Little Leaguers who collected baseball cards in the early 1960s might have traded for this one: It’s of West Plains’ own Bill Virdon, then the Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder, making a catch of a deep fly ball off the bat of New York Yankees great Yogi Berra. Atop the card, it reads “1960 World Series,” while the bottom line boasts, “Virdon Saves Game” of the series opener.
It’s a catch which the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is proud to remember again, as a life-size statue of Virdon as a Pirates center fielder – specially cast in bronze – will be unveiled on Thursday, May 25, one of the Hall of Fame’s biggest baseball celebrations in years. President and Executive Director Jerald Andrews announced the ceremony Wednesday.
The public is welcome to an 8:30 a.m. continental breakfast, followed by the 9 a.m. unveiling on the Legends Walkway at the Hall of Fame, 3861 E. Stan Musial Drive in southeast Springfield. Later that morning, five individuals will be inducted during the Baseball Luncheon presented by the Ozarks Coca-Cola/Dr Pepper Bottling Company, set for 11 a.m. at the University Plaza Hotel & Convention Center in Springfield. The inductees will be announced in a few days.
Leading the Virdon Statue Campaign is Sam Hamra, and donations can be made by calling 417-889-3100.
“When you look at sportsmen from Missouri, and you think about major-league baseball players, Virdon ranks in the top two or three,” Andrews said. “There’s Yogi Berra (from St. Louis) and who else? With Virdon, it all then starts to make more sense.”
A work of St. Louis’ Harry Weber, the Virdon statue will join other life-size statues on the Legends Walkway such as pro golfer Payne Stewart, “The Boy and The Man” of a young fan receiving an autograph from Cardinals great Stan Musial, Missouri Tigers basketball coach Norm Stewart and Missouri State Lady Bears great Jackie Stiles.
Virdon emerged as the unsung star of the 1960 World Series, boosting the Pirates to an upset of the New York Yankees. While all remember Bill Mazeroski’s winning home run in Game 7, Virdon’s spectacular defense in center field choked off key Yankee rallies in the Fall Classic.
He is credited with winning the series opener, as Virdon in the fourth inning robbed Berra of a two-run double at the 407-foot marker of cavernous Forbes Field, and hung on despite colliding with right fielder Roberto Clemente. It was a 3-2 Pirates lead at the time of an eventual 6-4 win.
In the seventh inning of Game 4, Bob Cerv’s chance for a two-run double disappeared into the center fielder’s glove on one of the most acrobatic catches in World Series history. Virdon preserved the Pirates’ 3-2 advantage, which proved to be the final score.
When asked about the catches, Virdon downplayed both, saying with a smile, “I guess I did that.”
Originally signed by Yankees scout Tom Greenwade (MSHOF 2013), Virdon played 12 seasons in the big leagues between 1955 and 1968. He won the 1955 National League Rookie of the Year with the St. Louis Cardinals before a 1956 trade sent him to Pittsburgh.
Virdon later won a combined 995 games while managing the Pirates (1972-1973), Yankees (1974-1975), Houston Astros (1975-1982) and Montreal Expos (1983-1984), with his 1972 Pirates and 1980 Astros teams finishing only within one win shy of reaching the World Series. Virdon is the all-time winningest manager in Astros history, with a 544-522 record.
A 1983 inductee of the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame and honored as a Missouri Sports Legend in 2012, Virdon has been one of the game’s great ambassadors, both in the Steel City and in the Springfield area. For decades, he and his wife, Shirley, have called Springfield home, and they have thrown their support behind numerous local causes, particularly those that promote baseball.
“That’s a pleasure,” Virdon said. “I just like baseball, and I hope I can help a little bit along the way. Who knows what you can and can’t do? I just try to be good.”