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Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Pirates mourn passing of former player, coach Bill Virdon at age 90

Virdon played for the Pirates and Cardinals from 1955-68, starring on the Pirates’ World Series-winning club in 1960. He ranks sixth all-time in Pirates history in games played as an outfielder with 1,376.

Virdon finished his playing career with 1,596 hits, 237 doubles, 91 home runs and 502 RBIs in 1,583 big league games. The center fielder won a Gold Glove in St. Louis in 1962.

As a manager, Virdon accumulated 995 victories and led the Pirates to the 1972 NLCS. He was named the American League manager of the year in 1974 with the Yankees and National League manager of the year in 1980 with the Astros.

Virdon was an assistant coach with the Pirates during four separate stints: 1968-71, 1986, 1992-95 and 2001-02.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: November 23, 2021 at 01:03 PM | 36 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: bill virdon, obituaries

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   1. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: November 23, 2021 at 01:31 PM (#6054270)
As an AL fan I remember Virdon mostly for his heroics and good fortune in the 1960 World Series. He made two outstanding catches that likely saved the Pirates' wins in game 1 and game 4, and it was his bad hop ground ball in the 8th inning of game 7 that sent Tony Kubek to the hospital and opened up the floodgates for a 5 run rally that set the stage for Mazeroski. He was a fine defensive CFer who twice led the NL in range factor when his contemporaries included Willie Mays and Richie Ashburn. RIP 4-eyes.
   2. bjhanke Posted: November 23, 2021 at 02:11 PM (#6054284)
I remember Virdon in two ways: 1) I remember him when he first came up with the Cardinals. This was only a couple of years since Terry Moore (absolute Gold CF Glove) retired, and this Virdon kid was by far the best replacement for Moore's glove that we'd seen. We were thinking a decade or more of this would be great. Then Frank Lane became the Cards' GM, and traded Virdon for Bobby del Greco. Virdon, in his Sophomore year, was having a slump, and Lane just liked to trade players. Poor innocent del Greco could neither hit nor field at a Major League level, and he was soon gone.

2) That left the Cards with a sudden, unexpected hole in CF, and a fan tradition that Cardinal CFs are all Gold Gloves. But Bing Devine had become the GM, and he had a plan. He'd noticed that the Cincy Reds are having a problem with their outfield prospects. They had Frank Robinson, so one position was settled, and they had this kid named Vada Pinson just about ready. Pinson looked like a CF who could hit and hit with some power. Warming the CF seat for Pinson was a kid named Curt Flood. Flood was clearly a hot glove, even at CF, abut he just was never going to be as good a hitter as Pinson was. And, for some reason, the Reds didn't want to put all three of them in the outfield at once (I don't know why; the players are all black, and that may have been it, but I do not know). Anyway, the Reds proved willing to trade Flood, and Bing Devine had the Cardinals going his way, which is the way to the World Series.

So, my memories of Virdon were about his obvious promise, and then the idiocy of Frank Lane turning into gold when the loss of Virdon forced the Cards to go get a new CF.

- Brick J. Hanke
   3. salvomania Posted: November 23, 2021 at 02:13 PM (#6054285)
The center fielder won a Gold Glove in St. Louis in 1962.

Not quite. He last played for the Cardinals in 1956, and was traded in one of Frank Lane's most bone-headed deals he made in his short tenure as GM of the Cardinals.

After winning the 1955 NL ROTY as a gifted defensive CF who could hit, Virdon got off to a slow start in 1956 and four weeks into the season was traded to the Pirates for another young, less-defensively gifted CF, Bobby del Greco. Virdon hit .334 the rest of the season for the Pirates to wind up second in the NL in batting, at .319, and went on to play another nine years as a starter. Del Greco hit .215/.308/.344, was traded to the Cubs at the beginning of 1957, and hung around as a spare part for another 516 MLB games over parts of seven seasons.

