Bill Virdon
Virdon with the Pirates in 1965
Center fielder / Manager
Born: (1931-06-09)June 9, 1931
Hazel Park, Michigan, U.S.
Died: November 23, 2021(2021-11-23) (aged 90)
Springfield, Missouri, U.S.
Batted: Left
Threw: Right
MLB debut
April 12, 1955, for the St. Louis Cardinals
Last MLB appearance
July 26, 1968, for the Pittsburgh Pirates
MLB statistics
Batting average.267
Home runs91
Runs batted in502
Managerial record995–921
Winning %.519
As player

As manager

Career highlights and awards

William Charles Virdon (June 9, 1931 – November 23, 2021) was an American professional baseball outfielder, manager, and coach in Major League Baseball (MLB). Virdon played in MLB for the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955 through 1965 and in 1968. He served as a coach for the Pirates and Houston Astros, and managed the Pirates, Astros, New York Yankees, and Montreal Expos.

After playing in the minors for the Yankees organization, Virdon was traded to the Cardinals, and he made his MLB debut in 1955. That year, Virdon won the National League Rookie of the Year Award. He slumped at the beginning of the 1956 season, and was traded to the Pirates, where he spent the remainder of his playing career. A premier defensive outfielder during his playing days as a center fielder for the Cardinals and Pirates, Virdon led a strong defensive team to the 1960 World Series championship. In 1962, Virdon won a Gold Glove Award. Following the 1965 season, he retired due to his desire to become a manager.

Virdon managed in the minor leagues until returning to the Pirates as a coach in 1968. He served as manager of the Pirates in 1972 and 1973, before becoming the manager of the Yankees in 1974. During the 1975 season, the Yankees fired Virdon, and he was hired by the Astros. After being fired by the Astros after the 1982 season, Virdon managed the Expos in 1983 and 1984. Virdon won The Sporting News' Manager of the Year Award in 1974, his only full season working for the Yankees, and in 1980, while managing the Astros. He returned to the Pirates as a coach following his managerial career, and remained with the Pirates as a guest instructor during spring training.

Early life

William Charles Virdon was born in Hazel Park, Michigan, on June 9, 1931. His parents, Bertha and Charles Virdon, were originally from Missouri, but moved to Hazel Park during the Great Depression, where they were able to find jobs in automotive factories. When he was 12 years old, his family moved to West Plains, Missouri.[1]

Virdon attended West Plains High School. He competed in American football, basketball, and track and field for the school. As West Plains did not compete in baseball, Virdon traveled to Clay Center, Kansas, to play for their American Amateur Baseball Congress team as a center fielder and shortstop.[1][2] He enrolled at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri.[1]

Playing career

Minor league career

Virdon attended an open tryout held by the New York Yankees in Branson, Missouri, and scout Tom Greenwade signed Virdon to the Yankees for a $1,800 signing bonus ($22,795 in current dollar terms). Virdon made his professional debut in 1950 with the Independence Yankees in the Class D Kansas–Oklahoma–Missouri League, and was promoted to the Kansas City Blues in the Class AAA American Association for the final 14 games of the season.[1] Virdon played for the Norfolk Tars in the Class B Piedmont League in 1951, and for the Binghamton Triplets in the Class A Eastern League in 1952. The Yankees assigned him to Kansas City in 1953, but he struggled, batting .233.[1] While he played in Kansas City, Virdon was diagnosed with astigmatism.[3] When Kansas City manager Harry Craft noticed Virdon reading while wearing glasses, Craft told him to wear them while he played.[4]

The Yankees demoted Virdon to the Birmingham Barons in the Class AA Southern Association. In 42 games for Birmingham, Virdon had a .317 batting average.[1][5] According to Hal Smith, his roommate with Birmingham, Virdon changed his approach to hitting, prioritizing line drives to all parts of the field, rather than trying to hit for power.[1]

Virdon remained stuck behind Mickey Mantle on the Yankees' depth chart for center field, while Gene Woodling and Hank Bauer played the corner outfield positions. The Yankees traded Virdon to the St. Louis Cardinals before the 1954 season with Mel Wright and Emil Tellinger for veteran outfielder and All-Star Enos Slaughter. Virdon struggled during spring training, and Cardinals manager Eddie Stanky worked with Virdon to improve his hitting.[5] The Cardinals assigned Virdon to the Rochester Red Wings of the Class AAA International League for the season. He led the league with a .333 batting average and hit 22 home runs, finishing second in voting for the International League Most Valuable Player Award to catcher Elston Howard with the Toronto Maple Leafs Baseball Club.[1]

