Virgil Trucks is one of four men to throw two no-hitters in a season and the first Tiger to pitch two no-hit games. Overall, he was a solid major league hurler that displayed occasional flashes of greatness. He had led the league in strikeouts, shutouts, and pitched in the World Series. However, 1952 was a bizarre season for Trucks. He reached the pinnacle with two no-hitters, but also struggled mightily with a 5-19 overall record.
The 1952 Tigers were one of the worst teams in Detroit baseball history. The squad finished 50-104 and could not pitch or hit. They finished last in runs scored, hits, ERA, and runs allowed. Detroit was second to last in average, OBP, and OPS. An injured Hal Newhouser appeared in only 25 games. Art Houtteman lost 20 games, Ted Gray went 12-17, and Virgil Trucks ended up 5-19.
Trucks started 29 games in 1952. He tossed eight complete games and three shutouts. However, his ERA elevated to 3.97 and his WHIP approached 1.400. In 197 innings, Trucks allowed 190 hits and walked 82 batters. On a good offensive club, Trucks probably finishes the season around .500. The 1952 Tigers were not a good offensive club and his record dipped to 5-19.
The Tiger right-hander entered a May 15 match up against the Senators at 0-2. The poor on-the-field product kept people from going to Michigan and Trumbull. Only 2215 fans attended the game between the 6-18 Tigers and 13-10 Senators. Bob Porterfield started for Washington and nearly matched Trucks pitch-for-pitch.
Trucks went 9 innings, walked one, and allowed no runs or hits. However, Porterfield entered the bottom of the 9th allowing only 3 hits and no runs. George Kell claimed the game was absolutely “nerve racking.” He led off the ninth by grounding out to short. Pat Mullin hit a blast to center that Jim Busby ran down. With 2 outs, Vic Wertz ended the drama with a walk off home run. The Tigers won the game 1-0 and Trucks had his first career no-hitter. The pitcher jumped up when the ball landed in the seats and banged his head on the dugout roof.
Two months later, the last place Tigers traveled to New York to battle Casey Stengel’s Yankee Empire. New York had won the last three World Series and would win the next two. Detroit started 4-15 Trucks against Yankee pitcher Bill Miller. The Bronx Bombers boasted a lineup that included Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Phil Rizzuto. Johnny Mize lurked on the bench.
Like the first no-hitter, neither team could score. Miller and Trucks matched zeroes for the first six innings. The Tigers broke through in the 7th inning. With one out, Walt Dropo doubled. Bud Souchock lined a single to left field scoring Dropo. The Tigers failed to score again, but led 1-0. Trucks retired the side in order in the next two innings. Detroit continued to cling to the one run lead going into the bottom of the 9th. Mantle led off the final frame by striking out. Joe Collins lined out to centerfield. Hank Bauer grounded out to second baseman Al Federoff who fired the ball to Dropo at first to end the game. Trucks had his second no-hitter.
The no-hitter almost was a one-hitter. In the third, Rizzuto beat out a grounder that Tiger shortstop Johnny Pesky struggled to get out of his glove. Most thought Pesky committed an error, but the official scorer gave Scooter a hit after initially charging an error on the play. The beat writers demanded he change it back to an error. Finally, the scorer called Pesky in the dugout and the shortstop admitted he should have thrown Rizzuto out. The hit became an error and the partisan Yankee crowd cheered its approval.
Trucks’ second no-hitter of 1952 is one of the most impressive games ever pitched. The righty defeated the three-time World Champions, who would go on to be five-time champs. The Yankee lineup included three Hall of Famers and the pitcher faced a fourth as a pinch hitter. Lastly, the Tigers were a terrible club and bad teams find ways to lose.
Only four men have thrown two no-hitters in a single season. In 1938, Johnny Vander Meer accomplished the feat in consecutive starts. The year before Trucks’ performances, Yankee Allie Reynolds became the first American League pitcher to have two no-hitters in a single season. Twenty-two years after Reynolds, Nolan Ryan threw two of his career seven no-hit games. In 2010, Roy Halladay joined the club. Meanwhile, Justin Verlander is the only other Tiger with two no-hitters, but Verlander’s were not in the same season.
After the 1952 season, the Tigers traded Trucks to the Browns. In mid-June 1953, the Browns sent him to Chicago. Trucks rebounded from his 5-19 season to win 20 games. He went 52-28 in his next three seasons before returning to the Tigers in 1956. Detroit traded him to the A’s in December 1956. The pitcher finished his career with the Yankees in 1958.
In 1952, Virgil Trucks enjoyed the greatest 5-19 season in history. He played on a terrible team and put up mediocre statistics. Despite the record and the poor numbers, the pitcher threw two no-hitters. Trucks had an amazing arm and displayed it on those two occasions.