After losing Virdon and seeing del Greco fall on his face, Lane then had the brilliant idea in 1957 to take the young 3B Ken Boyer---who, in his second season in 1956, led all MLB third baseman in WAR at 6.4---and make him the starting CF, a position he had never played before. Boyer, playing out of position, had what would be his worst offensive season as a Cardinal, with an OPS+ of 94 and 3.8 bWAR---his only season with a bWAR below 5.2 in the the years 1956-1964.

And Boyer's replacement at 3B was the bespectacled rookie Eddie Kasko, who put up an OPS+ of 75. In hindsight, the Cardinals would have been better off keeping del Greco as their CF and keeping Boyer and his defense at 3B.

After 1957, Lane "moved on," Boyer moved back to 3B, and one of the first deals new GM Bing Devine made was to get a young CF from the Reds named Curt Flood. In 1964, Boyer won the NL MVP, 1B Bill White (acquired by Devine) was 3rd, Lou Brock (acquired by Devine) was 10th, and Flood was 11th as the Cardinals squeaked past the tailspinning Phillies and the Reds to win the NL pennant on their way to becoming World Champs.


EDIT: coke to bjhanke, sort of.
   4. The Duke Posted: November 23, 2021 at 02:57 PM (#6054298)
Jay Jaffe’s article on Murtaugh today discusses that he was the first to field an all black lineup. Was he first and only ? Or has this been repeated ?

Would it be possible for any team to even do that today ? Could you field a non-white lineup ? Are there any teams with anywhere near 9 black players?
   5. Harmon "Thread Killer" Microbrew Posted: November 23, 2021 at 04:52 PM (#6054329)
Would it be possible for any team to even do that today ?


Not quite . . .

1B – Dominic Smith
2B – Marcus Semien
SS – Tim Anderson
3B - Ke’Bryan Hayes
LF – Khris Davis
CF – Lorenzo Cain
RF – Mookie Betts
P – Marcus Stroman
C – Ian Moller (minors) or Charles Johnson (50 yrs old and retired)
   6. The Honorable Ardo Posted: November 23, 2021 at 05:09 PM (#6054336)
The Pirates' lineup on September 1, 1971, was "all black" by pre-Jackie color line standards, but it featured five African-Americans (Clines, Stargell, Cash, Oliver, Ellis) and four dark-skinned Latin Americans (Stennett, Clemente, Sanguillen, Hernandez).
   7. sanny manguillen Posted: November 23, 2021 at 05:10 PM (#6054337)
Virdon is the dividing line in my baseball fandom. I have no memory of him playing center for the Pirates in 1965. He retired, Matty Alou played center in 1966 and won the batting title, and I remember that well.

The only memory I have of Virdon playing is that he got activated for a few games while a coach in 1968, and hit a home run. He always seemed in uncommonly good shape for whatever age he was.
   8. The Yankee Clapper Posted: November 23, 2021 at 05:27 PM (#6054338)
Virdon was originally a Yankees prospect, signed by Tom Greenwade who had earlier signed Mickey Mantle. The Yanks traded Virdon to the Cardinals for Enos Slaughter, but he returned to manage the team in 1974. Was pretty good that season, but only ~ .500 the following year, when George Steinbrenner jumped at the chance to replace him with Billy Martin.
   9. The Duke Posted: November 23, 2021 at 05:57 PM (#6054341)
5. So you are pulling from all teams and are barely able to do it. Hmmm. Black participation has really fallen in the last 40-50 years. On the other hand, Latin American participation is booming and Asia is beginning to make some inroads.
   10. Tulo's Fishy Mullet (mrams) Posted: November 23, 2021 at 05:59 PM (#6054343)
Great posts here folks, learninga lot.. This thread makes me feel young. My memory of Virdon is only as manager. Had no idea he started w Cards, assumed he was Pirates lifer.
   11. sanny manguillen Posted: November 23, 2021 at 06:49 PM (#6054346)
The 2021 memorial team is taking shape:

c: Bill Freehan
1b: Eddie Robinson
2b: Jerry Remy
3b: Bobby Brown
ss: Julio Lugo
lf: Joe Cunningham
cf: Bill Virdon
rf: Henry Aaron

sp: Don Sutton
sp: Stan Williams
sp: J.R. Richard
sp: Mudcat Grant
sp: Juan Pizarro
rp: Mike Marshall
rp: Grant Jackson

mgr: Tommy Lasorda

Del Crandall has the third-highest bWAR for position players, but Freehan's second-highest and Robinson and Cunningham bring pretty good bats to the corners.
   12. The Duke Posted: November 23, 2021 at 07:10 PM (#6054348)
2020 team would take them. Is 2020 the best squad ever?
   13. Captain Joe Bivens, Elderly Northeastern Jew Posted: November 23, 2021 at 07:25 PM (#6054353)
if you think pace of play is a problem now, imagine those two teams going at it!
   14. Tony S Posted: November 23, 2021 at 07:27 PM (#6054354)

I remember Virdon as a manager, especially with the Astros. He was hired in late 75 as the Astros were hurtling towards a 100-loss season, and they stabilized enough under him (17-17) to avoid that dubious milestone. The team rebounded back to its usual .500 level the next year, then spun its wheels in 77, then regressed to 74-88 and fifth place in 78. That's a typical inflection point for a manager replacement in most organizations, but the Astros retained him, and he followed up with the franchise's first period of sustained success, including its first division title in 80.

He had a stint in Montreal after that, but the team continued its underachieving ways and he only lasted a couple of years there.

He was a quiet, reserved man; I don't remember him having any real conflicts with his players (except, famously, Joaquin Andujar). R.I.P.

   15. Tony S Posted: November 23, 2021 at 07:42 PM (#6054356)
After winning the 1955 NL ROTY as a gifted defensive CF who could hit, Virdon got off to a slow start in 1956 and four weeks into the season was traded to the Pirates for another young, less-defensively gifted CF, Bobby del Greco.


I just can't wrap my head around this sequence. You develop a player, he wins a RoY award for you, and then you give up on him because of one bad month?
   16. Itchy Row Posted: November 23, 2021 at 07:45 PM (#6054357)
Ray Fosse adds to the catching depth on the 2021 team.
   17. The Duke Posted: November 23, 2021 at 07:59 PM (#6054359)
https://www.stltoday.com/sports/baseball/professional/rookie-of-the-year-with-cardinals-and-a-champion-after-trade-to-pirates-bill-virdon/article_e017544b-c721-5ebd-8af9-4e02bbfaf16a.html

A virdon article out of the stl paper tonight
   18. sanny manguillen Posted: November 23, 2021 at 07:59 PM (#6054360)
He was a quiet, reserved man; I don't remember him having any real conflicts with his players (except, famously, Joaquin Andujar). R.I.P.


He was in a shouting match with Richie Hebner about a month before he was relieved in Pittsburgh:

Virdon-Hebner
   19. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: November 23, 2021 at 08:00 PM (#6054361)
I just can't wrap my head around this sequence. You develop a player, he wins a RoY award for you, and then you give up on him because of one bad month?


ummmm.. that's Frank Lane: Colavito for Kuenn 5 days after Norm Cash for Steve Demeter
   20. salvomania Posted: November 23, 2021 at 08:08 PM (#6054363)
I just can't wrap my head around this sequence. You develop a player, he wins a RoY award for you, and then you give up on him because of one bad month?

From a nice post at Retrosimba:

On May 13, 1956, Del Greco hit two home runs in a game at Pittsburgh against the Phillies’ Harvey Haddix, a former Cardinal. Lane was at the game to scout Del Greco and was impressed.