Major league career

Virdon joined the Cardinals in 1955, as the Cardinals moved Stan Musial to first base to allow Virdon to play the outfield.[1] As a rookie, Virdon had a .281 average with 17 home runs and 69 runs batted in (RBIs).[6] He was named the winner of the National League (NL) Rookie of the Year Award, voted on by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, beating Jack Meyer of the Philadelphia Phillies.[1][5]

After the 1955 season, the Cardinals hired Frank Lane, nicknamed "The Trader", as their general manager. Virdon slumped to begin the 1956 season, and the Cardinals traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates in May 1956 for Bobby Del Greco and Dick Littlefield.[1] Lane claimed that Virdon's late season slump in 1955 was because he tired down the stretch, and that is why he chose to trade him.[7] Lane later referred to the trade as "the worst trade [he] ever made".[8]

When he arrived at Pittsburgh, he developed an eye condition, for which he received treatment, missing one week of the season.[7] Virdon's vision improved, and he challenged Hank Aaron for the NL batting title. Virdon batted .334 for the Pirates during remainder of the season, which increased his season batting average to .319, second-best in the NL to Aaron, who batted .328.[1][9] Pirates' announcer Bob Prince gave Virdon the nickname "Quail" due to the frequency of his soft-hit infield hits.[1]

The Pirates hired Danny Murtaugh as their manager during the 1957 season; Virdon credited Murtaugh with pushing him to perform at his best. Virdon consistently batted in the .260s for the next several seasons.[1] He led all NL center fielders in assists in 1959 with 16, and in double plays turned with five.[10] In 1960, Virdon, along with right fielder Roberto Clemente, shortstop Dick Groat, second baseman Bill Mazeroski, and third baseman Don Hoak, formed a strong defensive unit for the Pirates,[11] and they reached the 1960 World Series, where they faced the New York Yankees. Virdon batted .241 during the seven-game series. In the deciding Game 7, he hit a ground ball that struck Yankees shortstop Tony Kubek in the throat after taking an unpredictable bounce, enabling Virdon to reach base safely. This started a rally for the Pirates that culminated in Bill Mazeroski's home run that won the series for Pittsburgh.[1][12][13]

Virdon led the NL in triples with 10 during the 1962 season.[14] That year, he won the Rawlings Gold Glove Award.[1] He struggled in the 1964 season, batting only .243.[15] Though his batting average improved to .279 in the 1965 season, Virdon retired after the season due to his desire to become a manager.[16] Virdon retired with 1,596 MLB hits[17] and a career batting average of .267 with 91 home runs during his 1,583-game NL career.

Virdon hit an impressive .404 against Sandy Koufax, the highest average of any batter facing the legendary Hall of Fame pitcher.[18]

Coaching and managing career

Virdon in 1976

Virdon began operating a baseball academy in 1956.[19] After the 1962 season, Virdon coached in the Arizona Instructional League. He coached in the Florida Instructional League following the 1964 season. Following his retirement as a player after the 1965 season, Virdon spent the next two seasons as a manager in the minor leagues for the New York Mets' organization.[1] In 1966, he managed the Williamsport Mets of the Eastern League,[20] and in 1967, he managed the Jacksonville Suns of the International League.[21] He led Williamsport to a 68–72 win–loss record, and Jacksonville to a 66–73 record.[22]

Virdon joined the Pirates' major league coaching staff under manager Larry Shepard in 1968. He also appeared in six games as a player because a number of Pirates players had entered military service.[1] Shepard left the Pirates after the 1969 season, and Virdon interviewed to become the Pirates' next manager.[22] However, the Pirates re-hired Murtaugh, and Virdon remained on Murtaugh's coaching staff.[1] Virdon coached for the Pirates as they won the 1971 World Series.[23] Due to health problems, Murtaugh retired after the 1971 season,[24] and Virdon was named as his successor.[1]

As a manager, Virdon led the Pirates to the 1972 NL East division title, but the Pirates lost the 1972 National League Championship Series (NLCS) to the Cincinnati Reds when Pittsburgh pitcher Bob Moose unleashed a wild pitch in the final inning of Game 5, allowing the winning run to score.[17] The 1973 Pirates now played without Clemente, who died during the previous offseason. Further struggles included pitcher Steve Blass' inability to throw strikes and injuries to Dock Ellis.[24] Virdon clashed with Ellis and Richie Hebner.[25] The Pirates were in third place with a 67–69 record when the team fired Virdon and replaced him with Murtaugh.[1][26]

