February 27, 2010

THAT COOT:

Music connects Trucks family: Former Tigers great, kin share love of the game (Peter Gammons, 02/27/10, MLB.com)

Virgil Trucks had just turned 91 two years ago when this boyish kid who looked as if he were 20 showed up at his door. The kid introduced himself as Derek Trucks, Virgil's nephew's son, and they spent the day tying together the frayed generations of Trucks, of baseball stories Derek loved hearing, and music that Virgil says he didn't fully understand. [...]

Derek was more interested in Virgil and never did much on his biography, how he was the youngest of the Rolling Stone Top 100 Guitarists of all time published in 2003, how the Wall Street Journal called him the "most awe-inspiring slide guitar players" ever, and how peers have put him in the class of the half-dozen guitarists who ever lived. He proudly got a copy of Virgil's book, and listened to stories about the two no-hitters he threw in 1952 for the Tigers and how he went right from World War II to the World Series, about the day he matched zeroes against Satchel Paige in a game the Hall of Famer won in the 12th.

Virgil says he has never met Butch, but he was thrilled to "meet so fine a young man as Derek. I don't know where the musical part of the family came from, but I'm proud of him."

He was told that when Derek, Susan and their son Charlie went to a Red Sox Spring Training game last March, Susan -- whose family have had season tickets at Fenway Park, where Susan has many times sung the National Anthem -- sat next to Johnny Pesky. She introduced Derek, that he is Virgil's great-nephew. "That coot is still alive?" Pesky replied. "No one wanted to hit off that [guy] he threw so hard." [...]

After a strong 1939 split between Alexandria and Beaumont, in 1940 he pitched for Beaumont in the Texas League and threw another no-hitter, in 1941 threw another no-no for Buffalo in the International League and by the time he made his debut on Sept. 27, 1941, he had four Minor League no-hitters on his resume.

Somewhere along the way, they tried to figure out how hard he threw. "They found an old Army gun," says Trucks. "It read 105 miles an hour."

Just 71 days after his Major League debut, Pearl Harbor was hit, and by the end of the 1943 season, Trucks enlisted. When the war in Europe ended in April 1945, Trucks was sent to a base in Norman, Okla., to await his discharge papers. Fortunately, there was a former Minor League catcher on the base, so the two would work out, run and throw every day. Problem is, the papers didn't come.

Finally, in September, he pushed his case, got the papers and got released a week before the end of the season. The Tigers were in a pennant race, so Trucks got his release and called the Tigers. "They were ending the season in St. Louis the coming weekend," Trucks recalls. "So I got a bus to Oklahoma City, took a train to St. Louis and arrived in time for the final series."

The final day of the season was Sunday. If the Tigers won, they clinched the pennant. If they lost, they had to take a train back to Detroit to play a one game playoff with Washington. To Trucks' surprise, manager Steve O'Neill told him he was starting that final game. After two years off and six months in Norman, Okla., Fire Trucks was asked to start the game to get the Tigers to the World Series.

So much for the notion that pitchers need a seven-week Spring Training.

Trucks gave the Tigers 5 1/3 innings, allowing one run and leaving with a big lead. Unfortunately, Newhouser came in and blew the lead, but Hank Greenberg hit a grand slam in the eighth inning and the Tigers were in the World Series. In the first live game action in two years, Virgil Trucks had his quality start.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 27, 2010 7:24 PM
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