How much did the White Sox really pay for Virgil Trucks?

Virgil Trucks, 1955 Bowman

Right-hander revived his career on the South Side in the 1950s, but the accounts of the trade that brought him to Chicago vary

Virgil Trucks, fan-friendly fireballer, World War II veteran and owner of one of baseball's great names, died Saturday at 95.

Trucks is better known as a Tiger, winning 114 of his 175 games in Detroit and throwing two no-hitters in 1952, but the White Sox got his last three good years. Trucks, who was 36 when he came to Chicago in 1953, was one of many pitchers to rejuvenate their careers under manager Paul Richards and pitching coach Ray Berres. Like Jack Harshman, Trucks learned the "slip pitch" from Richards, and he also refined his slider.

The White Sox's portion of his career looks like this:

Year Tm W ERA G GS CG SHO SV IP H HR BB SO ERA+
1953 TOT 20-10 2.93 40 33 17 5 3 264.1 234 18 99 149 139
1953 SLB 5-5 3.07 16 12 4 2 2 88.0 83 4 32 47 137
1953 CHW 15-6 2.86 24 21 13 3 1 176.1 151 14 67 102 140
1954 CHW 19-12 2.79 40 33 16 5 3 264.2 224 13 95 152 135
1955 CHW 13-8 3.96 32 26 7 3 0 175.0 176 19 61 91 99
CHW (3 yrs) 47-25 3.14 96 80 36 11 4 616.0 551 46 223 345 124

If you want to read more about Trucks, the Detroit Free Press' obituary is a great place to start, and Chris Jaffe at The Hardball Times has a thorough list of career highlights. I got sidetracked by trying to figure out how much it cost the Sox to get him.

Star-divide

Trucks came to Chicago by way of St. Louis thanks to a great trade by Frank Lane. St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck was in the familiar position of trying to shed payroll, although more so this time because he was stuck. His desire to move the franchise was well known, and so Browns fans stayed away. At the same time, the AL owners rejected Veeck's attempts to relocate the team out of sheer spite, so he was really over a barrel.

According to The Sporting News, Veeck offered Trucks to the New York Yankees ("Not at the price" was the answer). Veeck also tried the Cleveland Indians, but the conversation between Veeck and Indians GM Hank Greenberg was a short one, according to the Chicago Daily Tribune from July 23, 1953:

"You're always saying I never give you a chance to buy a ball player," said Veeck. "I'm going to sell Trucks and Bob Elliott."

Greenberg inquired the price.

"A hundred thousand dollars and--"

There was a click at the other end. Hank had hung up.

The Tribune goes on to say that the Sox acquired Trucks for considerably less, which is at least kind of true. But the events (and their order) don't really line up with what Lane told Bob Vanderberg in Sox: From Lane and Fain to Zisk and Fisk.

In this version, Veeck bypassed better offers to make a lesser deal with Lane to make good on a favor. Lane had backed Veeck in his previous unsuccessful attempts to move the Browns to Milwaukee and Baltimore. After his last try in 1953 fell through, Veeck said to Lane, "I'll never forget you. If I can ever help you out..."

Lane's response: If Trucks becomes available, he wanted first refusal.

Later that year, the Sox were in need of a right-handed starter after Saul Rogovin hit a wall, and Trucks was indeed on the market. Lane went to Grace Comiskey for cash. When asked how much, he said, "I need $50,000, and it's cheap at $50,000. Because I knew Veeck had gotten an offer of $100,000 and a ballplayer or two from Greenberg."

So that conflicts with Greenberg hanging up. And if you want a more dramatic retelling of Lane going to Comiskey for money, here's Dan Daniel from the Oct. 26, 1955 edition of The Sporting News:

Veeck demanded $100,000 for Trucks from New York and Cleveland. They had the cash. Lane, he knew, would have to induce Mrs. Grace Comiskey to borrow the money, so he cut the asking price in half.

Lane begged for the money, in vain. "I will return it with heavy interest," he promised. But the Comiskey family said," No. If Trucks were a good risk, the Yankees would grab him."

Lane pleaded and begged. Finally he got the money. Trucks made the Sox contenders and Lane got many times that $50,000 out of the deal.

(Daniel also says that Veeck demanded $100,000 from the Yankees and Indians, so that's two people saying Veeck called elsewhere before the Sox entered the picture.)

No matter who called whom and how easy it was to get the money, apparently $50,000 made Trucks part of the deal happen at the time. The official cash amount is $65,000, as Lane threw in $15,000 for third baseman Bob Elliott, too.

It sure seems odd that a cash-strapped Veeck would give up that much money, even if he wanted to reward Lane's loyalty. The way Lane tells Vanderberg, Lane that's just the kind of guy Veeck was:

"Veeck said, 'If I let you have (Trucks) for $50,000, don't you tell anybody what you paid for him.' Trucks was worth about a million dollars a year to us for three straight years. That's something I'll never forget. When you did Veeck a favor and he made you a promise, he kept it. There weren't many who did."

That's a lovely story. But that's not how Veeck tells it in his autobiography, Veeck as in Wreck. According to Veeck, the $15,000 for Elliott was the start of making up the difference.

I had to sell Trucks to Frank Lane for $95,000 to keep going. I know the record books say I sold Trucks and Bob Elliot (sic) for $65,000; that's what Mrs. Comiskey thought too. I had asked Lane for $100,000. Frank, who needed another starter, was willing, but Mrs. Comiskey refused to approve more than $50,000. Lane knew Trucks would help him, so we worked out a gimmick. I put Bob Elliot (sic), whom I was about to release, into the deal, and Frank added $15,000 there. As the season went on, we kept making our cat-and-dog deals, Frank would add another $10,000 here and there to make up the price on Trucks. In the end it came to $95,000 and a pitcher. Lane made himself a good buy. Trucks kept the White Sox in contention for two straight years.

That sounds more reasonable given Veeck's circumstances, but that might not check out, either. When looking at the White Sox's list of transactions for 1953, the only other subsequent deals between the Sox and Browns are a pair of waiver claims -- the Browns taking Vern Stephens from the Sox, and the Sox taking Neil Berry from the Browns. There is no record of cash involved in either. And after 1953, Veeck sold the Browns, and the new owner's request to move the team to Baltimore was swiftly approved. Lane and Veeck wouldn't deal again until after 1959, when Lane was the Indians' GM and Veeck took over the White Sox.

If you crave accuracy and precision, these conflicting accounts are maddening. If you like a good yarn and playing detective, the variety of facts involved make their own fun. Because teams are no longer in danger of bouncing checks, the cash figures -- at least as it pertains to players and payroll -- are never really in question anymore.

Then again, Trucks' value to the Sox was beyond doubt, too. Whether Lane had to give $50,000, $65,000 or $95,000 to Veeck, Trucks ended up paying for himself several times over.

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