We need more stars like Vida Blue. And to think we in the family of baseball almost didn’t have him.
He was a star quarter back on his high school team in Louisiana and received many offers to play college ball. He was a dominating passer who could also run and no doubt would have been a smash on the NCAA level.
Who knows? Maybe he could have been in the NFL around the same time as Fran Tarkington and Roger Staubach and Joe Namath and made his name there.
Instead he was signed by the Kansas City A’s in 1967 and was on the major league squad in 1969, which had moved to Oakland by then.
It did not take long for Vida Blue to make his mark in Oakland. At the end of the 1970 season, he threw a no hitter against the eventual Division Champion Twins. That was just a warm up.
In 1971, he exploded as the best pitcher in the American League. HE threw to a 1.82 ERA over 312 innings and 24 complete games (8 were shutouts. He struck out 301 batters against only 88 walks and led the A’s to their first post season appearance since the 1931 World Series when the team was in Philadelphia.
Then came the bizarre hold out. A’s owner Charlie Finley would not give the man who had just won the AL Cy Young and MVP a substantial raise. Blue vowed to work for a plumbing company than be low balled.
He had a subpar 1972 (although his 2.80 ERA showed that he wasn’t exactly getting pounded.) His highlight came in the post season where he threw a 4 inning save in Game 5 of the ALCS, sending the Oakland to the World Series that they would eventually win.
The flamboyant Blue complained about his contract during the pennant celebration and started a fight with his teammate Blue Moon Odom as the champagne was being sprayed.
The A’s won the 1972 World Series and the next two after that and another division title in 1975. Vida Blue regained his ace form, winning 20 games in 1973 and 1975 and earning votes in several Cy Young campaigns. He threw a combined no hitter to finish out the 1975 season, the last moment of glory for that Oakland run.
When Finley began dismantling the A’s, he tried to send Blue to the Reds where he would be plugged into the Big Red Machine. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn shot down the trade. He also stopped Blue’s contract from being sold to the Yankees.
By 1977, Blue was the only star left in Oakland as he slogged through a campaign where he led the league in losses and saw his once mighty team fall to a 63-98 record.
He was paroled and went across the Bay to pitch for the 1978 Giants, represented here in this 1979 Topps Card. As the All Star banner implies, his first year in the National League was a good one. He finished third in the Cy Young vote with an 18-10 record and a 2.79 ERA. The Giants contended that year and looked like they might be putting together a nice run.
Alas Blue never played in the post season again. And while he would post several All Star seasons with the Giants, his career which around the time this card was issued looked like it was on a Hall of Fame trajectory, was derailed by injuries and cocaine suspensions.
Over the years, Blue has become a fan favorite TV personality for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, speaking about both of his former Northern California teams (he also played for the Royals briefly.) He also has been a mainstay in Silicon Valley charity functions.
Vida Blue was fun, outspoken, was his own man and one of the few players to wear his first name on his uniform instead of his surname. And oh yeah, he could really pitch.
Just think, we could have lost all of those wonderful memories to college football!