Friday, April 5, 2013

Reflections: Virgil Trucks

Virgil "Fire" Trucks (1917 - 2013)

Baseball lost a great man nearly two weeks ago in Virgil Trucks.   It's been well documented by so many of my fellow bloggers with beautiful tributes and fantastic encounters - both 'through the mail' and even personally - that if there was any doubt as to how well he lived his life and how much of an accessible friend he was to baseball has certainly been laid to rest with 'ol "Fire" Trucks, himself.

I wanted to make my own contribution.   Not so much as to reiterate what others have already said so well, but to share my own little piece of baseball treasure from my own correspondence with Mr. Trucks.   I think it would be shame not to and not in line with how "Fire" treated the Game as something to be cherished, shared and learned from.

Mr. Trucks at Rickwood Field, Birmingham, Alabama in 2012
(photo courtesy of Randal Crow)

A little background.....

As some of you know, I began my professional career as a naval nuclear propulsion officer in the submarine community.   I have a rich family history of military service but I was the first one crazy enough to go willingly underwater - on purpose.   Other than being a husband and father, I am certain it will be one of the most worthwhile things I'll ever do.

You also know by now that I am a huge baseball fan and collector of baseball cards and memorabilia.   I love the history of the game and have a great deal of respect for the players of the past that achieved greatness of a binary nature, both as professional ballplayers and citizen soldiers who put their lives on the line for the life and liberty of others.   In comparison with the prototypical professional athletes of today, the incredible nature of these heroes' stories become more unbelievable and more distant as society and time roll forward, but no less powerful.

Mr. Trucks at Rickwood Field, Birmingham, Alabama in 2012
(photo courtesy of Randal Crow)

It was a natural progression, therefore, that my memorabilia pursuits and collecting goals leaned towards these veterans of the Game and the service.   I've reached out to dozens over the past six years with some terrific success.   Sadly, the timing of my pursuit has taken on tremendous urgency due to simple timing - our heroes are dying.

But that's okay.   These men and women lived full and meaningful lives, accomplishing so much to deliver the advanced and comfortable world that we live in today.   I've referred to my own grandparents on this blog from time to time.   Three of them served in the military, during World War II and the Cold War's first days.   They raised families and worked hard in successful careers that stretched more than 50 years.   They were baseball fans, too!

Like Mr. Trucks, all of my grandparents are now gone.   I lost the last three of them in a little more than three months towards the end of last year.   I miss them terribly - but it is certainly bittersweet.   I'll reiterate what I said above; they lived wonderful lives.   And now, more than ever, I understand that dying is simply a another part of life that we will all endure.   What's important is how you live and what (and whom!) you leave behind for the world to enjoy and, hopefully, become a better place.   So that's my urgency - to capture as much beautiful life experience from these heroes, whomever they may be, before they're gone with their stories that are OH so worth telling!

I like to think that I try every day to make the world a better place as a tribute to my grandparents and as a part of their legacy.   I also feel like I have a little piece of Mr. Trucks' legacy to share - so let's talk some baseball!

I reached out to Virgil Trucks with a letter and some pictures from my navy days.   He was a sailor himself, serving in the Navy towards the end of World War II in the Pacific theatre.   I would recommend to anybody that they check out some of the stories regarding the service league baseball tournaments held in Hawaii (and elsewhere) during the War (read more about that here: ).   "Fire" Trucks utilized these opportunities to keep his hurling skills fresh, boost morale for his fellow servicemen and create terrific sports stories for an entire nation in war time.   Is there a greater gift?   He also has a GREAT story of how he re-joined the Detroit Tigers to pitch in Game 2 of the '45 Series only TWO WEEKS after being discharged from active duty!

