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Bill Virdon’s sports memorabilia a big draw at family’s estate sale

Published: Apr. 28, 2022 at 6:26 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Former major league player and manager Bill Virdon, who grew up in West Plains and lived most of his life in Springfield, died last November at the age of 90.

On Thursday an estate sale was held at the family’s south Springfield home to close one final chapter of an Ozarks legend.

“It’s hard,” said Lisa Brown, one of Virdon’s three daughters. “This is home.”

Cars stretched for blocks in several directions around the house as a large crowd turned out to look at items that once belonged to one of the area’s best-known and respected sports figures.

William Charles Virdon was born in 1931 in Michigan but his family moved to West Plains when he was 12 years-old. He competed in football, basketball and track in high school but ironically not baseball. But he did play amateur baseball and attended a Yankees try-out camp in Branson held by famous scout Tom Greenwade. He made his professional debut in the minor leagues in 1950 and was traded by the Yankees to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1954. The following season he was named National League Rookie of the Year. He was traded to the Pirates in 1956 and helped Pittsburgh to a World Series title in 1960. He also won a Golden Glove Award in 1962. Following his playing career, Virdon became a manager from 1972-84 for four different teams (Pirates, Yankees, Astros and Expos). He was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 1983 and named as a Missouri Sports Legend by the Hall of Fame in 2012. A portion of the Highway 63 business route in West Plains is named “Bill Virdon Boulevard” in his honor.

Virdon died November 23, 2021 and while his widow Shirley is still alive, the family decided it was time to say good-bye to the home they had known for six decades and sell many of their belongings at the estate sale. The house itself will be sold at a later date.

“Well, it’s your lifetime,” Lisa said of the home. “I moved in here when I was a year-old and Springfield was dad’s favorite place to be. He loved the people who supported him and to see Springfield come out and be able to get a piece of what he loved so much is emotional for us and yet makes us happy. Yes, it’s bittersweet but we knew this had to happen and we knew that’s what dad would want for his community.”

While many household items were up for sale, it was Virdon’s sports memorabilia collection that attracted the most attention. It was obvious Virdon was a collector himself and there were thousands of items from autographed baseballs to clothing. You could find prized personal possessions like photos with other legendary players and U.S. Presidents and scores of books, bats and keepsakes like a Whitey Herzog Garden Gnome or a Stan the Man Hit Record, a phonograph record where Stan Musial instructs you on “how to be a big league batter.”

Chris Oberlander found out about the auction at the last minute from his wife.

“I’m retired and I was sitting around at 9:30 this morning asking her what we were going to do today,” he said. “She asked me who Bill Virdon was and after I told her she said they were having an auction in 30 minutes at his house. So here I am!”

Chris ended up buying a program from a Cardinals Centennial Celebration event but inside discovered a separate photo of Virdon at the hospital visiting injured Yankee legend Mickey Mantle, who’s propped up in a hospital bed.

As for the experience of visiting Virdon’s memorabilia heaven?

“I’m overly amazed,” Oberlander answered. “I just can’t believe that much stuff is in one place.”

Randy Walters from Harrison, Arkansas is a distant relative of the Virdon family who got a surprise when he bought a household item at the sale.

“I just wanted to be here and have closure with the family,” Walters said. “I actually bought a coffee grinder and there was a note in the bottom of it that said it belonged to Shirley’s great-grandfather born in 1844! So I’ll probably make sure that gets to some family member that has more of a connection than me because that is a priceless treasure.”

And while the family had already taken the items they wanted to keep before the estate sale, it was still an emotional heart-tugging moment for them to look around at items from their past being sold off.

“We have those times when we look at something that meant so much,” Lisa said. “We all had birthday cakes that my mom would buy these little figurines, a separate one for each of us. Well, they’re sitting right over there on one of the tables. But I think it comforts my heart to know that some of my friends are here today and they’re walking out of here with a piece of my family. That means more than anything.”

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