The Yankees announced the hiring of Dick Williams as their manager for the 1974 season, but American League president Joe Cronin nullified the transaction because Williams was still under contract with the Oakland Athletics. The Athletics demanded prospects Otto Vélez and Scott McGregor as compensation for Williams, but the Yankees decided the price was too steep.[27] Without a manager, the Yankees hired Virdon, signing him to a one-year contract.[28] Virdon led the Yankees to a competitive finish, one game behind the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East division. He won The Sporting News' Manager of the Year Award.[1] The Yankees signed him to a two-year contract after the 1974 season, with a raise from $50,000 to $65,000 per year.[29][30] However, Virdon clashed with Bobby Murcer.[1] He received a death threat due to his preference of playing Elliott Maddox over Murcer in center field.[31] The Yankees struggled in 1975. When Billy Martin was fired as manager of the Texas Rangers during the 1975 season, the Yankees fired Virdon on August 2 and hired Martin.[32] With Yankee Stadium being renovated in the two years he was at the helm (the club played at Shea Stadium instead), Virdon became the only Yankees manager (post-1923) to never manage a game at the Yankees’ venerable ballpark.

The Houston Astros hired Virdon as their manager on August 20, 1975, succeeding Preston Gómez. Tal Smith, who had served as executive vice president for the Yankees, had become the Astros' general manager on August 7.[32] Virdon led the Astros to third-place finishes in 1976 and 1977, but the Astros slipped to fifth place in 1978. The 1979 Astros fell one game short of winning the NL West division championship. The Astros tied the Los Angeles Dodgers for the division championship in 1980, and defeated them in the 1980 NL West tie-breaker game. The Astros played the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1980 NLCS, losing the series in five games. He again won the Manager of the Year Award in 1980.[33] Due to the 1981 Major League Baseball strike, the 1981 season was split into halves with each half's winner appearing in the 1981 NL Division Series. The Dodgers won the first half, while the Astros won the second. In the Division Series, the Dodgers defeated the Astros in five games. During the 1982 season, the Astros fell to fifth place. Virdon was fired during the season and replaced by Bob Lillis.[34][35]

The Montreal Expos hired Virdon as their manager before the 1983 season, replacing Jim Fanning, and signed him to a two-year contract.[36] During the 1984 season, Virdon expressed to Expos general manager John McHale that he did not want to return to the Expos in 1985.[37] With a 64–67 record in August 1984, the Expos fired Virdon, replacing him with Fanning.[38] Gary Lucas, a pitcher for the Expos, felt that they had lost many one-run games because Virdon was too conservative in his managing, not employing the hit and run play and relying on the starting pitcher for too long into the game.[37]

Virdon returned to the Pirates as the hitting coach under Jim Leyland in 1986, Leyland's first season as a manager. He took the position only when he was convinced that he would not succeed Leyland should the Pirates fire him.[39] Following a contract dispute, the Pirates replaced Virdon with Milt May before the 1987 season.[40] Virdon remained with the Pirates as a minor league hitting instructor from 1987 through 1989. He worked as a spring training instructor for the Cardinals in 1990 and 1991, and then rejoined Leyland's coaching staff in Pittsburgh in 1992.[41]

With Major League Baseball expanding by two teams for the 1993 season, in 1992 Virdon interviewed for the managerial positions of both expansion teams, the Florida Marlins and the Colorado Rockies.[42][43] The Marlins instead hired Rene Lachemann, and the Rockies hired Don Baylor.[44][45] In 1994, Virdon interviewed with the Orioles for their vacant managerial position.[46] Virdon left the Pirates after the 1995 season.[41] He became the bench coach for the Astros under first-time manager Larry Dierker in 1997.[41] The Pirates brought Virdon back as their bench coach for the 2001 season under first-time manager Lloyd McClendon.[41][47] He retired from coaching after the 2002 season.[17]

Virdon's career managerial record, over all or parts of 13 seasons, was 995–921 (.519). He also managed in the minor leagues for the Cardinals and the Astros.[1] In June 2012, the Pirates attempted to add Virdon and Mazeroski to their coaching staff,[48] but were rebuffed by MLB for violating the rules on uniformed coaching staffs after one game.[49] Virdon continued to serve as a special outfield instructor for the Pirates during spring training.[50]

