Trucks most enduring legacy will be his kindness

A handwritten letter sent by Virgil Trucks to the author.

A handwritten letter sent by Virgil Trucks to the author.

Although former Tiger pitcher Virgil “Fire” Trucks – who died at age 95 in Alabama this past week – is being remembered for throwing two no-hitters in 1952, his kindness to fans and the hundreds of people he met during his wonderful journey should be at the forefront of his legacy.

For years, Trucks, who was at the time of his death the oldest living former Detroit Tiger and New York Yankee, received at his Calera, Alabama home dozens of packages each week from fans requesting autographs on cards, photos, and baseballs.

The man, who Ted Williams said threw faster than Bob Feller, religiously accommodated all the requests and would often add to his signature a unique feature. Typically he would write the word “Fire” in red, or would stamp a red fire truck in between “Virgil” and “Trucks.”

When I first interviewed him for a Detroit Free Press article in 2002, the 1945 World Champion told me that he did not charge for autographs and that he answered every request.

Due to declining health, it was only recently that one of baseball’s greatest fireballers no longer could answer his mail.

In an interview with the Birmingham News this past week, Virgil Trucks Jr. remembered his father’s kindness to his fans.

“When you autograph cards and send a personal note to some of them, or most of them, they never forget,” said Trucks Jr. “He cared more about (fans) than they cared about him. He wanted to make sure that everyone was happy.”

If a fan sent money for an autograph, he said his father donated it to the Alabama Sheriff’s Boys and Girls Ranch.

Although I never would expect it from anyone, especially since my interview subjects were so gracious to give me their time and assistance, of all the people I have profiled in publications, I can only think of two who ever thanked me for the articles I wrote about them.

They were Virgil Trucks and George Kell, two southern gentlemen who were teammates and in a class nearly by themselves. Both men sent me handwritten letters.

Like Trucks, George Kell accommodated all the autograph requests sent to his home. Every morning he went to his local post office to send out the fulfilled requests and to pick up another batch. Up until the time of his death, Tiger legend Charlie Gehringer did the same thing at the Birmingham post office.

All three Tiger legends have beautiful autographs resembling calligraphy. Player signatures today often look like a doctor’s written prescription. If it wasn’t for the uniform number that is often placed next to the scribble, you wouldn’t know who signed it.

Although Trucks, Kell, and Gehringer may have suspected that the requests came from autograph dealers, they were not bitter like some current multi-millionaire players who often charge outrageous fees for their signatures or refuse to sign when approached at the ballpark or on the street.

One former Tiger star who shall remain unnamed doesn’t like to give interviews because he thinks he should be paid, while another has been known to let out f-bombs when approached by fans for autographs.

For the past 11 years I had the pleasure to stay in touch with Virgil whether it was to ask him for quotes on other articles I was writing or just to call and say hello to see how he was doing.

So what was he like?

In 2006 when I sent him a check for $60 to buy a couple of copies of his wonderful autobiography Throwing Heat: The Life and Times of Virgil Fire Trucks, he wrote me a note that included a check for $10.10. In his letter, (included here) he stated in part: “The $60 was more than enough as I am sending back a check for $10.10 as postage is included in the purchase price.” He also added: “Inside the cover (of the book) is a photo of Kell and me. He was one of my favorite people.”

Tiger Fantasy camp director Jerry Lewis told me that two years after a photo of Trucks and Lewis was taken next to the former Tiger’s Cadillac adorned with a license plate that read “Trucks 22”, Virgil sent him the expired plate that is now proudly displayed in Lewis’s Comerica Park office.

Yes, Virgil Trucks could show you how to throw a fastball, a curve, and the spitball that he admitted to sometimes throwing later in his career.

But he could show you so much more.

Like how to be a gentleman and treat people.

6 replies on “Trucks most enduring legacy will be his kindness

  • Ann Trucks

    Thank you for a wonderful article, Bill! You have truly been a special friend to us. Virgil also donated money sent for autographs to our church since he never charged.

  • Hank Greenwald

    As a young boy in Detroit in the 40’s I can still remember
    how we awaited Virgil Trucks return from the Navy. He made
    a major contribution to the Tigers World Series win in 1945
    and set an example of what a major league ballplayer should

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