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100 greatest Tigers #40: Virgil Trucks

Virgil Trucks threw two no hitters and won 177 Major League games.
Virgil Trucks threw two no hitters and won 177 Major League games.
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World War II prevented Virgil Trucks from winning 200 major league games. He missed two full seasons to the service, which probably cost Trucks 20-30 victories. Despite this, the righty had a solid big league career with 177 wins. He could outright dominate hitters at times. Over the course of his playing days, Trucks won 20 games, led the league in strikeouts and shutouts, and threw two no-hitters in the same season.

Detroit signed Trucks in 1938, but he did not appear on the big club until 1941. He spent four years in the minors, set strikeout records, and tossed four no-hitters. The Tigers recalled Trucks for one game in 1941. The rookie pitched two innings, allowed two runs, and struck out three.

Despite a shaky debut, Trucks made the major league team for good in 1942. He went 14-8 with a 2.74 ERA in 1942. The next year, he topped 200 innings, went 16-10, and completed 10 games. The Tigers did not contend in those years since they lost their big gun Hank Greenberg to the war and the pitching staff was developing. The team just missed the World Series in 1944 without Trucks. He served two years in World War II before returning at the end of the 1945 season.

Trucks made one regular season start in 1945 to warm up for the World Series. The leagues waved roster requirements for players returning from the war. As a result, Trucks did not need to be on the big league roster on September 1 to participate. He allowed an earned run in 5.1 innings in September. He started two contests in the Fall Classic against the Cubs. Trucks went 1-0, with one complete game, 3.38 ERA, 14 hits, 5 walks, and 7 strikeouts in 13.1 innings. The right hander was rusty, but effective in the Tiger world championship run.

Fans and players dubbed the 1945 world champion "Fire" Trucks for his blazing fastball. Over the next four years, he won 14, 10, 14, and 19 games. His strikeout totals appear miniscule by modern standards, but impressed for the era. Over this period, Trucks punched out 161, 108, 123, and 153 batters. He led the league in strikeouts (153) and shutouts (6) in 1949. Overall, Trucks finished 1949 with a 19-11 mark, 2.81 ERA, 17 complete games, four saves, and 275 innings in his first All Star season.

The shine dimmed after 1949. Injuries limited Trucks to seven games in 1950. In 1951, he served as a swingman finishing 13-8 in 18 game starts. The next year was just weird. Trucks went 5-19 with a 3.97 ERA in 197 innings. However, he threw three shutouts, including two 1-0 no-hitters. Fire Trucks bested the Senators on May 15 and then the Yankees on August 25.

The 5-19 record scared Detroit into trading Trucks to the Browns in December. The Browns shipped the pitcher to the White Sox after 16 appearances in 1953. Trucks ended up having his finest campaign. He won 20 games and finished fifth in the MVP vote. The Sox star won 19 and 13 games over the next two years and made his second All Star team in 1954.

The White Sox decided Trucks was at the end and returned him to Detroit in November 1955. The former dominant starter appeared in 22 games, went 6-5, posted a 3.83 ERA, and looked about finished in 1956. The Tigers sent him to the A's in the offseason.Trucks pitched for the A's and Yankees before hanging up the spikes after the 1958 season.

Virgil Trucks won 177 games in the major leagues. For the Tigers, Trucks went 114-96 with a 3.50 ERA, 1800.2 innings, 1618 hits, 1.305 WHIP, and 1046 strikeouts. He also lost two years to World War II service. His fastball intimidated hitters for its speed and lack of control. However, his efforts helped Detroit win the 1945 World Series, throw two no-hitters in a bizarre 1952 season, and become a preeminent strikeout pitcher.