Ozark’s own Bill Virdon dies at 90

Sports

SPRINGFIELD, Mo–Major League baseball player and manager Bill Virdon died Tuesday at the age of 90.

During his baseball career, Virdon played and coached in some of the iconic baseball venues.

But Bill Virdon never forgot his Ozarks roots.

Bill Virdon grew up in West Plains and was attending Drury college when he went to an open baseball tryout in Branson.

That’s where legendary Yankee scout Tom Greenwade signed Virdon.

Mark Stillwell/Retired MSU Sports Information Director: “He made a throw from the outfield in spring training. And Casey Stengel, who was the manager of the Yankees moved into the path of that throw. And it drilled him in the back. And Virdon thought: ‘oh I’m in trouble now.’ And Casey said if the rest of you can throw that well we’d win some games.”

His path to New York was blocked by another center fielder Mickey Mantle.

So the Yankees traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals where he won the 1955 National League rookie of the year.

A year later St. Louis traded him to Pittsburgh where he played for 11 seasons and was part of the 1960 World Championship team.

In 2012, he talked about that World Series.

Bill Virdon: “I’m sure I had a little bit of anxiety. But I think good pitchers caused your anxiety.”

Stillwell: “He played 12 years and managed 14. You know he managed four different ball clubs over his career.”

Virdon took over the Pirates in 1972.

He also managed the Yankees, Astros, and Expos.

Bill Virdon’s most successful managerial years were in Houston where he won two division championships.

Bill Virdon: “Managing in the big leagues you have pretty good players. I don’t care where you are. Or who you are. Some are better than others. But it’s your job to pick the ones who come out on top.”

After retiring from baseball, Virdon moved to Springfield where he was involved with the local sports community.

Retired Missouri State baseball coach and Athletics Director Bill Rowe said Virdon helped him grow the Bears baseball program into the collegiate power that it is now.

Stillwell:”He was a guy who had good ideas. People listened to him. He knew what he was saying. And he was a great hitting teacher.”

He was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 1983, named a legend in 2012, and a statue of him was unveiled in 2017 immortalizing his famous outfield catch in the 1960 World Series.

Stillwell: “He always had a smile for everybody. He knew people, he was one of us. That’s what made it so great to have him in our community for the last great number of years of his life. He and Shirley were Springfieldians through and through.”

Bill Virdon is survived by his wife Shirley as well as their three daughters, seven grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be Tuesday, November 30th starting at 9:30 a.m. with a memorial service to follow at noon at King’s Way United Methodist Church.

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