‘Truck’-ing back to the ’45 Series


World War II had drawn to a close just months before right-hander Virgil Trucks toed the rubber for the Detroit Tigers in Game Two of the 1945 World Series against the Chicago Cubs. Trucks iced the Cubs’ bats, en route to a 4-1 win for the Tigers, who would go on to win the series in seven games.

Trucks passed away this weekend at the age of 95, and in honor of his 17-year career, and the role he played in Cubs history, it’s time to put the 1945 World Series, as well as his career, under the microscope.

The Northsiders had compiled a regular season record of 98-56, with the Tigers finishing the year at 88-65. The home field determination was a 3-4 setup, which was established during the war, as opposed to the 2-3-2 setup that as normal. Historians often call this matchup one of the worst World Series in history, but for Cubs fans, it holds a great deal of significance.

Chicago rolled in Game One, 9-0, at Briggs Stadium (later known as Tiger Stadium, which was replaced by Comerica Park). Detroit bounced back in Game Two behind a dominant effort by Trucks, and a home run by Hank Greenberg, who hit the only two home runs in the series. What makes Trucks’ performance even more impressive is that he had missed all of the 1944 season and most of the ’45 campaign due to serving in the Navy during World War II. He was discharged just two weeks before he took the hill.

The Cubs answered back in Game Three with one of the most impressive postseason performances by a pitcher to-date. Right-hander Claude Passeau tossed a complete game, one-hitter. Only three other pitchers have accomplished the feat in history, including Jim Jonborg of the 1967 Red Sox, Bill Bevens of the 1947 Yankees and Ed Reulbach of the 1906 Cubs. Of course, the ultimate performance in the World Series came in 1956, when Yankees’ pitcher Don Larsen threw a perfect game.

Most Cubs fans know the story behind Game Four, but don’t realize this is the exact date when ‘The Curse’ originated. On Saturday, October 6, 1945 at Wrigley Field, the Cubs lost, 4-1, and Billy Goat Tavern owner Billy Sianis lowered the boom on the team. After Sianis was asked to leave the game due to the odor of his pet goat, he loudly declared, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.” There are several accounts of the events and those that followed, but one included a telegram being sent to Cubs owner Phillip K. Wrigley that read, “You are going to lose this World Series and you are never going to win another World Series again because you insulted my goat.”

Whether you believe this or not, the Cubs, who led the series two games-to-one heading into Game Four, dropped Games Four and Five before evening the series in Game Six with an 8-7, extra-inning win at Wrigley. Game Seven was settled early on, with Detroit plating five runs in the top of the first inning, and tacking on four more in the remaining frames to clinch the title.

1945 is a bitter year in the minds of Cubs fans everywhere. The only one that has a worse connotation is 1908 – the last year Chicago won a World Series. But for Tigers’ pitcher Virgil Trucks, it was another sterling accomplishment in what has become an often-overlooked career.

‘Fire’ Trucks posted a career record of 177-135 while playing for five teams, including the Tigers, St. Louis Browns, Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Athletics and New York Yankees. The Alabama native maintained a respectable 3.39 earned run average, and sent over 1,500 batters to the bench on strikes.  He was a two-time All-Star in 1949 and 1954, and pitched two-no hitters in 1952 with Detroit, despite a dismal 5-19 record that season. Only Justin Verlander has accomplished that feat in a Tigers uniform.

Following his playing career, Trucks coached with several teams, including the Pittsburgh Pirates and Atlanta Braves. As part of the Pirates coaching staff, he won the 1960 World Series against Casey Stengel‘s New York Yankees, his former team.