News of Virgil Trucks’ passing will undoubtedly inspire a few old-time Tigers fans to reminisce, “Why, I was at the park that day in ’52 when he threw a no-hitter against the Senators.”
Take any such claims with a grain of salt. That person either has a faulty memory or is outright fibbing. A grand total of 2,215 fans were rattling around Briggs Stadium that distant afternoon, and most of them have since moved on to that Great Bleacher Section in the Sky. The reason for the paltry turnout? General Douglas MacArthur was in town.
Sure, he was bombastic and full of himself, but Big Mac was a big deal in 1952. The hero of the Pacific war and architect of Japan’s postwar reconstruction had been fired for “insubordination” by President Truman in the middle of the Korean War, a dismissal that only added to Mac’s popularity. It’s appropriate that Washington was in town to play the Tigers on May 15, 1952, because MacArthur’s visit was all political. Although he had famously promised to just fade away, the old soldier with the aviator shades, corncob pipe, and carefully cultivated image actually had been positioning himself as a dark horse candidate for the Republican nomination.
The general, his wife, and his hairpiece all flew into Detroit that brisk Thursday, and the citizenry greeted him with a parade down Woodward. As upwards of 100,000 Detroiters packed Cadillac Square to hear MacArthur sound off on the stairs of old City Hall about international and domestic affairs, the Tigers took the field against the Senators in a nearly empty ballpark. There was a very tenuous connection between MacArthur and Virgil Trucks. The speedballer from Alabama had served in the Navy during World War II, and had returned from active duty in 1945 just in time to help the Tigers win the pennant and the World Series against the Cubs.
Trucks, 0-2 going into the game, was just wild enough to be effective. The 35-year-old righthander walked one batter and hit two others, and second baseman Jerry Priddy committed three errors. Nonetheless, the Senators couldn’t eke out a run or even a hit through nine innings. Then, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Vic Wertz pumped one into the seats off Bob Porterfield. Detroit 1, Washington 0, and Trucks, who had tossed four no-hitters during his minor-league career, had his first no-no in the majors. He was so excited he jumped up from the bench and skulled himself on the cement roof of the dugout.
And so the rest of 1952 played out: Trucks went on to pitch a second no-hitter, making his final 5-19 record that season much more bizarre; the Tigers finished in the basement for the first time in their history; MacArthur’s political star fell as rapidly as it had soared; and another World War II hero, Dwight D. Eisenhower, made it into the White House. As Trucks’ death at age 95 reminds us, it was all such a long, long time ago.