Wednesday, September 18th, 2019

No-Hitter Flashback: Virgil Trucks

Matt Garza of the Tampa Bay Rays has just thrown Major League Baseball’s fifth no-hitter of the 2010 season.  That’s actually six no-hitters this year, at least in the State of Michigan.  Three of them have involved the Rays, twice as victim and now, finally, as victor.

All this brings to mind that old Baseball Digest favorite, the story of Virgil Trucks and his two no-hitters in the 1952 campaign.

Virgil, nicknamed “Fire” as in fire truck, of course was not the only pitcher to hurl two no-no’s in a single year; Allie Reynolds and Nolan Ryan have also done it, as did Johnny VanderMeer (in consecutive starts!).

What makes Virgil’s 1952 season remarkable is that he did it at the age of 35, for a last-place Detroit Tigers team that went 50-104 for the season, while compiling a personal won-lost record of 5-19!

Baseball Digest has profiled this achievement countless times.  Their June 2004 issue features an interview with a then-86 year-old Trucks, whch not only includes full game details of both no-hitters, but also includes several fascinating historical footnotes:

“When I was called up to the Tigers at the end of the 1941 season, it was the first time I had ever crossed the Mason-Dixon line or even seen a major league game,” said Trucks, a native Alabamian who now lives in Pelham, Alabama.  “Just to walk into the locker room and see players like Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer and Rudy York was quite a thrill.”

For a man who didn’t cross the Mason-Dixon line until age 24, Trucks’ career took him to some remarkable places:

But he won 20 games in 1953 while pitching for the Browns and Chicago White Sox, and he won 19 the next season at Chicago.  Before ending his 17-year career with the Yankees in 1958, Trucks also pitched for the Athletics and in 1956, the Tigers again.  He later barnstormed one year out West with Satchel Paige and a team of Cuban ballplayers, coached in the early 1960s with the Pirates and worked as a scout for the Tigers until 1990.

From a statistical standpoint, Trucks’ career perhaps should be better remembered.  In spite of his tough-luck 5-19 record in ’52, Trucks excelled in the statistical categories that measure long-term success.  He averaged nearly 5.9 strikeouts per 9 innings that year, third best in the league; he placed top-ten in that category ten times in a fourteen year span between 1942 and 1955.  In that same time span he also was in the top ten in strikeout-to-walk ratio ten times.  Virgil was also in the top ten in WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) six times, and top-ten in ERA four times.  He still ranks high on the career wins list (158th all-time) and strikeouts list (159th all-time).

Being one of the top 200 pitchers ever, even after having retired 50-plus years ago, surely merits one more long look at his career, which was noteworthy for much more than just the two no-hitters in a single 5-19 season.

Here are the Retrosheet box-scores for the twin no-hitters:

May 15th vs. the Senators

August 25th vs. the (soon-to-be World Champion) Yankees

Virgil is still alive today, and in a fun interview with a Birmingham paper just a few months ago (in December 2009), responded to an interesting question:

Q: Should you be in the Baseball Hall of Fame?

A: Yes. If I played my entire career with the Yankees, I’d be in there already.

In 2004, Trucks, along with Ronnie Joyner and Bill Bozman wrote an autobiography, Throwing Heat:  The Life and Times of Virgil “Fire” Trucks

 

 

Additional Artcles on Virgil Trucks

 

Virgil Trucks obvisously is one player who signs autographs for today’s fans

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