Virgil ‘Fire’ Trucks dies at 95

Long before Justin Verlander, there was Virgil “Fire” Trucks.

Trucks, who died Saturday at the age of 95, was a pretty good pitcher who had the knack of making history for the Detroit Tigers. Like Verlander, he was best known for his fastball, which helped him overpower minor-league hitters in the 1930s and earn his famous nickname.

In 1945, having pitched only one game in two years because of World War II, Trucks got out of the U.S. Navy just in time to start Game 2 of the World Series. With the Tigers already down a game in the Series, Trucks pitched a complete-game, 4-1 victory over the Cubs, and Detroit went on to win the title in seven games.

Trucks, who wore No. 22 both before and after the war, had to use a different jersey during his brief appearance in 1945. What number did he wear in the World Series? The same No. 35 that now adorns Verlander’s jersey.

In 1949, he led the American League in shutouts and strikeouts and made the first of his two All-Star teams.

Three years later, he did something Verlander hasn’t managed to do. Playing for a terrible Tigers team — they went 50-104 — the 35-year-old pitched a pair of no-hitters in a single season.. Oddly, the no-hitters made up almost half of his wins in a 5-19 season.

Trucks left Detroit after that season and bounced around the American League until 1958, when he pitched for the A’s and Yankees at the age of 41. He did return to the Tigers in 1956, going 6-5.

In his career, Trucks went 177-135, with 114 of those wins coming for Detroit. He picked up a second World Series ring as a coach for the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates and lived out a long retirement in Alabama.

But he always stayed in touch with his favorite major-league team.

“He called me not too long ago,” Tigers president and GM Dave Dombrowski told the Detroit News on Sunday. “He left the message that he was wishing me well, wished the team well and liked the club.

“He was a very nice man.”