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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2 comments
  1. Earlier that same season (i.e. ’62), rumor had it Virdon was about to be traded in a bid to shore up Pittsburgh’s so-so rotation, thus eliciting an emphatic thumbs down from at least one notable teammate—i.e. RC himself, speaking with Les Biederman of the Pittsburgh Press (8/20/62): “I know more about Virdon than any other player because we’re so close in the outfield and I think it would be a big mistake to trade him. Virdon is an underrated outfielder. I know. He doesn’t get the headlines because he makes everything look so easy. He would be a hard man to replace. Many times I look up on a tough chance and there’s Virdon near me in case something goes wrong. He is always backing me up on the one side and Bob Skinner on the other. If you don’t want to take my word for it how valuable Virdon is, ask some of our pitchers. Virdon has kept quite a few in the big leagues with his fielding. That’s how good he is.” (Full article at https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=y0YqAAAAIBAJ&sjid=3k4EAAAAIBAJ&pg=7014%2C1844348 )

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