Bill Virdon, a World Series champion outfielder for the Pirates and longtime MLB manager, died on Tuesday, Pittsburgh confirmed. He was 90 years old.
Virdon, a Missouri native, began his MLB career with the Cardinals, with whom he won the 1956 NL Rookie of the Year Award by hitting .281 with 17 home runs in 144 games. However, his name is synonymous with the Pirates; his 1,376 games played as an outfielder ranks as the sixth-most in franchise history.
“Bill Virdon was a man who took such great pride in being a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates family,” Pirates chairman Bob Nutting said in a statement. “Every fan who followed our 1960 team will always remember the instrumental role that he played to bring a third World Series championship to the city of Pittsburgh.”
In the first game of that World Series against the Yankees, Virdon ensured the Pirates started it on a high note. The top of the fourth inning began with a single and a walk issued by Bucs starter Vern Law. Yogi Berra stepped to the plate and clobbered a baseball to right-center field. Virdon raced back, bumping into right fielder Roberto Clemente, but made the catch at the wall.
Law would allow a single to the next batter, but the runs Virdon saved preserved a 3-2 lead for the Pirates that would be furthered by Bill Mazeroski’s two-run, game-winning homer the next half-inning. And the Bucs would direly need that win: They defeated the powerhouse Yankees -- who initially signed Virdon as a teenager -- four games to three.
After a 12-year playing career over which he had 1,596 hits, blasted 91 homers and took home a Gold Glove Award in 1962, Virdon -- and his trademark large glasses -- began his tenure as a coach with the Pirates. That process actually began his final season in 1968, when he served as a player-coach before becoming a full-time coach the next year.
In 1972, Virdon took over as manager of the Pirates after Danny Murtaugh -- who managed both the ‘60 and ‘71 World Series teams -- picked Virdon as his replacement as he stepped aside with health concerns. The Pirates won 96 games and advanced to the NL Championship Series in ‘72, but Virdon was dismissed in ‘73 after the team went 67-69; Murtaugh returned at the end of that season.
Virdon went on to be a manager for 11 more seasons with the Yankees (two years), Astros (nine years) and Expos (two years), finishing with 1,918 games managed and a .519 winning percentage. He returned to the Pirates in 1986 and ‘92-95 as a coach, primarily for the outfield, and after returning to the Astros to coach for a short while in the late ‘90s, he went back to Pittsburgh to coach from 2001-02.
Even later in life, Virdon made his mark on the Pirates, serving as a guest instructor for the club during Spring Training into the 2010s.
“We are also eternally grateful for everything that Bill did representing the Pirates following his playing days, not only as a successful manager, but also in helping a countless number of our young players that he so proudly instructed and mentored as a coach and one of our long-time Spring Training guest instructors,” Nutting said. “We send our thoughts and prayers to Bill’s wife of 70 years, Shirley, his children Debbie Virdon Lutes, Linda Virdon Holmes and Lisa Virdon Brown, along with his seven grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.”