Bill Virdon, star of the Pittsburgh Pirates, World Series hero, and successful manager, is a testament to the solid and unwavering principles of fundamental baseball as a road map to victory.

Before Baseball

William Charles Virdon was born June 9, 1931 in Hazel Park, Michigan. When he was growing up, his stay-at-home mom proved to be his biggest assistant to playing baseball; she would play catch with him for hours at a time and, in the end, it paid off.

In the Big Leagues

He went into the minors to play for his favorite team, the New York Yankees. However, the team traded him while he was still in the minors to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for aging star Enos Slaughter. Bill's first season in the big leagues was 1955, where he played in 144 games and batted .281. He also clubbed 17 home runs and showed a lot of promise in the field. He was awarded for his season with the National League Rookie of the Year award. However, only 24 games into the 1956 season, with Bill struggling at a .211 clip, the Cards traded him to league rivals the Pittsburgh Pirates, where Virdon made the rest of his career. As if to make the Cardinals pay for their mistake, Bill batted .334 for the rest of the season, including a scorching .422 against his old St. Louis club.

Virdon was a slightly above average hitter with no real power (after 1956 he never hit more than 9 home runs in a season) and no speed (he had the dubious distinction of being caught stealing more than he stole a base), yet he somehow managed to always hit for extra bases - he even led the league in triples in 1962. He also had a tremendous arm, constantly holding runners from scoring. He was awarded a Gold Glove Award in 1962 for his excellent fielding.

Virdon was a wonderful player on the field, charging high bouncers and chasing down balls in the corners (occasionally he would lose the trademark glasses he wore on the field and play would be stopped while he and the other outfielders would hunt around for them!)

Virdon went to his only World Series in 1960 against the dreaded New York Yankees, with Mantle and Ford. However, he and the rest of the Pittsburgh club held on through seven games, and in the most dramatic fashion possible were rewarded when Bill Mazeroski hit the game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth to give the Pirates the championship. Virdon only batted .241, but he helped the Pirates win with his glove (robbing Yogi Berra of a sure home run in Game 3) and his clutch hitting - it was his single that started the game-winning rally.

How Did He Ever Manage?

Virdon was plagued by injuries, and in 1968 after making a short homestand farewell tour in July, he retired. He stayed on with the Pirates as first base coach, and when Danny Murtaugh retired after the 1971 season, Virdon stepped in as manager. His "rookie" season he, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, and Steve Blass led the Pirates to a 96-59 record and the NL East pennant, though they lost in the last game of the league championships to eventual World Series victors the Cincinnati Reds. Still, Virdon was a bit of a surly manager, and after a major run-in with Dock Ellis, he was fired midway through the 1973 season.

Virdon's next stop gave him a sort of lasting notoriety, when he was selected by George Steinbrenner to manage his boyhood heroes the New York Yankees. In 1974, he led the team to a second place finish, but his middling performance in 1975 got him the quick heave ho from The Boss. Just 17 days after his firing, he was hired to replace Preston Gomez as manager for the Houston Astros.

Virdon made the most of his years in Houston, winning the pennant in 1980 (and his second Manager of the Year award, in addition to 1974) but losing a heartbreaking championship series to the New York Mets, compounded by the tragedy of J.R. Richard. In the strike-shortened 1981 season, the Astros again looked dominant, winning the second half of the season to earn a postseason spot. They faced the Los Angeles Dodgers in a five game series. The Astros took the first two games, and the Dodgers the second two. With Nolan Ryan on the mound, Virdon was confident his Astros would pull through. It was not to be, however, as the Dodgers collected four runs off Ryan which proved to be enough to win the series. Midway through the 1982 season, with the Astros languishing in fifth place, Virdon was fired. He was picked up in the offseason by the Montreal Expos and guided them to a third place finish. Once again, however, his team failed to materialize, and near the end of a disappointing 1984 season, he was fired for the fourth time, finishing just five games shy of 1000 career managerial victories.

Today

In 1999, Bill was asked to rejoin his favorite team the Pittsburgh Pirates as bench coach underneath Lloyd McClendon, where he worked until 2002, when he resigned after the team showed little improvement. Bill currently resides in West Springfield, Missouri.

Career Statistics

Batting:

 YEAR   TEAM    G   AB   R    H  2B 3B HR RBI SB CS  BB  SO   BA
 1955 STL NL  144  534  58  150  18  6 17  68  2  4  36  64 .281
 1956 STL NL   24   71  10   15   2  0  2   9  0  1   5   8 .211
      PIT NL  133  509  67  170  21 10  8  37  6  6  33  63 .334
      TOT NL  157  580  77  185  23 10 10  46  6  7  38  71 .319
 1957 PIT NL  144  561  59  141  28 11  8  50  3  3  33  69 .251
 1958 PIT NL  144  604  75  161  24 11  9  46  5  3  52  70 .267
 1959 PIT NL  144  519  67  132  24  2  8  41  7  4  55  65 .254
 1960 PIT NL  120  409  60  108  16  9  8  40  8  2  40  44 .264
 1961 PIT NL  146  599  81  156  22  8  9  58  5  8  49  45 .260
 1962 PIT NL  156  663  82  164  27 10  6  47  5 13  36  65 .247
 1963 PIT NL  142  554  58  149  22  6  8  53  1  2  43  55 .269
 1964 PIT NL  145  473  59  115  11  3  3  27  1  5  30  48 .243
 1965 PIT NL  135  481  58  134  22  5  4  24  4  3  30  49 .279
 1968 PIT NL    6    3   1    1   0  0  1   2  0  0   0   2 .333
      CAREER 1583 5980 735 1596 237 81 91 502 47 54 442 647 .267
* Bold denotes led league.

Managerial:

YEAR   TEAM   G   W   L  PCT FINISH
1972 PIT NL 155  96  59 .619      1
1973 PIT NL 136  67  69 .493      3
1974 NYY AL 162  89  73 .549      2
1975 NYY AL 104  53  51 .510      3
1975 HOU NL  35  17  17 .500      6
1976 HOU NL 162  80  82 .494      3
1977 HOU NL 162  81  81 .500      3
1978 HOU NL 162  74  88 .457      5
1979 HOU NL 162  89  73 .549      2
1980 HOU NL 163  93  70 .571      1
1981 HOU NL  57  28  29 .491      3 (1st half)
1981 HOU NL  53  33  20 .623      1 (2nd half)
1982 HOU NL 111  49  62 .441      5
1983 MON NL 163  82  80 .506      3
1984 MON NL 131  64  67 .489      5
TOTAL      1918 995 921 .519

Sources

  • http://www.baseball-reference.com/v/virdobi01.shtml
  • http://www.baseballlibrary.com/baseballlibrary/ ballplayers/V/Virdon_Bill.stm
  • http://www.astrosdaily.com/players/Virdon_Bill.html

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