Bill Virdon was a 6’ native of Hazel Park, Michigan. The right-handed and left-hitting centerfielder was born on June 9th, 1931. His first contract was with the New York Yankees, with whom he spent a few minor league ball seasons.
When signed in 1950, Virdon reported to the Independence Yankees of the “D” level Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri League, hitting .267 in 119 contests. He also made a brief 14 game appearance with the Kansas City Blues of the “AAA” level American Association, hitting .341 in 44 plate appearances.
Virdon’s progression was more natural after his strange six-level promotion, He hit .286 in 118 games with the “B” level Norfolk Tars in the Piedmont League in 1951, . 261 in 122 games with the “A” level Binghampton Triplets of the Eastern League in 1952, and .261 in 137 games split between the Birmingham Barons of the “AA” level Southern Association and the Blues in 1953. Prior to the 1954 season, he was traded with Emil Tellinger and Mel Wright to the St. Louis Cardinals for Enos Slaughter.
In 1954, Virdon remained in the minor leagues for one more season, hitting .333 with the “AAA” International League’s Rochester Red Wings over 139 games. He hit 11 triples with 22 home runs with 98 RBI. At this point, he was too good to keep hidden in the minor leagues any longer. He wouldn’t disappoint when called up, winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 1955. He played 144 games for the Cardinals, hitting .281 with 17 home runs and 68 RBI. After his average dropped to .211 after 24 games in 1956, the Cards traded him to the Pirates for Bobby Del Greco and Dick Littlefield.
After joining the Pirates that season, Virdon hit .334 with an NL fifth best 10 triples and eight home runs. He batted in every spot in the lineup except for ninth, mostly leading off and batting second. In the second game of a doubleheader on September 3rd, he went 5-for-5 with a double in a 3-2 win over the Brooklyn Dodgers. His combined .319 batting average ranked him second in the NL, and he led the league by appearing in 157 games. He placed 18th in the NL MVP balloting. Despite his heroics, the Pirates finished with a cringe inducing 66-88 record, 27 games behind the Dodgers for the pennant.
In 1957, Virdon hit .251 in 144 contests with an NL second best 11 triples, eight home runs, and 50 RBI. He batted mostly second in the order, but again appeared in every slot in the lineup. On June 11th, he went 2-for-4, also reaching on an error, scoring three times and hitting a double and a triple with two RBI in an 8-1 win over the Cincinnati Redlegs. Pittsburgh finished even further out of the money, tied for last with the Chicago Cubs 33 games out of the pennant with a 62-92 record.
1958 would see Virdon hit .267 over 144 games with an NL second best 11 triples, nine home runs and 46 RBI. His 604 at bats ranked him third in the league, his 662 plate appearances fifth. He batted leadoff mostly all season, with three starts second in the order. In the second game of a doubleheader on August 24th, he went 3-for-5, scoring three runs and hitting a solo homer in a 12-8 loss to the Cardinals. He Pirates returned to relevancy with an NL second best 84-70 record, eight games back of the Milwaukee Braves.
Virdon hit .254 through 144 contests in 1959 with eight home runs and 41 RBI. He batted mostly first and eighth in the lineup, appearing exclusively in center field. On April 22nd, he hit a three run home run in the seventh and scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth in a 9-8 win over the Redlegs. On August 6th, he collected five RBI by going 2-for-6 with a home run in an 18-2 dismantling of the Cardinals. The Pirates finished the season in fourth place at 78-76, nine games behind the pennant winning Los Angeles Dodgers.
In 1960, Virdon hit .264 through 120 contests with an NL eighth best nine triples, eight home runs, and 40 RBI. He batted leadoff 90 times, also fitting into the seven slot on occasion. On May 5th, he entered a 7-7 tie with the Cubs as a pinch hitter with two outs in the ninth, hitting a two run triple to round out the score at 9-7, Bucs. In the first game of a doubleheader on September 20th, he went 3-for-5 with two runs, a double and a two run home run as the Pirates defeated the Phillies, 7-1. The Pirates topped the NL by seven games at 95-59. Virdon went 7-for-29 with three doubles and five RBI as Pittsburgh topped the New York Yankees in seven.
In 1961, Virdon hit .260 in 146 Pirates contests. He hit an NL ninth best eight triples and nine home runs with 58 RBI. For the first time in his career, he drew more walks than he struck out, by a count of 49-to-45. He ranked third in the league by striking out once every 13.3 at bats. He appeared in the lineup at second, third, seventh and eighth a handful of times, but made 125 starts at leadoff. In the first game of a doubleheader on May 6th, he went 3-for-4 with three runs, a triple and two RBI in a 9-5 win over the Dodgers. Pittsburgh finished 18 games out of first with a 75-79 record.
1962 would see Virdon collect an unlikely trifecta. He won his first and only Gold Glove in centerfield while leading the NL with 10 triples and was caught stealing 13 times. I don’t know how to narrow that down, but I’d venture that’s the only time when anyone led any league in 3B and CS (citation needed). He played in 156 games, hitting .247 with 47 RBI. He batted leadoff most of the season. On May 21st, he went 4-for-5 with two runs, a double and three RBI in an 8-4 win over the Cubs. It was one of three four-hit games that season. The Pirates improved to 93-68, but in an unusually strong NL, they finished in fourth, eight games behind the San Francisco Giants.
Virdon continued to plug away in 1963, hitting .269 in 142 games with eight home runs and 53 RBI. On September 1st, he hit a walk off two-out grand slam to beat the Reds, 6-4. Pittsburgh finished at 74-88, ahead only of the second year expansion franchises in Houston and New York.
In 1964, Virdon hit .243 in 145 games for the Pirates. On April 24th, he went 4-for-4 with a walk and three runs scored, also clubbing a two-run shot in a 9-4 win over the New York Mets. The Pirates posted an 80-82 record, finishing the season in sixth place 13 games behind the pennant winning Cardinals.
1965 would see Virdon hit .279 over 135 games. In the second game of a doubleheader on September 1st, he went 3-for-4 with a solo shot and two runs scored in a 2-1 win over the Dodgers. Pittsburgh went 90-72, seven games behind the Dodgers.
Virdon went 0-for-7 with the Williamsport Mets in the Eastern League in 1966, and did not appear in any other professional contests until 1968. That season, he appeared in six games with Pittsburgh. He struck in two of his three plate appearances, hitting a two run home run in the bottom of the ninth to send the game to extra innings on July 23rd, a game the Pirates eventually lost, 7-6 in 12.
Later, Virdon would join the managerial ranks, collecting a 995-921 career record over parts of 13 seasons.
All-Time Statline: 11 seasons, 1415 games, .266/.316/.375, 1431-for-5375, 667 runs, 217 doubles, 75 triples, 72 home runs, 425 RBI, 45 stolen bases, 401 walks, 575 strikeouts, 15.6 wins above replacement.