Managerial record

Team Year Regular season Postseason
Games Won Lost Win % Finish Won Lost Win % Result
PIT 1972 155 96 59 .619 1st in NL East 2 3 .400 Lost NLCS (CIN)
PIT 1973 136 67 69 .493 fired
PIT total 291 163 128 .560 2 3 .400
NYY 1974 162 89 73 .549 2nd in AL East
NYY 1975 104 53 51 .510 fired
NYY total 266 142 124 .534 0 0
HOU 1975 34 17 17 .500 6th in NL West
HOU 1976 162 80 82 .494 3rd in NL West
HOU 1977 162 81 81 .500 3rd in NL West
HOU 1978 162 74 88 .457 5th in NL West
HOU 1979 162 89 73 .549 2nd in NL West
HOU 1980 163 93 70 .571 1st in NL West 2 3 .400 Lost NLCS (PHI)
HOU 1981 57 28 29 .491 3rd in NL West 2 3 .400 Lost NLDS (LAD)
53 33 20 .623 1st in NL West
HOU 1982 111 49 62 .441 fired
HOU total 1066 544 522 .510 4 6 .400
MON 1983 162 82 80 .506 3rd in NL East
MON 1984 131 64 67 .489 fired
MON total 293 146 147 .498 0 0
Total 1916 995 921 .519 6 9 .400

Personal life

Virdon and his wife, Shirley, married in November 1951,[52] and lived in Springfield, Missouri. They had three daughters.[53] Together, Bill and Shirley Virdon endowed two scholarships at Southeast Missouri State University, Shirley's alma mater, with one specifically devoted to a baseball player.[52]

A portion of the U.S. Route 63 business route in West Plains from Grace Avenue to US 63 is named "Bill Virdon Boulevard". Virdon was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 1983, and named a Missouri Sports Legend by the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.[54] The Independence Baseball Hall of Fame inducted Virdon in 2013.[2] Following Whitey Herzog's election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010, Herzog indicated that he would champion Virdon's cause to the Veterans Committee in future elections.[55]

