We start with a rather obscure major league pitcher named Virgil Trucks, whose career ended sixty years ago.
Virgil Oliver “Fire” Trucks, born in 1917, pitched in the major leagues from 1941 through 1958, starting with the Tigers and finishing his career with the Yankees. Twice an all-star, his line is impressive: 177–135 won-loss record with 1,534 strikeouts and a 3.39 ERA in 2,682 innings pitched over a seventeen-year career. He was known as a strikeout pitcher with an overpowering fastball – hence the moniker, Fire Trucks. Ted Williams commented that Trucks was the hardest throwing pitcher he ever faced. Trucks lost two years of his prime to service during WWII and once commented that, had he gotten those extra 20-25 wins, and if he’d played his entire career with the Yankees, he’d likely be in the Hall of Fame.
In 1952, Fire Trucks pitched two no-hitters – one of only five pitchers in MLB history with two no-hitters in a single season (Johnny Vander Meer, Allie Reynolds, Nolan Ryan, and Roy Halladay are the others). That’s pretty heady stuff for a kid who started out playing for company teams like the Stockham Pipe Company in Birmingham, Alabama. Spotted by scouts, Trucks signed with the Detroit organization in 1937 (with a $100 signing bonus) and the following year notched his reputation as a strikeout artist while playing for the Andalusia Bulldogs. It was then that a Birmingham sportswriter coined his nickname, “Fire” Trucks.
I stumbled on Fire Trucks in the oddest (and non-baseball) of ways. I was working my way up the Trucks family tree, starting in the present day. It’s with Virgil’s great grand-nephew that I started – one Derek Trucks.
Trucks (Derek) is front-man and slide guitar virtuoso in my (these days) favorite band, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, in which he partners with wife and front-woman, guitar player and bluesy vocalist extraordinaire, Susan Tedeschi. Their band is a twelve-piece freight train of soaring blues-rock fusion of the Delta-meets-the-Coast variety.
This is an umpire and baseball blog, of course, but sometimes we need to branch out. Keep things interesting. We’re going to loop back to baseball, Fire Trucks, and umpiring soon enough. But first, here’s a nice appetizer – a three-song stand at one of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts. And if you like that and would like a bit more, here’s one of several versions (all of them extraordinary, but no two quite the same) of their exquisitely beautiful song, Midnight in Harlem.
Back to the Trucks family, there’s another branch on the family tree. In between Virgil and Derek, Virgil had a nephew named Butch – Butch Trucks. And Butch Trucks is a name that fans of Southern Rock pioneers, the Allman Brothers Band, should recognize. Not only is Butch Trucks Virgil’s nephew and Derek’s uncle, but he’s also (and better known as) the drummer for the Allman Brothers Band.
Virgil threw his last pitch in 1958, but he remained in baseball as pitching coach and scout until he retired to his home in Alabama in 1974. The scion of this star-studded family tree died in 2013 at the age of 95.
I don’t know this for certain, but I think Virgil probably liked the Allman Brothers Band. And I suspect that he knew and loved Derek’s work as well.
I love this band because of their virtuosity, their beautifully written songs and their always exciting arrangements, their big, driving sound, and because of the way their music honors the roots and traditions of blues and rock (with a little Eastern flavor thrown in), but then overlaces the sound with a promiscuous embrace of jazz at one edge, and country rock at the other. They really are magicians of their matter.
But I love this band most of all because they are all about the music, and only the music, and totally the music — not the glitz, not the marketing, and not the showy crap that gets you on the radio. That sets them apart, and it ensures the integrity of their special sound. From Virgil, through nephew Butch, through nephew Derek, the Trucks family tree stands pure.
And now back to baseball, where my home team Seattle Mariners are off to a 1-6 start. Aarrgghh. Will somebody please start the music.