If a kid falls for baseball at an early age, it can be all-consuming throughout childhood.
This was the case for me throughout the 1980′s, where baseball was my one true passion. I loved to play it, watch it and learn about its grand history.
When I wasn’t playing Little League or watching George Kell and Al Kaline call Tigers’ broadcasts, I would be looking at stats, box scores, and other info in the Detroit Free Press or Baseball Digest (and oh would it make my month when a Tiger was on the cover of that publication). I also spent time reading everything about baseball history, particularly the Detroit Tigers.
My main source was a 1989 hardcover publication, The Detroit Tigers: An Illustrated History by the late, great Detroit sportswriter, Joe Falls. I read that book, reread it and reread it many more times. I recently discovered the book again–I had kept it after all these years, and through many moves. It is in bad shape–the pages have broken loose from the spine and the outer cover was torn apart, but, aside from not having any history past 1988, it has a certain timeless quality.
He may have been lost in the record books along with hundreds of other men who have toed the rubber for the Detroit Tigers in relative obscurity over the franchise’s 111 seasons, if it wasn’t for one intriguing season: 1952. In that year, he threw two no-hitters despite an awful season.
This intrigued me for a couple of reasons.
First, the Tigers have not had many no-hitters (seven total). Virgil’s dual no-hitters were the second and third in franchise history and first since George Mullin no-hit the St. Louis Browns in 1912.
Secondly, Trucks basically had to throw a no-hitter to win that season. In each of his efforts, May 15, in front of a scant 2,215 fans at Briggs Stadium against the Washington Senators, and Aug. 25 at Yankee Stadium, his offense could muster just one run. Those two victories were among just five that year, against 19 defeats. Don’t blame Virgil, though. The 1952 Tigers were awful. The competitive years of the 1940′s were long gone and the team lost 100 games (50-104) for the first time.
The right-hander began his career with the Tigers in 1941, and won a World Series with them in 1945. Following the quirky 1952 campaign, Trucks and Detroit parted ways, but had a brief reunion in 1956. He had stints with the Browns, Chicago White Sox, and the Kansas City Athletics, before finishing his career with the Yankees in 1958.
In 12 years with Detroit, he went 114-96 with a 3.50 ERA. After his playing days, he was a coach for several organizations and stepped away from the game for the final time in 1974, fittingly retiring as a member of the Tigers‘ coaching staff. He remained close with the organization, even occasionally checking in with general manager Dave Dombrowski.
Virgil’s daughter, Carolyn, told the Detroit News that when people would ask about his big league career, he’d reply that he “played with the Detroit Tigers and four other teams.”
So while Virgil Trucks will never have a statue at Comerica Park, or be remembered as one of the top Detroit pitchers of all-time, he did add to the fascinating narrative of the history of the Detroit Tigers.
We here at Motor City Bengals tip our cap to a legendary player.