Sunday, March 24, 2013

Virgil Trucks Passes; 20-game Winner in '53

We are sad to report the death of former pitcher Virgil Trucks, at age 96, on March 23rd at his home in Calera, Alabama.  Trucks was the Browns last 20-game winner (1953), although 75% of his wins were recorded for the Chicago White Sox, to whom he was traded mid-season.  He was also the opening day pitcher for the Browns in what would be their final season before moving to Baltimore.

In a 17-season career, Trucks posted a 177-135 record with 534 strikeouts and a 3.39 ERA in 2,682 innings pitched. In addition to the Browns and the White Sox, Trucks played for the Detroit Tigers (1941–1943, 1945–1952, 1956), Kansas City Athletics (1958) and New York Yankees (1958). 

The right-hander was born Virgil Oliver Trucks in Birmingham, Alabama and is the uncle of a line of southern rock musicians, starting with Allman Brothers Band co-founder Claude Hudson "Butch" Trucks.

Trucks was one of 12 surviving players who played baseball before World War II. He was the oldest living member of the defunct St. Louis Browns, of which only 29 players presently survive.

Trucks was traded to the Browns in December 1952, with Johnny Groth and Hal White for Owen Friend, Bob Nieman and  J.W. Porter (the youngest living Brownie and crowd-favorite at BFC luncheons - Ed.).

The trade was actually a "step up" for Trucks.  The Tigers were 104-game losers in 1952 (Trucks himself  had contributed to 19 of those 104).  In contrast, the Browns were "on the way up", having improved their record by 12 games over 1951 by only losing 90 in 1952. Wheeler-dealer Bill Veeck, who had traded away Ned Garver four-months before, was getting back a serious gate attraction with Trucks, who won a World Series game with Detroit in 1945 and who, despite 19 losses, had pitched two no-hitters in '52.*

On April 10, 1953, Trucks received the honors from Manager Marty Marion of starting the season's opening game, a home game against the Tigers.  It was also the first game ever in a stadium called Busch, which name has emblazoned three St. Louis stadia in the last 60 years.  Trucks hurled a four-hit shutout of his former teammates; his new colleagues supported him with 10 runs.  He would be

the last opening-day starter in Browns history.  (The first opening day starter for the Browns was Francis L. "Red" Donahue, April 23, 1902 in the very same stadium where Trucks toiled, then known as "Sportsman's Park".)

After retiring as a player Trucks joined the coaching staff of the Pittsburgh Pirates, winning the 1960 World Series with them against his old team the Yankees. He continued coaching with the Pirates, then the Atlanta Braves and finally ending his MLB career with the Tigers in 1974.

As news of Trucks' death was reaching the Brownie Fan Club members in St. Louis, said members could not help but notice the irony: a freak Spring snowstorm which bore the name "Winter Storm Virgil" was heading east from Kansas City and bearing down on the Gateway City. Even more ironic, eventually "Virgil" would dump snow on all the cities in which Trucks played, from Kansas City all the way to New York.  St. Louis even received 12 inches, a total not seen in 31 years. Springfield, Illinois received an all-time record 18.5".  In late March, two weeks before opening day!

Browns Fan Club President Bill Rogers had recently spoken to Mr. Trucks' daughter who reported that he was ill and would not be able to attend the 2013 Browns reunion luncheon. But she told Bill that Virgil sends his regards for everyone.**

Brownie fans world wide take pause to salute Virgil Oliver "Fire" Trucks.  Requiescat in pace!

* Trucks was only the third pitcher in baseball history to pull off this feat. Johnny Vander Meer and Allie Reynolds had done it previously and only Nolan Ryan and Roy Halladay have done it since.

** Ping me if you get that Southern Rock reference.

1 comment:

  1. My dad played against Virgil Trucks when my dad pitched for the Browns and Indians. Dad would talk about the good time he had after the 1948 season when he and my mother went to Michigan and camped out with the Trucks and the Swifts. Dad always thought highly of Mr. Trucks.

    Bob Muncrief III