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Paul Peterson

Truck’s name brings back memories

May 10, 2011
The Daily Mining Gazette

On the heels of Justin Verlander's no-hit game this past weekend against the Toronto Blue Jays, it was only fitting that the name of Virgil Trucks would come up.

Before Verlander, Trucks had been the only Tigers' pitcher to ever hurl two no-hitters - and he did it in the same season.

But the amazing thing to me was discovering that the 94-year-old Trucks is still alive and well down in Alabama.

You might as well have told me that ex-Tigers Harvey Kuenn and George Kell were still among the living. It was that surprising.

Oh, I know that people often live well into their 90s. I had at least one uncle accomplish that feat.

But Virgil "Fire" Trucks always fascinated me, maybe because I saw him in person back in 1957 ... and he wasn't young even back then.

The "Virgil Trucks Barnstorming All-Stars" appeared at the Hancock Driving Park in October of 1957 to play the Copper Country All-Stars in an exhibition.

If that sounds strange to younger readers, it should be pointed out that most big leaguers of that era were lucky to earn $10,000 a year. They were forced to go on the road to earn extra money.

Kell, a Hall of Fame selection, told me in a 1979 interview at old Tiger Stadium that he never made more than $15,000 in any one season.

And he had a .306 lifetime batting average, made several All-Star teams, and edged out the legendary Ted Williams of Boston for the 1949 batting crown with a .342 mark.

The most vivid memory I have of the 1957 local appearance of the big leaguers was seeing Charley Maxwell of the Tigers blast two gigantic homers over the rightfield fence.

Hancock's Merv Klemett, who was in rightfield that day for the local team, said the homers looked like "peas as they went over my head."

Of all the barnstorming teams that ever went through the area, Trucks team is considered the most talented.

Besides Maxwell, he had players like Bob Buhl of the Milwaukee Braves, Fred Hatfield of the Tigers and Jack Harshman and Sherman Lollar of the Chicago White Sox.

Trucks didn't pitch that day, although he still would have had the stuff to bewilder the locals.

When you look at his stats, you have to believe that he was a sterling pitcher in his own right.

Pitching mostly for second division clubs (Tigers, St. Louis Browns and Kansas City A's, etc.), he had a career record of 177-135 with a 3.39 earned run average.

When he hurled his two (both 1-0 games) no-hitters in 1952 for the Tigers, he was a modest 5-19.

Traded to the White Sox a year later, he went 20-10 with a 2.93 ERA.

In today's inflated game, his stats would have easily earned him a multi-million dollar salary with the status of superstar.

But like many stars of the past, he wasn't born late enough to cash in.



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