Four days later, del Greco was a Cardinal.
   21. JJ1986 Posted: November 23, 2021 at 08:26 PM (#6054370)
Could you field a non-white lineup ?
I don't think they did, but the White Sox could have last year. They did field lineups with no white position players.
   22. The Honorable Ardo Posted: November 23, 2021 at 09:36 PM (#6054406)
Indeed the White Sox could've:

C - Grandal (Cuba)
1B - Abreu (Cuba)
2B - L. Garcia (DR)
SS - Anderson (US)
3B - Moncada (Cuba)
LF - Eloy (DR)
CF - Robert (Cuba)
RF - Goodwin (US)
DH - Mercedes (DR)
P - Lopez (DR) or Rodon (Ven.)

They also acquired 2B Cesar Hernandez (Ven.) in midseason, creating many possible permutations of position players.

Of course, not all of them are particularly dark-skinned. Being one of Dolf Luque's strongest supporters at the Hall of Merit has led me deep into a trove of articles splitting hairs on which Cubans were "light enough" (sic) to play in MLB prior to 1948.
   23. The Duke Posted: November 23, 2021 at 10:14 PM (#6054425)
The white Sox have really hit the mother lode on the Cuban pipeline. Minnie minoso should be in the Hall for singlehandedly reviving the Sox. I wonder why more teams don’t do this. The cardinals have kinda tried on the Korean front. They signed Seung-hwan Oh (aka The Stone Buddha) then their starter last year KK and they bid hard for ha-seong Kim but he signed with the Padres. Seems like picking a country and signing players out of it would give you the kind of recruiting advantage that money can’t buy. The cards tried to sign Luis Robert but all they ended up doing was running up the Sox costs because he was never going to sign anywhere but Chicago.
   24. sunday silence (again) Posted: November 24, 2021 at 08:41 AM (#6054451)
He made two outstanding catches that likely saved the Pirates' wins in game 1 and game 4,


In game 1, 4th inn. Yogi he hit a drive to deep right center. Vidron seems to be colliding with CLemente when he makes the catch. The video is very grainy so its hard to tell. Does anyone know more about that? Maris and Mantle were both on base and scored later in the inn. but still could have been huge play for NYY.

Berra also made an uncharacteristic TOOTBLAN in the 2nd that seemed really weird. He's doubled up on 2nd on what looks like a routine fly to LF.

IT was also weird earlier in the 2nd inn. with two on no out, Casey PH Dale Long for BOyer (the 7th place hitter). WHy not just bunt if your that concerned that about DP or whatever? You'd save a PH.
   25. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: November 24, 2021 at 09:16 AM (#6054456)
I remember Virdon in two ways: 1) I remember him when he first came up with the Cardinals. This was only a couple of years since Terry Moore (absolute Gold CF Glove) retired, and this Virdon kid was by far the best replacement for Moore's glove that we'd seen. We were thinking a decade or more of this would be great. Then Frank Lane became the Cards' GM, and traded Virdon for Bobby del Greco. Virdon, in his Sophomore year, was having a slump, and Lane just liked to trade players. Poor innocent del Greco could neither hit nor field at a Major League level, and he was soon gone.

One thing that hasn't been mentioned is that in 1955 the Cardinals replaced their previous year's ROY centerfielder (Wally Moon) with another (Virdon). Moon was much the better hitter of the two, but Virdon was the better fielder, and so after the first two months of 1955 Moon was shifted to a combination of RF, LF and 1B, while Virdon took over CF. After his rookie year, Moon played only 75 more games in CF in his entire career, 47 of which came in 1955 before Virdon replaced him there permanently.

--------------------

He made two outstanding catches that likely saved the Pirates' wins in game 1 and game 4,

In game 1, 4th inn. Yogi he hit a drive to deep right center. Vidron seems to be colliding with CLemente when he makes the catch. The video is very grainy so its hard to tell. Does anyone know more about that? Maris and Mantle were both on base and scored later in the inn. but still could have been huge play for NYY.


