Hall of Fame mourns passing of Legend Bill Virdon

Bill Virdon, the West Plains standout whose 52-year run in professional baseball featured the National League Rookie of the Year Award, a World Series championship and a successful managerial and coaching career, passed away on Tuesday in Springfield. He was 90.

“The Missouri Sports Hall of Fame joins with The Virdon Family in mourning Bill’s passing. Bill and his wife, Shirley, have been great friends, and he was just a great man,” said Jerald Andrews, CEO and Executive Director of the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. “In my 26 years here, I think he played a more significant role than any other Missouri sports personality. He was just involved in anything and everything we did.”

The Missouri Sports Hall of Fame inducted Virdon in 1983 and named him a Missouri Sports Legend in 2012, when it unveiled his bronze bust that has since been on display on the Legends Walkway.

A large display of Virdon’s time with the Pirates and Houston Astros went on display in the early 2000s and, in May 2017, a larger-than-life bronze statue of Virdon – commemorating his outstanding catch in Game 1 of the 1960 World Series for the Pittsburgh Pirates – was celebrated before a large crowd in Springfield.

Over the years, Virdon supported numerous Missouri Sports Hall of Fame events, including its Celebrity Golf Classics, the Stan Musial Hall of Fame Championship and all of its sports enthusiast luncheons. In fact, he and Shirley attended the Hall of Fame’s Football Luncheon on Oct. 13 in Springfield.

Originally signed by Yankees scout Tom Greenwade (MSHOF 2013), Virdon made his pro debut in 1950. That came after he spent the fall 1949 season on the Drury University basketball team.

He then played 12 seasons in the big leagues between 1955 and 1968. He won the 1955 National League Rookie of the Year award with the St. Louis Cardinals before a 1956 trade sent him to Pittsburgh.

He then helped the Pirates win the 1960 World Series in a seven-game upset of the 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 Yogi Berra of a two-run double at the 407-foot marker of cavernous Forbes Field – and he 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 in 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 in 2017, Virdon downplayed both, saying with a smile, “I guess I did that.”

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 one win shy of reaching the World Series. Virdon is the all-time winningest manager in Astros history, with a 544-522 record, and was the 1980 National League Manager of the Year.

He also was an assistant on the Pirates staff from 1968 to 1971, with the 1971 Pirates winning the World Series. In 1974, he was The Sporting News Manager of the Year after leading the Yankees to a runner-up finish in the American League East Division.

Virdon remained in the game as a coach in the big leagues and the minor leagues through 2002 mostly for the Pirates, including on their 1992 club that reached Game 7 of the NL Championship Series.

He continued to give back to the Pirates for years as a spring training instructor and returned to their spring training site – and Pittsburgh – annually.

Bill and Shirley celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary on Sunday in Springfield, where they had made their home for years. Along the way, they had thrown their support behind numerous local causes, particularly those that promoted baseball. They also had been season-ticket holders of the Double-A Springfield Cardinals since the club’s inception in 2005.

Bill is survived by his wife, Shirley, as well as their daughters Debbie Virdon Lutes  and her husband Gary; Linda Virdon Holmes and her husband, Bill; Lisa Virdon Brown and her husband, Kevin, as well as seven grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren: Shannon Cottey Merced – Roberto and Chloe; Mandie Miller O’Hara (Chris) – Austin and Lauren, Andrew Miller- Courtnie and Camryn; Brett Holmes (Jodie)- Austin, Savannah, and Harper; Christina Brown Elsenraat (Jeff)- Paige, William, and Ryan; Michelle (Nick)- Ella; Scotty Brown (Paige). He also leaves behind a host of friends worldwide.

Funeral arrangements are under the direction of Gorman-Scharpf Funeral Home in Springfield. Visitation is at 9:30 AM on Tuesday, Nov. 30 at King’s Way UMC Chapel, with funeral services beginning at noon following visitation.