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May 4, 2013

Baseball will be topic when Virdon speaks at AAABA banquet

JOHNSTOWN — Bill Virdon can tap into a wide range of baseball topics when he is the featured speaker at the 20th annual AAABA Hall of Fame banquet.

Virdon was part of two different eras of Pittsburgh Pirates championship teams.

“It will be baseball,” Virdon, 81, said of his talking points for the August 3 event at the Pasquerilla Conference Center. “It will be experiences that I’ve been through that I will relate to people that are there.

“I will talk about the 1960 World Series. I will talk about the fact that I spent time in three organizations, the Yankees, Cardinals and Pirates as a player, and I spent different times as a manager. I have some experiences that I think probably will be entertaining.”

Virdon was the starting center fielder when the Bucs upset the New York Yankees in the 1960 World Series.

His bad-hop hit off the throat of Yankees shortstop Tony Kubek produced one of the momentum-swaying rallies in the classic Game 7 eventually won on Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off homer at Forbes Field.

“The pressure didn’t bother us,” Virdon said of the 1960 Pirates. “We had to play the game, and we did. Fortunately we got it done. We got a couple breaks as it went through. The bad hop was probably the biggest break in the game.

“The inning started out, Gino Simoli got a base hit, pinch hit. I was the second hitter,” Virdon said of the eighth inning, when Pittsburgh rallied from a 7-4 deficit to lead 9-7. “I hit it well, but hit it right at Kubek. I said, ‘Oh, no. Automatic double play.’ It would have been, but it took a bad hop. We had two on and nobody out. We scored five runs before it was over.”

The Yanks tied the game in the top of the ninth, but Maz made history by clearing the left-field wall at Forbes Field in a 10-9 win.

“That team won. It’s one of those things, you put it together,” Virdon said. “(Manager Danny) Murtaugh did whatever needed to be done. He was very, very good with people. We happened to be the right group when it all came about.”

In 1971, Virdon was the slim, bespectacled batting coach under Murtaugh on a Pirates team that won the World Series with the legendary Roberto Clemente leading the way. Other memorable Pirates such as Willie Stargell, Steve Blass, Manny Sanguillen, Bob Robertson and Richie Hebner were part of that team.

“I’m glad that they were there and not somewhere else,” Virdon said. “They gave us a chance to win.”

His time as a player and a coach prepared Virdon.

“Murtaugh was a mentor,” he said. “He didn’t make a big  issue out of teaching me how to manage, but him being there and me playing for him, I was observant and applied it. He was probably the best thing that happened to me in baseball as far as staying in the game.”

A year later, Virdon replaced Murtaugh as Pirates manager, and Pittsburgh won 96 games and the National League East before falling to the Cincinnati Reds in the NLCS.

The Pirates, still reeling after Clemente’s tragic death in a New Year’s Eve plane crash in 1972, had a 67-69 record and trailed the St. Louis Cardinals by three games when the Pirates replaced Virdon with his mentor, Murtaugh, in September 1973.

Even after he left the Pirates, Virdon made his mark as Sporting News’ Major League Manager of the Year with the Yankees in 1974 and NL Manager of the Year with the Astros in 1980.

Still, Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania remain a special part of Virdon’s life. He resides in Springfield, Mo., and will travel across the country to attend the AAABA Hall of Fame banquet.

“That’s where I spent most of my time and I will never forget it,” he said.

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