Former Expo manager honoured with statue in Springfield, Missouri

Former Montreal Expos manager Bill Virdon will be honoured with a statue in Springfield, Mo., on May 25.

Former Montreal Expos manager Bill Virdon will be honoured with a statue in Springfield, Mo., on May 25.

By Danny Gallagher

Canadian Baseball Network

Bill Virdon is humbled and at a loss for words. He admits he might even get emotional May 25 in Springfield, Missouri.

The 1983-84 Expos manager will be the beneficiary of a supreme honour that day when the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame unveils a life-sized statue at Legends Walkway on Stan Musial Drive to commemorate his lengthy career as a major-league player, coach and manager.

"I'm pleased and honoured that it will happen. I really don't know whether I deserve it,'' Virdon was saying the other day. "I got the call about it just before we left for spring training this year.''

Virdon started his playing career with the St. Louis Cardinals but played most of it with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He's especially fond of the crew that won the 1960 World Series over the heavily favoured Yankees.

"That's the highlight of my career, no question, winning the 1960 World Series,'' Virdon said. "We were underdogs in that series but we didn't back down from anything. I got several key RBI hits in that series. It was one of those things. It wasn't just me, it was everybody.''

Including Bill Mazeroski, who tagged the walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 as the Bucs won 10-9.

"I remember standing out on the dugout steps,'' Virdon said. "I would have been the third batter. I'm glad I didn't have to hit.''

Virdon said Willie Mays was the best player he ever faced and mentions Mazeroski as "one of the best'' he played with.

"I played with Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Elroy Face, some pretty good players,'' Virdon said.

Virdon played 11 seasons in the majors and following the 1965 season, he packed it in to pursue a career in managing.

It was long-time Pirates' skipper Danny Murtaugh, who encouraged him to get into the managerial end. Virdon replaced Murtaugh as Pirates' manager following the 1971 season but funny things happened. Murtaugh, in turn, was re-summoned to take over from the fired Virdon after the 1973 season.

After Virdon completed a long run as Astros manager, he was fired and interviewed for the vacant Expos' position left open when Jim Fanning decided not to come back following the 1982 season. If there was a country-club atmosphere under Fanning, Virdon sure got rid of it fast.

Virdon had a reputation for driving the horses hard. Players weren't used to a manager forcing drills on them until they were ready to drop.

"I made them work,'' Virdon said, in an understatement. "I enjoyed it in Montreal. We had several pretty good clubs with guys like Andre Dawson, Gary Carter and Tim Raines.''

Virdon's tenure in Montreal lasted just under two seasons when he was fired and replaced by Fanning. Virdon never managed again.

"When you get fired, you're never happy no matter where it is. I'm proud of my time in Montreal. I have no regrets,'' Virdon said.

Soon to be 86, Virdon lives in Springfield, Mo. with Shirley, his wife since 1951.

"I've been laid up. I had my large intestine taken out not long ago and that hasn't been much fun,'' he said.

When he sees the large statue unveiled in his honour late this month, Virdon's spirits will surely sky-rocket. He might even shed a few tears.

 

 

Danny Gallagher

Danny was born in Ted Lindsay's hometown of Renfrew, Ont. but his roots are in nearby Douglas. He played 27 consecutive seasons of top-level amateur baseball in the senior ranks in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Quebec and thrived on organizing events himself, the major one being the highly successful 1983 Canadian senior men's tournament in Sudbury. He began covering the Montreal Expos in 1988 when he joined the Montreal Daily News. Later, he was the Expos beat writer for the Ottawa Sun and Associated Press. He has written four baseball books, including Remembering the Montreal Expos, which he co-authored with Bill Young of Hudson, Que. Gallagher and Young are currently working on a book about the ill-fated 1994 Expos squad. Gallagher can be reached here: dannogallagher@rogers.com