Swallowing Flies in Center

 

The Glove Club: Bill Virdon

In some ways, it was Bill Virdon’s greatest misfortune as a professional baseball player to play the prime of his career next to arguably the finest outfielder of the 1960s.

Bill Virdon’s dramatic catch in Game One of the 1960 World Series robbed Yogi Berra of a two-run double and preserved the Pirates’ 6-4 victory. He nearly collided with Roberto Clemente to snare Berra’s fly ball.

From 1956 through 1965, Virdon patrolled center field for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was as solid as any outfielder could be, with excellent throwing accuracy and enough speed to master the deep and spacious center field canyon in Forbes Field. He tended to play a shallow center field, snagging fly balls that otherwise would have been hits. And he had the speed to catch up to flies lifted over his head.

While his fielding was praised by both teammates and opponents, Virdon rarely won the media attention he deserved as an outfielder. Quiet by nature, he wasn’t as flamboyant as Willie Mays, the National League’s perennial Gold Glove in center field. And when he joined the Pirates in 1956 after being traded by the St. Louis Cardinals, he could look to his left and see the most spectacular outfielder of the 1960s, another perennial Gold Glove named Roberto Clemente. Compared to Mays and Clemente, it was going to be difficult, if not impossible, for Virdon to get the credit his glove deserved, except by those players who watched him day in and day out.

The 1960 Pirates, winners of the National League pennant and World Series, were one of the best defensive teams to play in October. With Virdon and Clemente in the outfield, and an infield that included Bill Mazeroski, Dick Groat and Don Hoak (and, of course Dick Stuart at first base … but we won’t go there), the Pirates were able to win it all with an offense that was good, not great, and a pitching staff that was solid but was definitely helped by the quality of the gloves playing behind it.

Virdon’s spectacular fielding in the 1960 World Series saved at least two of the Pirates’ victories. He finally won a Gold Glove in 1962, the same year he led the National League with 10 triples.

 

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Don the Dominant

 

Career Year: Don Drysdale – 1962

Next to Bob Gibson, Don Drysdale was arguably the most intimidating pitcher in baseball during the 1960s.

Tall and hard-throwing, Drysdale wasn’t afraid to use his fastball to push batters away from the plate, and wasn’t concerned about plunking those who refused to budge or bail. Five times he led the National League in batters he hit. Continue reading

Shoulda Been a Hero

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Hal Smith

When Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski blasted the first walk-off home run in World Series history in 1960, his lead-off solo home run in the bottom of the ninth was possible because of what happened in the eighth inning … thanks to a reserve catcher named Hal Smith. Continue reading

The Hunt Is On

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Ron Hunt

Ron Hunt was one of the first legitimate “stars” to play for the New York Mets. He was the first Mets player to start an All-Star game (as the National League’s second baseman in 1964), and he was runner-up to Pete Rose for Rookie of the Year honors in 1963. Continue reading

Easy to Take a Shine To

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Wally Moon

Wally Moon burst onto the National League in 1954, ready-made as one of the league’s most accomplished hitters. While his subsequent 12-season career did not quite live up to the promise of his rookie season, Moon was a solid hitter who knew the strike zone and could drive the ball with power to all fields. Continue reading