Virgil Trucks: The First Detroit Tiger to Throw Two No-Hitters

On Saturday, Justin Verlander became the second Detroit Tiger to throw two no-hitters — but the first, Virgil Trucks, did it in one season.

As one of only four pitchers to throw two no-hitters in a single season, the 94 year old Virgil Oliver “Fire” Trucks still receives stacks of fan mail requesting autographed photos and baseballs. They are often friendly reminders that evoke bittersweet memories of a strange season nearly sixty years ago when the fireballer threw two gems during the Detroit Tigers worst season ever.

After two impressive seasons with the Tigers in ’42 and ’43, Trucks served two years in the Navy. Remarkably, within just one week of being discharged, he won Game 2 of the 1945 World Series in Detroit against the Cubs, pitching all nine innings. “My no-hitters were special, but without question, that was my greatest baseball thrill ever,” Trucks says. The writers quickly dubbed the powerful Tiger pitching staff of Dizzy Trout, Hal Newhouser, and Virgil Trucks, “TNT.”

But by 1952, the once powerful Tigers had lost their roar.

On May 15th, the team was mired in the basement, when a crowd of only 2,215 patrons showed up at Briggs Stadium to see 33 year old Virgil Trucks face the Senators.

“It seems like hundreds of people have told me they were there, but I know better because the park was nearly empty,” Trucks says. “We were playing so badly that nobody wanted to see us play.”

But the lucky diehard fans in attendance were treated to one of the most dramatic no hit games in history as Trucks was locked into a pitcher’s duel with Washington’s Bob Porterfield.

“Virgil was throwing absolute bullets” recalled George Kell, in an interview I did with him on the 50th anniversary of Trucks no-hitters. “He may have been as fast as Bob Feller. But as a fielder, protecting a no hitter was absolutely nerve racking. You make up your mind that you’re going to get a glove on any ball if you can. And of course it’s an unspoken word that you never talk about it,” Kell said.

With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and no score, Tiger slugger Vic Wertz stepped up to the plate. On the first pitch, Wertz belted the ball into the far reaches of Briggs Stadium’s right field upper deck to win the game.

“I immediately jumped up in that small dugout and bumped my head on the ceiling,” Trucks told me. “I didn’t draw blood, but I sure saw some stars.” The dazed pitcher ran onto the field and was the first to greet Wertz at home plate.

Besides Wertz, Trucks also had someone else to especially thank.

Prior to the game, Trucks noticed that his spikes had shrunk and were pinching his feet. Art Houtteman told Trucks he could borrow a pair of his, the same ones Houtteman wore earlier that year when his own no hitter was lost with two out in the ninth. “They fit perfectly for me the rest of the year,” Trucks said. “Art kept trying to get’em back but I wouldn’t do it,” he said with a chuckle.

Two months later, Trucks threw another magnificent game against the Senators. After yielding a single to the first batter Eddie Yost, Trucks retired 27 batters in a row for another 1-0 victory.

But on August 25th in Yankee Stadium, Trucks once again repeated his magic, but unlike the dramatic no-hitter in May, this one would be controversial.

In the third inning, on a bang-bang play, Phil Rizzuto was ruled safe at first after hitting a one hopper to Tiger shortstop Johnny Pesky who had trouble getting the ball out of his glove. The official scorer John Drebinger of the New York Times immediately ruled it an error, than changed his mind and called it a hit. Other writers in the press box pestered Drebinger and told him it should have remained an error. Drebinger finally called Pesky in the dugout who told the scribe he had juggled the ball and should have made the play. For the second time, Drebinger once again changed his mind, and when it was announced to the crowd in the seventh inning that the play was ruled an error, the Yankee Stadium fans roared their approval.

“The thing that really bothered me about that play, is that Rizzuto was really out at first,” Trucks says. “We were all arguing with the first base umpire, and I nearly got tossed from the game,” Trucks said.

In the bottom of the ninth, after Mickey Mantle struck out, and Johnny Groth made an outstanding catch in center, Trucks secured his second 1-0 no hitter when Hank Bauer hit a one hop bullet to second baseman Al Federoff who easily threw Bauer out.

Trucks says he threw no differently for his no hitters and probably even pitched better games in his career. “I pitched the same way every game, with mostly a 95 to 100 mph fast ball. With the same motion, I also threw a 85 mph slider and a 75mph change up. That really threw the hitters off,” Trucks says.

Despite his gems, Truck’s season ended with a 5-19 record thanks in large part to the team’s anemic hitting. Remarkably, for his five victories, Trucks only yielded nine hits.

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