If Berra's fly ball hadn't been caught, you would've had two runs in with Berra winding up on second or third, and if Skowron's subsequent single and Richardson's fly to CF didn't bring him home, then Johnny Blanchard (who pinch hit to lead off the next inning) might have. It was the key play of the game, even if it didn't necessarily ensure the outcome. Virdon's catch in the last of the 7th of game 4 was much more decisive, since without it the Yankees would've taken a 4-3 lead with a runner on second or third with just one out, and Kubek and Maris coming up. I skipped school and watched all 7 of those games from start to finish, and while I barely remember the game 1 catch, I can still see Virdon making that game 4 catch off Bob Cerv. I almost threw a book at the TV after that one, as it was definitely the turning point of the entire World Series----no catch, no Maz moment, as the Series would've ended with Ford's 12-0 shutout in game 6.
   26. SandyRiver Posted: November 24, 2021 at 11:12 AM (#6054464)
ummmm.. that's Frank Lane: Colavito for Kuenn 5 days after Norm Cash for Steve Demeter

Exactly. Lane described the Colavito-Kuenn deal thusly: "We traded a hamburger for a steak." (Was actually a HR leader for a BA leader. And though Rocky's 1st season in Detroit was mediocre, he had several seasons that were far beyond anything Kuenn did after the swap. And then Lane spun Harvey to SF after one year.)
   27. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: November 24, 2021 at 03:10 PM (#6054494)
Lane described the Colavito-Kuenn deal thusly: "We traded a hamburger for a steak."

Better than knowing that you were traded for "an onion and a bunion".
[Hal]Chase’s tenure as manager was not a success, and he was allowed to resign following the 1911 season. He managed to stay out of trouble until early in the 1913 campaign, when he ran afoul of the Yankees’ new manager, Frank Chance. “The Peerless Leader,” whom Farrell had hired with great fanfare, told two reporters that Chase was “throwing down me and the team.” Farrell finally agreed that Prince Hal had to go, and traded him to the White Sox for first baseman Babe Borton, who batted .130 in 33 games as Prince Hal’s replacement, and infielder Rollie Zeider, who was troubled by foot problems. Both were gone after the season; reporter Mark Roth wrote caustically that “The Yankees traded Chase to the White Sox for an onion and a bunion.”
   28. Jay Z Posted: November 24, 2021 at 03:39 PM (#6054500)
Exactly. Lane described the Colavito-Kuenn deal thusly: "We traded a hamburger for a steak." (Was actually a HR leader for a BA leader. And though Rocky's 1st season in Detroit was mediocre, he had several seasons that were far beyond anything Kuenn did after the swap. And then Lane spun Harvey to SF after one year.)


Lane did a good job with the White Sox. After that he apparently became arrogant and obsessed with trading.

Last paragraph of Lane's SABR bio:

But Lane’s reputation stands or falls on his trades. “The only deals that irked me are the ones I didn’t make,” he said. And he seldom admitted that he blew one. Years afterward he insisted, “If I had it to do over, I’d still trade that dago fruit peddler for Kuenn.”

Lane also traded Minnie Minoso and top winner Cal McLish from the 1959 Indians. Minoso he got Johnny Romano and Norm Cash, which was great, then traded Cash away for nothing, so only half great. McLish went with Billy Martin and Gordy Coleman for Johnny Temple, who was over 30 and promptly declined. So a bad trade there. Overall not that great.

Indians attendance in 1960 was a half million lower than 1959. Indians wouldn't go over a million in attendance again until 1974, wouldn't exceed 1959 until 1993.
   29. Perry Posted: November 24, 2021 at 03:44 PM (#6054502)
They had Frank Robinson, so one position was settled, and they had this kid named Vada Pinson just about ready. Pinson looked like a CF who could hit and hit with some power. Warming the CF seat for Pinson was a kid named Curt Flood.


This is pretty widely known but it still kinda blows my mind so I'll add it here: F. Robby, Pinson, and Flood all went to the same high school within 3 years of each other. (As did basketball HOFer Bill Russell.)
   30. Dag Nabbit at ExactlyAsOld.com Posted: November 24, 2021 at 07:07 PM (#6054535)
Some things about Bill Virdon as manager. ....

