Ozarks Life: Local author releases book on Bill Virdon

David Jerome became very close to the Missouri Sports Hall of Famer.
Published: Apr. 3, 2023 at 11:01 AM CDT
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OZARK, Mo. (KY3) - Heroes of years gone by are captured for eternity just a pop fly away from the intersection of Highway 65 and James River Freeway.

At the end of a peaceful walk outside the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, only so much can be said on the plaque of former Major Leaguer Bill Virdon from West Plains.

“We need to be proud of this guy and what he did in a very honorable way to represent southwest Missouri,” author David Jerome said. “I just could not believe what he had done as a player and as a coach and as a manager.”

David got to know Bill and Shirley Virdon in 2019 when he became the associate pastor at their church.

“By November of ‘19,” David said, “I started questioning why hasn’t anybody ever written about Bill Virdon? To me, he had a remarkable professional baseball career.”

And that’s how “Bill Virdon - A Life in Baseball” was born.

“This was a big surprise to me that somebody’s wanting to do it,” Shirley Virdon said. “And I’m sure it was a surprise to him.”

David had already written one book, a textbook examining war and conflict around the world. In 2020, this retired U.S. Army officer and a former college professor returned to his computer to write about Virdon and found one, small issue.

“He didn’t want to come across as being boastful or bragging or anything like that,” David said, “so I had to do my homework.”

The newspaper clippings and two showcases at the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame say what the humble hero wouldn’t.

Virdon was drafted by the Yankees and his signing bonus was more than Mickey Mantle’s. He was traded to the Cardinals for legend, Enos Slaughter, and then won the NL Rookie of the Year in 1955. He helped the Pirates to the championship in 1960. And as a manager, turned the franchise fortunes around for struggling Yankee and Astro teams.

“This person was an underrated professional baseball player; he was underappreciated,” David said.

But Virdon’s teammates and players did appreciate his leadership. So much so, 24 former Major Leaguers and locals wanted to be interviewed for David’s book.

“They all said the same thing, he was a man of integrity,” David said. “Bill had a great influence on some big names and Major League Baseball from Barry Bonds to even Roberto Clemente. Bill developed Clemente as a right fielder by playing next to him and centerfield for 10 seasons. And so he had an influence on people that made it into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. But he never made it.”

But now his story and legacy will live on for all to read.

“In 1950, Bill Virdon was the same person that he was in 2021,” David said. “And usually, you have to factor in maturity, life changes, whatever your career path ended up being, but not Bill Virdon.”

And there was a special surprise at a recent book signing. Shirley came out to also sign some books at the Barnes and Noble in south Springfield.

“I really thank David for writing the book,” Shirley said. “I hope everybody enjoys the book as much as I do. Because it’s for my favorite guy.”

There are a limited amount of books available at the Barnes and Noble store. You can also buy Bill Virdon - A Life in Baseball on Amazon by clicking here.

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