Pittsburgh Pirates: A Tribute to Bill Virdon

UNDATED: Manager William Virdon of the Pittsburgh Pirates looks on from the dugout. Bill Virdon managed the Pirates from 1972-1973. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
UNDATED: Manager William Virdon of the Pittsburgh Pirates looks on from the dugout. Bill Virdon managed the Pirates from 1972-1973. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images) /

Former Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Bill Virdon passed away on Tuesday, so why not take a look back at his long career in professional baseball?

On Tuesday, one of the best centerfielders in the Pittsburgh Pirates franchise history passed away. Bill Virdon passed at the old age of 90, living a long life and playing 12 seasons in the Major Leagues. Virdon may long be remembered as a Pittsburgh Pirate, but he actually got his professional career started with the team’s longtime division rival, the St. Louis Cardinals.

Virdon first appeared in the major leagues in 1955 with the Cards, batting .281/.322/.433. He ended up winning the National League Rookie of the Year Award, but was shipped to Pittsburgh for Dick Littlefield and Bobby Del Greco early into the 1956 season. After this, Virdon would take over centerfield duties for the team for about the next ten seasons.

Virdon was never known as a big-time hitter. He only batted .266/.316/.375 with a .308 wOBA, and 89 wRC+ throughout 11 different campaigns. But what he lacked in overall hitting he made up for in fielding. Virdon was an excellent outfield defender having +4.3 dWAR throughout his career with the Bucs. This included 3 seasons where he had a dWAR of at least 1.0. Virdon’s +50 total zone runs is considered the highest mark among Pirates’ centerfielders, and ranks 5th among all Pirate outfielders.

Along with his 1955 NL Rookie of the Year Award, Virdon also took home the 1962 NL center field Gold Glove Award. He was also a key cog in the 1960 World Series winning team. Virdon had a good 1960 regular season, batting for a solid .264/.326/.406 line, .326 wOBA, and 101 wRC+. He also displayed his trademark plus defense with +9 total zone runs. During the 1960 World Series, Virdon picked up 7 hits in 30 plate appearances, three of which went for doubles.

Virdon has the most innings played in centerfield by any Pittsburgh Pirate. With 11,722 innings logged at the position, he outpaces Andrew McCutchen, who has 11,505.2 innings at the position. He and Cutch, as well as Bill Mazeroski (2B), Roberto Clemente (RF), Willie Stargell (LF), Dave Parker (RF), and Jason Kendall (C) are the only players in the franchise’s history to play at least ten-thousand innings at one position in a Pirate uniform.

Virdon was a part of those historic Pittsburgh Pirates teams during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Virdon played his last game on July 31st, 1968 when he was 37-years-old. But he stayed active in the baseball world throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s. He was one of the Pirates’ coaches when they won the 1971 World Series. After winning a ring, he was their manager during the 1972 and 1973 seasons. He also managed the New York Yankees in 1974 and 1975, Houston Astros in ‘75 through ‘82, and finally the Montreal Expos in ‘83 and ‘84. He was a winning manager, having a 51.2% winning percentage.

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Virdon had a long career in professional baseball. He played his first professional game in 1950 when he was 19-years-old and he retired from the sport in 1984 when he was 53. Even after retirement, Virdon would still make the trip to Bradenton and serve as an outfield instructor during Spring Training for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Even though he played on teams with legendary names like Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski, and Willie Stargell, Bill Virdon will be always be remembered by Pirates fans.