Bill Virdon: Too Bad He’s Now Too Old!

Bill VirdonAs all Astros fans await the decision on who will take over the reins as the new full-time field manager of the club in 2010, it’s fair game time to talk about the kind of man who might best fill the bill. I sure can’t talk about it as a baseball insider, but as a forever Houston major league team fan since that first season in 1962, I’m like the rest of my crowd in the sense that I have my own strong opinions – and the first is easiest to express:

(1) Put Bill Virdon in an Age Regression Machine. If 78 year old former Astros manager Bill Virdon were only thirty years younger, I’d say, “Hire Virdon. End of discussion.” With a club record number of managerial wins (544 wins, 522 losses, and a .510 winning percentage), Bill Virdon led the Astros to two playoff appearances in 1980 and 1981. During his nearly eight seasons at the Astros helm (1975-82), the club didn’t have the big breakthrough we all still hope for (a World Series win), but they learned how to coalesce into a winning team. They reached the playoffs for the first time of their history in 1980, falling one still very  disappointing loss short of reaching the World Series, through no bigger picture fault of Virdon. I’ll always believe that the late season loss of star pitcher J.R. Richard to a stroke was the real hammer on our 1980 pennant hopes. With Niekro, Richard, Ryan, Ruhle, and Forsch all healthy and available for starting duty in the 1980 NLCS, there would’ve been no Philadelphia Phillies first World Series victory that year.

(2) Use Bill Virdon as a Role Model or Prototype. Since Virdon’s off the table as a serious candidate, let’s hope the Astros find a manager whose most like him. The rest of my comments are about qualities that I think Bill Virdon brought to the club during his tenure with the Astros:

(3) Respect. Players need to see their manager as someone they respect for his knowledge of the game, for his integrity as a man, and for his trustworthiness as someone who has their backs when bad games and slumps leave them wide open to shark bites from the media.

(4) Ability to Handle Pitchers and Young Players. Knowing how to balance the work between starters and relievers, and handling the often fragile confidences in younger players as a protective, but results-expectant mentor are essential. The Astros don’t need a mule team whip guy, nor do they need a too sympathetic wet nurse. They need a man whose brain is attached to the three demands of the real world in his understanding of the great lessons about breaking in to any field: (a) young talent still needs room to learn from their mistakes on the job; (b) young talent needs management that is capable of teaching them what they didn’t learn in “school;” and (c) young talent needs to understand that production eventually is the only thing that will keep them in their jobs. – A good manager has to be able to handle all three areas – or else, be eaten alive in time by failure, low team morale, chaos, and rebellion.

(5) Communication with the Media and the Public. This may have been the one area where Virdon may have been a little weak. I don’t remember him being very verbal or extroverted in his relations with people outside the club. I also don’t recall him ever making a big gaffe with his words. A lesser communicator can survive to fulfill the important team missions, if (a) his skin is thick enough to take the flack he will catch from those glib writers who will always enjoy playing games with sports people who are dean-pan serious – or not too quick on their mental feet; (b) he doesn’t use the media conference as a place to criticize his own players in defense of protecting his own posterior; and/or (c) he doesn’t suffer from verbal diarhea and foot-in-mouth disease.

(6) Bottom Line: In this crazy world of baseball managers, nobody’s perfect, but a Bill Virdon with “HD 2010” communication skills comes close – at least, he does in the eyes of this longtime Astros fan observer.

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2 Responses to “Bill Virdon: Too Bad He’s Now Too Old!”

  1. Shirley Virdon Says:

    Dear Mr. McCurdy,

    Thank you for your kind words about my husband. We thoroughly enjoyed our 7 years in Houston and always look forward to our visits there. We made many friends while there and have maintained contact with most of them since that time. Bill still goes to Spring Training and still enjoys being “on the field” with all of the “guys”——-If he goes this next spring, it will be 61 straight springs!! Thank you again for your kind thoughts. Best wishes.

    Shirley Virdon

  2. Bill McCurdy Says:

    Dear Mrs. Virdon,

    I am deeply honored to hear from you. Hopefully, I will have a chance to meet you and Bill in Houston someday – while we all still have room to roam.

    Kind regards,

    Bill McCurdy

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