Baseball in Wartime

Baseball's Greatest Sacrifice

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Virgil Trucks


Date and Place of Birth: April 26, 1917 Birmingham, Alabama

Baseball Experience: Major League
Military Unit:
US Navy

Area Served: Pacific Theater of Operations

Virgil O Trucks was born on April 26, 1917 in Birmingham, Alabama. He signed with the Detroit Tigers’ organization in 1938 and played with Andalusia of the Alabama-Florida League his rookie year, posting a 25-6 won-loss record and outstanding 1.25 ERA.

He played with Alexandria of the Evangeline League and Beaumont of the Texas League in 1939, joining Beaumont full-time in 1940. Then, in 1941, the right-hander was with Buffalo of the International League, where he was 12-12 with a 3.22 ERA and earned a September call-up to Detroit. Trucks made his major league debut on September 27, pitching two innings in relief against the Chicago White Sox.

Trucks stayed with the Tigers in 1942, making 28 appearances on the mound for a 14-8 record and 2.74 ERA. In 1943, the 26-year-old was even better with a 16-10 record and his 118 strikeouts was fifth best in the American League.

On February 15, 1944, his career was put on hold when he entered military service with the Navy. Serving at Great Lakes in 1944, Trucks went to the Pacific at the end of the year and played in the Army-Navy Service World Series in Hawaii. He was the winning pitcher in Game 1 and Game 4 of the series.

"The Army out in Hawaii,” he commented some years later, “had DiMaggio and all those ballplayers and the Navy didn't have as much. The Navy was looked down on and Admiral [Chester] Nimitz didn't go for that. He brought out all those major league ballplayers who were in the Navy back in the States and challenged the Army to that World Series."

Trucks later played for the Fifth Fleet team on the Navy’s Western Pacific tour and was then stationed on Guam where he found a novel way to keep occupied. "We took rides,” he says. “We took one in a B-29 and some in B-24s. We didn't go along on any bombing runs, we'd just fly around the islands with the pilots and come back in and land. But we signed some baseballs they would take out and drop on their bombing missions. We had some on a B-29 that went to Japan. The balls were completely filled with autographs."

Trucks injured his knee while on Guam and was flown back to the United States and stationed at Norman Naval Air Station in Oklahoma. He had been set for his Navy discharge as early as July 1945, but his papers languished on an officer’s desk in Oklahoma until the end of September as the pitcher helplessly watched his team fight down the stretch with Washington. Meanwhile, Trucks found a catcher able enough to handle his fastball, and began throwing and running on the base field in his dungarees and spikes. When his papers were finally processed Trucks was in fairly good shape, though not in the prime condition he would have been leaving spring training.

He made one appearance for the Tigers before the regular season ended and made two starts in the World Series against the Cubs. Trucks remained with the Tigers through 1952. He won 19 games in 1949, leading the league in strikeouts and shutouts. The two-time all-star later played for the Browns, White Sox, Athletics and Yankees before ending his career in 1958.

Trucks later became director of a youth center in Leeds, Alabama. He is an inductee in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.

Created April 2, 2008.


Copyright © 2008 Gary Bedingfield (Baseball in Wartime). All Rights Reserved.