951 season, he went 8-3 with a 2.76 ERA.
The 1952 season was one of the worst seasons in Tigers franchise history. Trucks had a lousy 5-19 record, but finished with a 3.97 ERA and led the team with 3.5 WAR. His first win of the season came on May 15th, a no-hitter against the Washington Senators in which Trucks allowed just one baserunner. He duplicated the feat later in the season, no-hitting the World Series champion New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on August 25th. Trucks is one of four players with multiple no-hitters in a single season. In his five victories in 1952, Trucks allowed a total of nine hits, two runs (one earned), and 37 strikeouts to 13 walks.
After the 1952 season, Trucks was traded to the St. Louis Browns. He went 20-10 with a 2.93 ERA for the Browns and Chicago White Sox that year, then followed up with a career high 5.6 WAR for the White Sox in 1954. It was the best two year stretch in Trucks' career in terms of wins, WAR, and ERA+. He finished in the top 12 of MVP voting both seasons, including a top five finish in 1953.
Trucks pitched for the White Sox for another season before returning to Detroit via trade in 1956. He went 6-5 with a 3.83 ERA in 120 innings. He also walked more batters than he struck out, leading the Tigers to trade him to the Kansas City Athletics after the season. Trucks spent two more years in baseball, retiring after he was left off the New York Yankees' 1958 World Series roster.
Overall, Trucks finished his career with some very impressive numbers. He ranks 10th in franchise history with 20 shutouts and his 30.2 WAR is good enough for 13th among Tigers pitchers. Even more impressive is that he sits behind teammates Hal Newhouser, Tommy Bridges, and Frank Lary in WAR, with Fred Hutchinson not far behind. Trucks pitched in one of the more pitching-dominant eras of Tigers baseball to say the least.
Mr. Trucks passed away on March 23rd, 2013.