Add all of these tales to his accomplishments on the diamond from 1941 through 1957 with the Tigers, Browns, White Sox, Athletics and Yankees.......and you have quite the legend!   I only wish I had enough time to go through his career and life in its entirety.   He did have one highlight for which he is very well k nown.   Rightfully, Virgil was a proud member of the elite club of pitchers to fire two no-hitters in the same season.   He adorned nearly every autograph he signed with custom-made stamps that reflected the dates of his two "no-no's" in 1952.   I am personally fascinated by this feat and have actually made a collecting goal of obtaining autographs and collecting cards of each of the pitchers that have achieved this feat:

  • Johnny Vander Meer (1938)
  • Allie Reynolds (1951)
  • Virgil Trucks (1952)
  • Nolan Ryan (1973)
  • Roy Halladay (2010)

My first vintage Fire Trucks - 1956 Topps #117

I'll keep you posted on that quest, of course - but back to my letter to "Fire" Trucks!

I shared my own experience in the navy and the service connection to my grandparents with Mr. Trucks and thanked him for his own service.   I briefly described my favorite feats from his amazing career and peppered some questions about his experiences throughout my diatribe.   I thanked him for his contributions to the game, asked very politely for his autograph and even enclosed a donation to his church, something that I had been told, though not a requirement, would mean a lot to him.   Heck, it was the least I could do.

Mr. Trucks signing a baseball (photo courtesy of Randal Crow)

Within a week, Mr. Trucks replied with an amazing 'package' of baseball treasures.   He was quite generous with everyone who reached out to him over the years but I couldn't believe my eyes as his generous reply unfolded before me.   A picture, book jacket, cards and the ball I had sent - all fell out of the envelope with Mr. Trucks' inscriptions, stamps and well-wishes.  

"To Ryan M. LaMonica, My Navy Partner With Best Wishes Always, Virgil 'Fire' Trucks"


Most amazing to me though, was the personally written letter from Mr. Trucks, himself.   Two whole pages of kind words and incredible recollections from his playing days.And now I'd like to share his words with you!   I've partitioned the letter into paragraphs for ease of reading but left most of Mr. Trucks' own prose intact.


Dear Mr. LaMonica (mate),

It was nice hearing from you.   And my pleasure to sign your baseball, I hope I didn't mess it up with all the stuff I put on it.   Also enclosing a photo and four small cards for you.   I'm sorry my writing is bad and won't write much.   I'm having a carpal tunell done the 28th of this month and will write more after it heals which is estimated about a month.

Your whole family is service people and that's terrific.   I also thank you & family for your participation in the service for our country.   Bless you all.  

Well, as I pitched every game was treated the same.   But the two no hitters were special.   As for being calm in the bottom of the 9th inning against the Yankees was no more than the other 8 innings as it was a bad year for the "Tigers" & me.   We finished last that year winning only 50 games and losing 104 in a 154 game schedule.

As for Mantle being the leadoff hitter in the bottom of the ninth, I was just going to give him my best, power against power.   I struck him out.   I'm also enclosing a lineup of both no hitters.   I also had a 1 hitter that year.   I almost had three.   The leadoff hitter that game hit a clean single between 3rd and short.   I then retired the next 27 hitters.

Well Ryan, I hope you don't mind me using y our first name.   As I get a lot of mail and am used to doing that.   I also enclosed a cover of a book I wrote.   Which were sold out of 2 printings.   And may have a third.   Not sure yet.   Thank you for the church money.   And they do to.   I'm sorry I can't write more but hand is a little tired & weak.   My best to you and your family.


                                                                                 Virgil Trucks

P.S. Thank you for the sub photo.   I had to patch up your envelope.   It  got scuffed up.   So I patched it up with tape of your address on the one you mailed me.

Congrats on the upcoming son.   Bless him.


No, sir.   Bless you.   Rest in peace, Mr. Trucks.   Your legacy lives on.  

I've included a couple more beautiful portraits of Mr. Trucks below.   These were taken by photographer (photo-journalist?) Randal Crow.   His website/blog can be found below and I would encourage you to view his work.   It's beautiful.   These photos were taken in 2012 at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama.   Wouldn't you know - Rickwood Field is the oldest standing professional ballpark in the United States.   It opened in 1910, just seven years before "Fire" was born.

Thanks for sharing, Randal.

Thanks for reading.

Photo Credit(s):

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing, Ryan. The letter he wrote you is very special.