Detroit enjoyed exceptional starting pitching in 1949. All five principal starters finished with double digit wins and four won at least 15 games. Despite the presence of Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser, Virgil Trucks enjoyed the best season of all the pitchers. The 32-year-old right hander finished the season 19-11, led the league in shutouts and strikeouts, and made his first All-Star team.
The Tigers had a nasty pitching staff in 1949. Hal Newhouser anchored the staff with 18 wins. Art Houtteman and Fred Hutchinson each won 15 games. Ted Gray went 10-10. Meanwhile, Virgil Trucks emerged as the best Tiger pitcher for that season with a 19-11 record.
Trucks made his first start on April 20 beating Chicago 5-2. Dizzy Trout saved Trucks’ second April victory in the first game of a doubleheader against those same White Sox. Trucks finished April 3-0 with a wild 7-5 victory over Satchel Paige and the World Champion Indians. Despite surrendering five runs, he completed his first game of the year.
On May 4, he pitched a three-hit gem against the Red Sox at Briggs Stadium. Ted Williams had two of Boston’s hits, including a home run. Detroit won 5-1 behind Trucks’ complete game. Four days later, the Bronx Bombers handed the righty his first defeat. They clubbed the Tigers 12-0 to improve to 15-4 and drop Detroit to 10-7. Tommy Henrich had four hits and Yogi Berra drove in four runs on three hits. On the 12th, Trucks bounced back from the Yankee debacle with a five hit, 2-1 victory over the Senators. He went ten days before another decision. On May 22, Boston defeated Detroit 3-2 in 12 innings. Trucks went 11 2/3 innings, allowed eight hits, three earned runs, walked 11, and struck out 5. Mel Parnell pitched a complete game victory for the Red Sox. Five days later, Trucks beat the Browns to finish May at 6-2. The Tigers ended May at 20-19.
Virgil Trucks opened June with a 5-4 win over the A’s. Once again, he pitched into extra innings. The complete game victory included his first 10 strikeout game of the season. After losing to the Red Sox on June 8, Trucks earned a measure of revenge against New York for the 12-0 drubbing he took on May 8. He pitched an 11-inning complete game 3-2 victory against Casey Stengel’s Yankees.
Despite leading the league in shutouts, and throwing into extra innings several times, Trucks did not hurl his first whitewash until mid-June. On June 14, he tossed a one-hitter and walked only one against the A’s in Philadelphia. Hank Majeski slapped Philadelphia’s only hit, a single. Five days later, he threw a four-hitter against Washington for his second shutout of the season. After back-to-back shutouts, Trucks finished June 0-2 with a save, which included the Yankees‘ second 12-0 shellacking in 1949.
Virgil Trucks entered July with a 10-5 record and two saves. The Tigers were 38-31. The Tiger right-hander did not pitch particularly well in July. The White Sox hit him hard on the 2nd. The Browns scored five in 11 2/3 on the 6th. He did not get another decision until after the All-Star break. After making his first All-Star Game, Mel Parnell and the Red Sox tore Trucks and the Tigers apart 11-1. After the Red Sox embarrassment, Trucks went 3-1 for the rest of the month. He shutout the A’s on July 30 raising his record to 13-7.
Detroit entered August 54-46, in 4th place, 8 ½ games out of first. The team managed to gain a whole ½ game in the standings by September 1. For August, Trucks struggled with a 2-3 record and 2 saves. His best performance of the month occurred on August 25 in Detroit when he bested the Senators 2-1 on a 4-hitter to raise his record to 15-10.
The Tigers went 15-9 in September. Trucks led the way with a 4-0 mark for the month with three shutouts. On September 2, he scattered 10 hits in defeating the White Sox 8-0. Nine days later, he won a 1-0 decision against Bill Wight and the White Sox. On the 23rd, he five-hit Early Wynn and the Indians. He seemed unbeatable until he ran into Bob Feller on October 2. The great Indians pitcher shutdown Detroit’s bats for his 15th win. Trucks finished the year 19-11. Detroit ended the season in 4th place with an 87-67 record.
For 1949, Virgil Trucks went 19-11 with a 2.81 ERA. He led the league in shutouts with six and strikeouts at 153. Trucks appeared in 41 games, started 31, and completed 17. “Fire” Trucks tossed 275 innings and allowed only 209 hits. If there was a negative for Trucks, it was his 124 walks which increased his WHIP to 1.211. The pitcher remained with the Tigers until the end of the 1952 season. He returned for a 1956 stint and finished his career in 1958 with the Yankees with a 177-135 record.
Virgil Trucks could dominate. He earned his nickname “Fire” Trucks with his fastball and shutouts. In 1949, he experienced one of Detroit’s finest seasons finishing 19-11 while leading the league in shutouts and strikeouts. He helped lead a fine starting staff. Unfortunately, the Tigers finished fourth behind the Yankee Empire.