Vida Blue

Vida Blue
Vida Blue at FanFest 2010
Born: (1949-07-28) July 28, 1949
Mansfield, Louisiana
Batted: Switch Threw: Left
MLB debut
July 20, 1969, for the Oakland Athletics
Last MLB appearance
October 2, 1986, for the San Francisco Giants
MLB statistics
Win–loss record 209–161
Earned run average 3.27
Strikeouts 2,175
Career highlights and awards

Vida Rochelle Blue Jr. (born July 28, 1949) is an American former Major League Baseball left-handed pitcher. During a 17-year career, he pitched for the Oakland Athletics (1969–77), San Francisco Giants (1978–81; 1985–86), and Kansas City Royals (1982–83). He won the American League Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player Award in 1971. He is a six-time All-Star, and is the first of only five pitchers in major league history to start the All-Star Game for both the American League (1971) and the National League (1978); Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Roy Halladay, and Max Scherzer later duplicated the feat.[1]

Early life

Blue, the oldest of six children, was born and raised in Mansfield in DeSoto Parish in northwestern Louisiana. His father worked as a laborer in an iron foundry. In high school, Blue pitched for the baseball team and also was the quarterback for the football team. In his senior year, he threw for 3,400 yards and completed 35 touchdown passes while rushing for 1,600 yards in football. In his senior year of baseball, Blue threw a no-hitter. Blue also had a 21 strikeout game, in seven innings pitched.[2] He received several offers to play college football, but after his father died suddenly Blue signed a contract with the Oakland A's.[3]

Blue benefited from coverage by Jerry Byrd of the since defunct Shreveport Journal, one of the first white sportswriters to report on black athletes in the middle 1960s.[4]

Baseball career

Unlike many southpaws, Blue was a power pitcher who worked fast and pounded the strike zone. He threw an occasional curveball to keep hitters off balance and an above average change-up, but his signature pitch was a blistering fastball that could dial up to 100 miles per hour (160 km/h).[5] In The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers, all-time hits leader Pete Rose stated that Blue "threw as hard as anyone" he had ever faced,[6] and baseball historian Bill James cited Blue as the hardest-throwing lefty, and the second hardest thrower of his era, behind only Nolan Ryan.[7]

In 1970, after spending the season in the minor leagues with the Iowa Oaks of the American Association, Blue was called up in September, making two starts that provided a glimpse of what was to come. On September 11, he shut out the Kansas City Royals 3–0, giving up only one hit, to Pat Kelly in the eighth inning. Ten days later, he no-hit the Minnesota Twins, 6–0, at Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum, the lone baserunner coming on Harmon Killebrew's fourth-inning walk.[8][9]

Blue had a 24–8 record in 1971, winning both the Cy Young and MVP awards. He was the first Athletic to win the latter award since another pitcher, Bobby Shantz, in 1952 with what were then the Philadelphia Athletics.[10][11][12][13] He also led the American League in complete games (24), shutouts (8) and earned run average (1.82).[14] That season, the Athletics won the American League West title for the franchise's first postseason berth since the Philadelphia Athletics in the 1931 World Series. He got off to a blistering start, going 10-1 when he linked up with Boston's Sonny Siebert, who was 8-0, in a dramatic May matchup in Boston. The game was won by Siebert and the Red Sox 4-3, and remains what is considered one of the most dramatic games in Fenway Park history. He was the youngest American League player to win the MVP Award in the 20th century.[15] He was the starting pitcher for the American League in the 1971 All-Star Game, and for the National League in the 1978 All-Star Game. In 1971 he became the only player ever to be a starting pitcher in the league opener (against the Washington Senators), the All-Star Game and the playoff opener (against the Baltimore Orioles) in the same season.

In 1971, he was on the covers of Sports Illustrated and Time magazine.[16] In 1972, his success in baseball led Blue to a small role in the film Black Gunn, starring Jim Brown.

After Blue's breakthrough season in 1971, he and Athletics owner Charlie Finley clashed over his salary. Blue held out, missing much of the year, and ended up with a 6–10 record. He didn't make the Athletics' post-season starting rotation, instead pitching mainly in relief. Against the Cincinnati Reds in the 1972 World Series he made four appearances, including a save in Game 1, a blown save in Game 4, and a loss in a spot-starting role in Game 6.

Blue returned to form to win 20 games in 1973, 17 games in 1974, and 22 games in 1975, as an integral member of the Oakland Athletics' five straight American League Western Division pennants from 1971 to 1975, and three consecutive World Championships in 1972, 1973, and 1974. Perhaps his finest postseason performances were four innings of shutout relief work against the Detroit Tigers to save Game 5 of the 1972 American League Championship Series and a complete-game 1-0 shutout against the Orioles in Game 3 of the 1974 ALCS.

