Virgil Trucks, a flame-throwing right-hander who tossed two no-hitters for the 1952 Detroit Tigers, a team that finished in last place, died on Saturday in Alabaster, Ala. He was 95.
His stepdaughter Barbara Sloan confirmed the death.
Trucks, whose nickname was Fire, had a fastball that was sometimes compared to Bob Feller’s and that he claimed was once measured by military radar at 105 miles per hour. He pitched for five major league teams but spent most of his career with the Tigers, helping them to a World Series victory over the Chicago Cubs in 1945 and leading the American League in strikeouts in 1949, which was perhaps his best big-league season. Of his 19 wins that year, six were shutouts, tied for the major league lead with Ellis Kinder of the Boston Red Sox. He was also the winning pitcher in the All-Star Game. His career record was 177-135, with a 3.39 earned run average.
In 1952, Trucks had one of the oddest statistical seasons in baseball history. Not only was the Tigers’ record dreadful — the team was 50-104 — but Trucks’s was as well. The woeful offense scored two runs or fewer in 15 of his starts, and he went 5-19. But remarkably, two of the five wins were no-hitters. The first, on May 15, was against the Washington Senators; the second, on Aug. 25, was against the mighty Yankees at Yankee Stadium. No one since then has pitched a complete-game no-hitter against the Yankees in New York.
Trucks became just the third pitcher to throw two no-hitters in a season, following Johnny Vander Meer of the Cincinnati Reds in 1938 (who did it in consecutive starts) and Allie Reynolds of the Yankees in 1951. Only two others have accomplished the feat since then: Nolan Ryan of the California Angels in 1973 and Roy Halladay of the Phillies in 2010, his second coming in a playoff game.
Trucks’s feat, however, perhaps holds the record for anomalies. The score of both his no-hitters was 1-0, and the first was won with a home run by Vic Wertz with two out in the bottom of the ninth. The second no-hitter was secured after the official scorer, John Drebinger of The New York Times, first ruled that a ball hit by the Yankees’ Phil Rizzuto in the third inning was an error by Tigers shortstop Johnny Pesky.
Drebinger’s colleagues in the press box argued with him, and he changed his mind, calling it an infield single. But still uncertain later in the game, Drebinger called Pesky in the Tigers’ dugout, and he acknowledged that he had been unable to grip the ball cleanly. Before the seventh inning, the call was changed back to an error, and the no-hitter was restored.
Between the two games, on July 22, Trucks faced the Senators again, yielded a single toEddie Yost on the first pitch of the game, then gave up only three walks the rest of the way, finishing with a one-hit victory. Once again, the score was 1-0.
Virgil Oliver Trucks, the 4th of 13 children of Oliver and Lula Bell Trucks, was born on April 26, 1917, though as a ballplayer, he lied about his age, saying he was born two years later. His birthplace was “in the Birmingham area, he liked to say,” his stepdaughter Ms. Sloan said.
Oliver Trucks was a gifted amateur ballplayer, and he passed his love of the game to young Virgil, who played in industrial leagues after high school and graduated to the low minor leagues. In 1938, pitching for the Andalusia (Ala.) Bulldogs, he won 25 games and struck out more than 400 batters, earning his nickname from a local sportswriter. He threw four no-hitters in the minors and made his big-league debut with the Tigers at the end of 1941.
In his first two full seasons he won 30 games. He then enlisted in the Navy, where he spent two years mostly playing ball with other professionals to entertain servicemen. He returned to the Tigers at the end of the 1945 season and several days later pitched a complete-game victory over the Cubs in the World Series.
Trucks, who lived in Calera, Ala., is survived by his fourth wife, Elizabeth Ann; 2 daughters, Carolyn Beckwith and Wendy Trucks; 3 sons, Jimmy, Virgil Jr. and Darryl; 3 stepdaughters, Ms. Sloan, Cathy Patterson and Jackie Davis; 3 stepsons, Michael Barnett, Brant Davis and Vince Newman; a sister, Shirley Helton; a brother, Clayton Trucks; 8 grandchildren; 10 great-grandchildren; and a great-great-grandchild.
After his double-no-hit season, Trucks was traded by the Tigers to the St. Louis Browns, for whom he played the early part of 1953 before being traded to the Chicago White Sox; he was 20-10 over all, his only 20-win season. He subsequently played for the Tigers again and the Kansas City Athletics before completing his big-league career in 1958 with the Yankees as a reliever.
According to an account in The Times, late in a game that year, Manager Casey Stengel decided to change pitchers and told the pitching coach, Jim Turner, to call the bullpen for a young right-hander named Johnny Kucks. In the bullpen, however, the message was misunderstood and the bullpen catcher sent in Trucks, much to Stengel’s surprise and Turner’s displeasure. Turner got back on the phone and was still screaming at the bullpen catcher when Trucks tapped him on the shoulder. He had thrown one pitch, induced a double play and returned to the dugout.
“Anything wrong?” he said.