By Greg Echlin
When you talk about late-season help, it’s hard to top the addition of Virgil Trucks to the 1945 Detroit Tigers who spoiled the Cubs’ hopes for a World Series championship.
Like this year’s Chicago Cubs, the ‘45 Cubs had their backs against the wall heading into Game 6 of the World Series trailing three games to two against the Tigers.
In Game 6 the Cubs faced Tigers starter Trucks, the Game 2 winner, 4-1, in a complete-game effort. Before the World Series, Trucks made only one start in ‘45.
With the American League pennant at stake on the last day of the regular season, the Tigers turned to Trucks. As a 16-game winner in 1943 before entering the service, Trucks wasn’t your normal September call-up. But after re-joining the Tigers, Trucks said the warm-ups catcher Paul Richards gave Tigers manager Steve O’Neill the thumbs up.
Trucks allowed only one run in St. Louis against the St. Louis Browns and got a no-decision after he was lifted in the sixth. Hall of Fame left-hander Hal Newhouser came in out of the bullpen, picked up his 25th win of the season and helped the Tigers lock up a trip to the World Series.
In Game 6 of the World Series, Trucks didn’t figure in the decision won by the Cubs, 8-7. Newhouser then won Game 7, one of his two victories in the Fall Classic.
Trucks, a Navy guy, was among the servicemen allowed an exemption to rejoin teams during the season after being discharged during World War II.
Trucks, who died three years ago at the age of 95, hoped to be discharged earlier in the summer of ’45, but was held up by military paperwork and slowed by an aggravated knee injury.
Hall of Fame slugger Hank Greenberg didn’t appear in his first game in ’45 until July 1 after his discharge from the U.S. Army Air Force. Though limited to 78 games, Greenberg also impacted the Tigers. In that season finale against the Browns, trailing 3-2 in the ninth, Greenberg slugged the game-winning grand slam.
The Tigers were on their way to face and beat the Cubs in the World Series.
In an interview recorded in 2000, Trucks said, “All ballplayers feel that playing in the World Series is the most important thing in their life.”