Virdon was a graceful centerfielder for a dozen major leagues seasons and a manager who stressed defense and fundamentals for 13 more. The slender, bespectacled, lefthanded hitter was first signed by the Yankees. But it was as a Cardinal that he was named 1955 Rookie of the Year, hitting .281 with career highs of 17 home runs and 68 RBI. With the Pirates in 1962, he won a Gold Glove.
When Virdon got off to a slow start in 1956, St. Louis GM Frank “Trader” Lane sent him to the Pirates on May 17 for Bobby Del Greco and Dick Littlefield. Virdon rebounded to bat a career-high .319 and remained a fixture in center for the Pirates through 1965. In the 1960 World Series, Virdon had a key role in three of the four Pirates’ victories. He made two crucial, dazzling catches on balls hit by Yogi Berra in the opener and Bob Cerv in Game Four, and he hit the grounder in Game Seven that struck Yankee shortstop Tony Kubek in the throat and sparked Pittsburgh’s comeback victory.
Virdon coached in Pittsburgh under Danny Murtaugh before replacing the popular manger in 1972. He led the Pirates to a division championship that year but lost to Cincinnati in the final inning of the LCS Game Five. He lost his job late in 1973 after run-ins with players Dock Ellis and Richie Hebner. George Steinbrenner’s second choice for Yankee manager in 1974 (Dick Williams was unable to take the job), Virdon brought the club in second, winning TSN Manager of the Year honors. Nevertheless, he was replaced by Billy Martin on August 1, 1975. Two weeks later Houston hired him.
In six full seasons with the Astros, Virdon only once finished lower than third. He guided the team to postseason play in 1980, when we was again named TSN Manager of the Year. Again he came within an inning of the World Series, losing the LCS to Cincinnati in the tenth inning of Game Five. In strike-shortened 1981, Houston won the first half of the split schedule but lost to Los Angeles in the divisional playoff. When he was fired in August 1982, he was the Houston franchise’s winningest manager (544-522). Virdon was not out of a job for long. He was hired by Montreal that October and lasted through late 1984.