On September 28, 1975, Blue, Glenn Abbott, Paul Lindblad and Rollie Fingers combined to no-hit the California Angels 5-0. The no-hitter is, as of 2014, one of only four to be pitched on the final day of a regular season, the others being Mike Witt's perfect game in 1984, Henderson Álvarez's no-hitter in 2013, and Jordan Zimmermann's no-hitter on September 28, 2014. Blue also became the first no-hit pitcher to also pitch in a combined no-hitter; he has since been joined by Chicago White Sox hurlers John 'Blue Moon' Odom and Francisco Barrios, the California Angels' Mark Langston and Mike Witt, the Atlanta Braves' Kent Mercker, Mark Wohlers, and Alejandro Peña, and Kevin Millwood and Cole Hamels of the Philadelphia Phillies.

In 1976, baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn vetoed an attempt by Oakland A's owner Charlie Finley to sell Blue to the New York Yankees, and in 1978, Kuhn cancelled a proposed trade of Blue to the Cincinnati Reds. In both instances, Kuhn said the trades would be bad for baseball because they would benefit already powerful teams without making them give up any significant talent in return. At the end of the 1976 season, nearly the entire A's roster of star players from Oakland's championship teams left with baseball's new free agency, or were traded off by Finley, leaving Blue, who was still under contract with Oakland, to mentor a new team of primarily rookies and other young players. In 1978, Blue was traded to the San Francisco Giants.

In 1978, Blue won 18 games as he led the Giants to 89 wins and a third-place finish in the National League West Division, which was won by the Los Angeles Dodgers. His great year was rewarded as he won the Sporting News National League Pitcher of the Year. He, along with Chili Davis, were the last players before Ichiro Suzuki to wear their given name on the back of their uniforms instead of their surname, both having done so with the Giants.

Blue battled drug addiction over the course of his career. After the 1983 season, he and former teammates Willie Wilson, Jerry Martin and Willie Aikens pleaded guilty to attempting to purchase cocaine. In 1985, he testified in the Pittsburgh drug trials. His troubles with substance abuse seem to haunt this former great pitcher, as he faced multiple DUI charges in 2005.[17]

Blue made a name and career after baseball for himself in the San Francisco Bay Area by donating his time to many charitable causes, mostly promoting baseball in the inner city. In 1971, Blue accompanied Bob Hope on his USO Christmas tour of Vietnam and other military installations. Blue currently lives in San Francisco and is active in promoting the sport of baseball.

He is currently a baseball analyst for NBC Sports Bay Area, the TV home of the San Francisco Giants.

Charity work

Blue remains active, working for numerous charitable causes including Safeway All Stars Challenge Sports,[18] automobile donations,[19] celebrity golf tournaments,[20] and charities for children.[21]

See also


  1. Vida Blue at Baseball Reference
  2. Charlie Finley: The Outrageous Story of Baseball's Super Showman, p.84, G. Michael Green and Roger D. Launius. Walker Publishing Company, New York, 2010, ISBN 978-0-8027-1745-0
  3. "A Review of the Events of 1971", The 1972 World Book Year Book, p.246, Joseph P. Spohn
  4. Jimmy Watson (April 21, 2016). "Updated: Hall of Fame sportswriter Jerry Byrd dies". The Shreveport Times. Retrieved April 22, 2016.
  5. "A Bolt of Blue Lightning". TIME Magazine. 1971-08-23. Retrieved 2008-08-11.
  6. The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers, 2004, ISBN 0-7432-6158-5.
  7. Bill James (2004-06-15). "The Mighty Fastball". Retrieved 2008-08-11.
  8. September 21, 1970 Twins-Athletics box score at Baseball Almanac
  9. This was the first game of a double deader. September 21, 1970 Twins-Athletics box score at Baseball Reference.
  10. American League MVP and Cy Young Award winners at Baseball Reference
  11. 1971 Most Valuable Player award voting results at Baseball Reference.
  12. 1971 Cy Young Award voting results at Baseball Reference
  14. A Review of the Events of 1971, The 1972 World Book Year Book, p.246, Joseph P. Spohn
  15. Great Baseball Feats, Facts and Figures, 2008 Edition, p. 152, David Nemec and Scott Flatow, a Signet Book, Penguin Group, New York, ISBN 978-0-451-22363-0.
  16. Charlie Finley: The Outrageous Story of Baseball's Super Showman, p.148, G. Michael Green and Roger D. Launius. Walker Publishing Company, New York, 2010, ISBN 978-0-8027-1745-0
  17. Murphy, Dave (May 17, 2005). The San Francisco Chronicle Missing or empty |title= (help)
  19. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on July 15, 2011. Retrieved November 1, 2009.
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