Bill Virdon, the regular center who won the National League Rookie of the Year in 1955 for St. Louis and guided the Houston Astros to three consecutive playoff appearances as manager, has died . He was 90 years old.
Virdon died at Lester E. Cox Medical Center in Springfield, Missouri, according to Virdon’s wife, Shirley. No cause of death was given.
Virdon was a career .267 hitter in 12 seasons with St. Louis and Pittsburgh, winning a World Series in 1960 with the Pirates and a Golden Glove in 1962. He retired for good in 1968 and entered the World Series. training, ranging from 995-921 during a 13-year management career that included stints with Pittsburgh, the New York Yankees, Houston and Montreal.
His greatest success came in an eight-year streak with the Astros from 1975 to 1982, when he led the franchise to its first two playoff appearances, both ending in five losses. Houston lost to Philadelphia in the 1980 NL Championship Series and to the Los Angeles Dodgers in an NL Division Series prompted by the 1981 players’ strike.
Virdon remains the leader of Houston’s career wins as a manager (544). He was voted NL Coach of the Year in 1980 after guiding the Astros to the NL West title, a title they won after beating the Los Angeles Dodgers in a playoff game.
“His impact on the Astros’ organization will never be forgotten,” the Astros said in a statement. “He was respected throughout baseball for his intensity and knowledge of the game.”
Virdon was signed by the Yankees in 1950 and traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in April 1954 as part of a deal that sent star outfielder Enos Slaughter to New York City.
Left-handed hitter Virdon reached the majors in 1955. Taking over from Hall of Fame Stan Musial down center, Virdon hit .281 with 17 homers and 68 RBIs while being one of the few bright spots for a team that then finished to last in the NL.
The Cardinals sold Virdon to Pittsburgh in May 1955, and he thrived. By the time 1960 arrived, the Pirates’ fortunes had turned thanks in part to an outfield that included Virdon at center field and Hall of Fame Roberto Clemente on the right.
Pittsburgh reached the 1960 World Series and Virdon was instrumental in the Pirates’ upset against the Yankees. Virdon hit .241 in the seven-game streak, including a pair of hits in Game 7. His single shortstop hit in the seventh inning helped the Pirates recover from falling behind. -4.
“Bill Virdon was a man who was very proud to be a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates family,” Pirates President Bob Nutting said in a statement. “Any fan who followed our 1960 squad will always remember the pivotal role he played in bringing a third World Series championship to the city of Pittsburgh.”
Virdon finished with 1,596 hits, including 91 homers and 502 RBIs in 12 seasons. He won a second World Series with Pittsburgh in 1971 while coaching under Danny Murtaugh. He replaced Murtaugh as manager in 1972, starting a somewhat nomadic career. He took the Pirates to the playoffs in 1972 but was fired before the end of the 1973 season.
He surprisingly found himself in charge of the Yankees in 1974 after American League President Joe Cronin rejected New York’s attempt to recruit Dick Williams from the Oakland Athletics. Virdon led the Yankees to a second place behind Baltimore in 1974, but found himself out of a job in mid-1975 when New York hired Billy Martin.
Houston quickly signed Virdon and he ended up spending eight years with the Astros. Fueled by a pitching team including Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan and stars Joe Niekro and JR Richard, Virdon made the Astros contenders. They first reached the playoffs in 1980 after going 93-80, the last victory being a 7-1 triumph over the Dodgers in a tie-breaker game.
Houston reached the playoffs again in the shortened 1981 season, and his tenure with the Astros ended a year later. Virdon spent two more years managing the Montreal Expos in 1983-84. While he interviewed for several managerial positions after his dismissal by the Expos, he mainly worked as a coach for several organizations over the next two decades before stepping away from coaching for good in 2002.
Virdon remained an active part of the Pittsburgh alumni program after his retirement, often attending spring training as a special instructor.
“I hate to hear about the passing of Bill ‘Quail’ Virdon,” former Pirates star Andrew McCutchen wrote on Twitter. “He hit me with balls on the ground for as long as his body would allow. Time passed and Id (sic) grabbed him sitting on a bucket. Id (sic) teases him and tells him to get up. answer, ‘Old age can kiss my (butt).’
Virdon was born on June 9, 1931 in Hazel Park, Michigan. He is survived by his wife Shirley, three daughters, seven grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren.