Defense in baseball usually doesn’t result in much glory. It can lead to infamy (just ask Bill Buckner) and some cool highlights, but the most celebrated plays in baseball tend to involve the bat, not the glove.
Maybe that’s why Bill Virdon’s contributions in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 1960 World Series against the New York Yankees went relatively unheralded. It is hard to pay too much attention to defense, no matter how spectacular, when that series includes a moment as iconic as Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off home run to win it all.
But Maz’s late-game heroics might not have been possible if not for the outstanding defense from Virdon, which kept the Pirates in games throughout the series when it looked like the Yankees might be on the verge of opening an insurmountable lead.
Virdon made a name for himself as a golden glove early in the World Series. In Game 1, he robbed Yankees great Yogi Berra of what would have been a two-run double by catching his hit at Forbes Field’s 407-foot marker and holding onto the ball after colliding with teammate Roberto Clemente.
The score was 3-2 at the time, and the Pirates would go on to win by a score of 6-4.
Virdon’s defensive prowess struck again in Game 4, when he erased another would-be two-run double by robbing Yankee Bob Cerv. The score was 3-2 at the time, and the Pirates eventually won by that margin.
He also played an integral offensive role in Game 7. With the Pirates down 7-4 in the bottom of the eighth inning, Virdon hit a ground ball that took a strange bounce into Yankees shortstop Tony Kubek’s throat, allowing Virdon to reach first base safely.
That hit sparked a Pirates rally in the eighth, and the score was 9-4 Buccos by the time the inning ended. The Yankees tied the game going into the bottom of the ninth, when Maz ripped their hearts out.
The two-inning offensive surge, culminating in the only walk-off run to win a World Series in history, arguably can be traced back to that Virdon single in the eighth.
Virdon played in the majors until 1968 and went on to manage the Pirates, Yankees, Houston Astros and Montreal Expos, coming only one game shy of leading the 1972 Pirates and 1980 Astros to the World Series. He is the all-time winningest manager in Astros history, tallying a 544-222 record from 1975-82.
On May 25, 2017, his catch in Game 1 of the ’60 World Series was immortalized in statue form by the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame (Virdon and his wife live in Springfield, Mo.), which had inducted him as a member in 1983 and a “legend” in 2012.
“When you look at sportsmen from Missouri, and you think about Major League Baseball players, Virdon ranks in the top two or three,” Jerald Andrews, Missouri Sports Hall of Fame president and executive director, gushed in an article about the statue on the institution’s website. “There’s Yogi Berra [from St. Louis] and who else? With Virdon, it all then starts to make more sense.”
Pirates fans would never question why it makes sense. He may not have built a legacy quite like those of Mazeroski, Clemente or Willie Stargell, but Virdon’s golden glove and general clutch play ensured he will be remembered as a Pirates legend.
— Joshua Axelrod