Virdon died on November 23, 2021, at the age of 90.[56]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x Wolf, Gregory H. "Bill Virdon". Society for American Baseball Research. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  2. ^ a b Welch, Anvil (July 14, 2013). "Virdon selected for Independence baseball shrine". Joplin Globe. Retrieved February 27, 2016.
  3. ^ Broeg, Bob (April 3, 1955). "If Astigmatism and Cracked Knee Didn't Stop Virdon, What Can?". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. p. 26. Retrieved June 22, 2016.
  4. ^ "Cards' Virdon Good Bet For Rookie Of Year". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. United Press International. June 10, 1955. Retrieved February 28, 2016.
  5. ^ a b c "Bill Virdom Top Rookie". Ellensburg Daily Record. Associated Press. December 3, 1955. Retrieved February 28, 2016.
  6. ^ "Bill Virdon Signs For 1956 Season With Cardinals". The Southeast Missourian. Associated Press. November 22, 1955. p. 8. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  7. ^ a b Walfoort, Cleon (September 20, 1956). "Bill Virdon of Pirates Now Looms as Batter Aaron Must Beat Out". The Milwaukee Journal. p. 17. Retrieved February 28, 2016.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ Richman, Milton (September 23, 1974). "Bill Virdon is shaping up real fine". The Dispatch. Lexington, North Carolina. United Press International. p. 10. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  9. ^ "1956 National League Batting Leaders". Retrieved February 25, 2016.
  10. ^ "1959 National League Fielding Leaders". Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  11. ^ Schoenfield, David (January 28, 2016). "The best defensive teams of all time". Retrieved February 28, 2016.
  12. ^ Kevin Flowers (October 13, 2010). "1960 World Series Game 7 a 'life-changing experience' for players". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  13. ^ "1960 World Series Game 7: The greatest game ever played". October 13, 2010. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  14. ^ "1962 National League Batting Leaders". Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  15. ^ Hernon, Jack (November 17, 1965). "Virdon Retires as Pirate Centerfielder". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. 28. Retrieved February 28, 2016.
  16. ^ Biederman, Lester J. (November 17, 1965). "Bill Virdon Retires As Player And Looks To Managing Career". The Pittsburgh Press. p. 73. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  17. ^ a b c Shrum, Rick (October 6, 2002). "After 53 years, Virdon cuts back on baseball". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Archived from the original on March 7, 2016. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  18. ^ "Who's Your Daddy? … Sandy Koufax Edition". November 2, 2019.
  19. ^ Snider, Steve (December 13, 1955). "Cards' Virdon Fast Operator: St. Louis Star Goes From Rookie to Teacher in One Year". The Milwaukee Journal. United Press International. p. 2. Retrieved February 26, 2016.[permanent dead link]
  20. ^ "1966 Williamsport Mets". Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  21. ^ "1967 Jacksonville Suns". Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  22. ^ a b Chick, Bob (February 17, 1972). "Brown: Virdon Had To Be Our Man". The Evening Independent. p. 1-C. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  23. ^ Basnett, Chris (April 3, 2014). "Virdon throws first pitch for Cards". Springfield News-Leader. Retrieved February 27, 2016.
  24. ^ a b Mihoces, Gary (September 7, 1973). "Danny Murtaugh Returns As Manager Of Pittsburgh Pirates; Bill Virdon Is Fired". Gettysburg Times. Associated Press. p. 11. Retrieved February 28, 2016.
  25. ^ "Richie Hebner Won't Apologize to Virdon". Associated Press. August 14, 1973. p. 16. Retrieved April 10, 2016.
  26. ^ "Bucs' Virdon Is Replaced By Murtaugh". The Telegraph. United Press International. September 7, 1973. p. 11. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  27. ^ "Virdon Is Yankee Manager". Washington, Pennsylvania. Associated Press. January 4, 1974. p. B-2. Retrieved April 10, 2016.
  28. ^ Richman, Milton (January 2, 1974). "Yankees Give Up On Williams, Hire Bill Virdon As Manager". The Dispatch. United Press International. p. 7. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  29. ^ "Bill Virdon Gets The Last Laugh". Beaver County Times. United Press International. October 25, 1974. p. B-3. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  30. ^ "Bill Virdon Signs 2-Year Yankee Pact". Gettysburg Times. Associated Press. October 25, 1974. p. 14. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  31. ^ "Bill Virdon Shrugs Off Death Threat". The Pittsburgh Press. United Press International. May 30, 1974. p. 40. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  32. ^ a b "Bill Virdon Replaces Gomez". The Nevada Daily Mail. Associated Press. August 20, 1975. p. 11. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  33. ^ "Houston's Bill Virdon Named Top National League Manager". Herald-Journal. Associated Press. November 18, 1980. p. B2. Retrieved February 28, 2016.
  34. ^ "Bill Virdon gets the ax". Bangor Daily News. United Press International. August 11, 1982. p. 15. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  35. ^ "Astros Fire Bill Virdon As Manager". Gainesville Sun. Associated Press. August 11, 1982. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  36. ^ "Expos Name Bill Virdon". The New York Times. United Press International. October 13, 1982. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  37. ^ a b "Expos: Virdon out, Fanning in". Beaver County Times. Associated Press. August 31, 1984. p. B4. Retrieved February 28, 2016.
  38. ^ "Expos, Virdon agree: it's time for a new boss". The Spokesman-Review. August 31, 1984. p. 22. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  39. ^ Prisuta, Mike (December 18, 1985). "Roberts, Bonilla may be returned". Beaver County Times. p. C2. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  40. ^ "May Replaces Virdon". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. November 12, 1986. p. 4C. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  41. ^ a b c d Perrotto, John (October 30, 2000). "Virdon couldn't say no to Bucs' bench job". Allegheny Times. pp. B1, B5. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  42. ^ "Bill Virdon interviews for Marlins' job". The Tuscaloosa News. Associated Press. p. 5C. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  43. ^ "At the starting line". The News. September 27, 1992. p. 4D. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  44. ^ "Lachemann to become 1st Marlins manager". Ocala Star-Banner. Scripps News Service. October 22, 1992. p. 1C. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  45. ^ "Baylor named Rockies manager". Bangor Daily News. Associated Press. October 28, 1992. p. 9. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  46. ^ "Virdon to talk to Orioles". Beaver County Times. September 28, 1994. p. B2. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  47. ^ Meyer, Paul (October 31, 2000). "Virdon rejoins Pirates' staff: Former manager, player hired as bench coach for McClendon". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. D-1. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  48. ^ Karen Price (June 19, 2012). "Mazeroski, Virdon serve as Pirates' coaches". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  49. ^ Kaduk, Kevin (June 21, 2012). "MLB bounces Bill Mazeroski and Bill Virdon from Pirates dugout after one game". Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  50. ^ Balog, Tom (February 27, 2013). "Virdon left his mark on Casey Stengel". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  51. ^ "Bill Virdon Managerial Record". Baseball Reference. Retrieved November 24, 2021.
  52. ^ a b "Former major leaguer endows scholarships". The Southeast Missourian. February 17, 2007. p. 3B. Retrieved February 28, 2016.
  53. ^ Feeney, Charley (March 3, 1972). "A Day in the Baseball Life of Bill Virdon". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. 21. Retrieved February 28, 2016.
  54. ^ "Hall Names Virdon Missouri Sports Legend". KOZL-TV. May 17, 2012. Archived from the original on February 28, 2016. Retrieved February 27, 2016.
  55. ^ Booher, Kary. "Herzog: Plans to press Springfield's Virdon for Cooperstown". Springfield News-Leader. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  56. ^ "Former Pirates great Virdon dies at 90". November 23, 2021. Retrieved November 23, 2021.