He didn't like to use his bullpens much. He'd maybe have one trusted reliever - Jeff Reardon or Sparky Lyle or Joe Sambito, but that was it. Even then, he didn't lean on his firemen that much. The most saves any reliever of his ever had in a season was 23 by Reardon. That makes Virdon the last manager to last that long and never have a guy save 30 in a season). He once went five straight seasons last in the league in % of IP thrown by his relievers.
Even when he started, he didn't use his relievers as much as most people did. His middle relievers were useless. Overall, his bullpens were bad. The 1982 Astros bullpen was last in the league in % of IP thrown and last in park-adjusted ERA.

He liked contact hitters. In his full managerial seasons, he never had a guy draw 100 walks in a season and only 3 times did any of players get 75 walks. He never had a guy post a .400 OBP as a result, despite his players tending to have good batting averages. Only Willie Stargell ever fanned 100 times in a full Virdon season, and even then Stargell had 25 fewer Ks than the year before. In his half-dozen full seasons in Houston, the max was 84, by Enos Cabell in 1980.

But he did like pitchers who K'd batters. It helps having Nolan Ryan and J.R. Richard, but overall in the games he managed (for partial seasons, we're including only the games he managed in those years), his hitters fanned 9,100 times while his pitchers fanned 10,257 batters. That differntial equals more than 100 per a full season. In 1982, the Astros had a +72 differential in Ks, but -3 differential after the team fired him midway through the season.

Source
   31. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: November 24, 2021 at 10:37 PM (#6054585)
Indians attendance in 1960 was a half million lower than 1959. Indians wouldn't go over a million in attendance again until 1974, wouldn't exceed 1959 until 1993.

And it wouldn't beat 1948 until 1995, when it had a brand new ballpark and 70 home dates instead of 64.
   32. AndrewJ Posted: November 25, 2021 at 10:17 AM (#6054609)
I was just thinking the other day about how so many of the late-1950s/early 1960s Pirates were still alive in 2021 -- Vern Law, Elroy Face, Dick Groat, Bob Skinner, Bobby Shantz, Frank Thomas the First, Dick Hall, Bill Mazeroski and Virdon. And for good measure, Jill Corey, widow of Pirates third baseman/answer to CITY SLICKERS trivia question Don Hoak, only died earlier this year.
   33. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: November 25, 2021 at 12:52 PM (#6054624)
Elroy Face
#### that guy.
   34. AndrewJ Posted: November 25, 2021 at 03:35 PM (#6054638)
Virdon finished his playing career with 1,596 hits, 237 doubles, 91 home runs and 502 RBIs in 1,583 big league games.


And -- with a great deal of help from home games at Forbes Field -- 81 career triples. As Phil Mushnick never hesitates to remind us, Rickey! retired with only 66 three-baggers.
   35. sanny manguillen Posted: November 25, 2021 at 04:05 PM (#6054642)
many of the late-1950s/early 1960s Pirates were still alive in 2021


I was looking recently, and saw that something like 21 of the 100 oldest living ex-players had been Pirates at some point. Branch Rickey, of course, signed carloads of players in the early Fifties, when they were trying to revive the farm system.
   36. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: November 27, 2021 at 10:11 AM (#6054773)
The only Yankees manager who never managed in Yankee Stadium (since it was built in 1923).

Bill Virdon's first pro team were the 1950 Kansas City Blues, who were managed by Joe Kuhel, whose first pro team were the 1924 Flint Vehicles, who were managed by Dan O'Leary, whose first pro team were the 1901 Rock Island Islanders, who had three managers, one of whom was Harry Tate, whose first pro team were the 1896 Roanoke Magicians, who were managed by his older brother Pop Tate (also called "Dimples"), whose first pro team was the 1885 Richmond Virginians, who were managed by Joe Simmons, whose first team was the Gotham Club in 1865. (One of Simmons' teammates was Harry Wright.)

Ave atque vale.

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