Vida Blue Was a Baseball Comet

The shiny lights would come quickly sufficient. On that May night time in 1970, on the outdated ballpark on the confluence of the Des Moines and the Raccoon Rivers, they had been dimmer than the lights within the massive leagues. Tony La Russa knew that a lot, as a result of he’d been there.

La Russa was destined for a storied profession as a main league supervisor, however on the sphere he was a bonus child who could not actually hit. Playing for the Iowa Oaks, after a few trials within the majors, matched his expertise stage. The Iowa pitcher that night time was far past it. He struck out 14 Evansville batters in 9 innings and even had two hits on the plate.

“There are minor leaguers, there are massive leaguers, after which there’s that larger league of All-Stars and Hall of Famers,” La Russa, 78, mentioned by cellphone on Monday. “And that was Vida, and he was 20 years outdated.”

By the top of that 1970 season, within the majors for good with the Oakland Athletics, Vida Blue would throw a no-hitter. His subsequent season can be a baseball comet, a marvel in each majesty and brevity, the sort of yr individuals discuss ceaselessly, particularly in moments of loss.

Blue died at age 73 on Saturday, one other pillar gone from the one franchise apart from the Yankees to win three consecutive titles. Last month he visited the positioning of his former glory — the doomed and decaying Coliseum in Oakland, Calif. — for a celebration of the 1973 champs, the center of three A’s groups that received the World Series. Blue shuffled slowly to the diamond, his left hand clutching the elbow of an aide, his proper holding a lengthy, wood cane.

“He appeared actually, actually frail, strolling round with a massive pole,” Mike Norris, a former Oakland teammate, mentioned by cellphone on Monday. “It was unhappy to see. He informed me he was worn out from chemo, he was weak, it was fairly painful and all that. We’re each Christians, so we simply saved praying for one another. And yesterday was it.”

The information of Blue’s dying reached his former catcher, Dave Duncan, late Sunday afternoon in Tucson, Ariz. Duncan, 77, was tending to his grandchildren however paused for a second to share what he noticed from behind the plate in 1971.

The left-handed Blue went 24-8 with a 1.82 ERA that season, spinning 24 full video games and eight shutouts and dealing 312 innings, essentially the most in practically 60 years by a pitcher in his first full season. He received the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award and the Cy Young, and there was nothing refined about it.

“If he threw 120 pitches, 115 of them had been fastballs,” mentioned Duncan, a longtime pitching coach after his enjoying profession. “He hardly threw a curveball and did not have a changeup. He had nice management of it — he’d put it proper on the arms of right-handers and proper on the arms of left-handers — and he did not miss. He was wonderful.”

The 1971 season was staggering then, incomprehensible now. Blue misplaced his first begin after which received eight in a row, all full video games. From June 1 by way of July 21, he averaged greater than 9 innings in a stretch of 11 begins (twice he went 11 innings).

In his subsequent begin, on three days’ relaxation, Blue obtained a break: With followers jamming each nook of Tiger Stadium in Detroit, the place he’d received the All-Star Game earlier that month, Blue labored solely six innings. He gave up one hit and no earned runs, bettering to 19-3 with a 1.37 ERA.

“He was magnetic,” mentioned La Russa, who watched from the bench that day. “His fame unfold so rapidly, and he was so dynamic, that individuals began coming simply to look at him — and he delivered. It was a circus. It was like Mark McGwire, as a hitter, in ’98 and ’99.”

Buck Martinez, a former catcher, struck out all thrice he confronted Blue in 1971, and 15 instances general, his most in opposition to any pitcher in a 17-year profession. Martinez does keep in mind an occasional curve amid the livid fastballs — “You might hear it spin, it was so tight,” he mentioned — and the whirl of pleasure that adopted Blue in every single place.

“He was significantly better than Mark Fidrych, however he drew the identical consideration because the Bird did in ’76,” Martinez mentioned, utilizing Fidrych’s nickname. “Everybody needed to see Vida pitch, even when he was gonna stick it to you.”

Blue was a nationwide sensation. On the street, his begins had been the highest-attended non-opening day video games for six AL groups: Baltimore, Boston, Detroit, Kansas City, the Washington Senators and the Angels. At the Coliseum, his 20 begins accounted for 40 p.c of the season’s attendance.

It was a occurring, and Blue, simply 22 years outdated, had all of the markings of crossover stardom: a Time journal cowl, a name-drop on “The Brady Bunch,” a spot on Bob Hope’s goodwill tour to army bases in South Vietnam ; Okinawa, Japan; Thailand; and past. His contract talks with Charlie O. Finley, the A’s penurious proprietor, made for comedy fodder.

Blue: “Mr. Finley is a very persuasive man. He identified that I used just one arm final season.”

Hope: “So you will signal the identical contract for subsequent yr? You’ll pitch for a similar cash?”

Blue: “Sure. Right-handed.”

Blue truly was a switch-hitter, and stays the reply to one of many nice trivia questions: who was the final switch-hitter to win American League MVP? He was not a lot of a hitter (.104 for his profession) however carried himself with unusual athletic grace.

“It was like watching Bo Jackson stroll onto the baseball area, or Mike Trout,” mentioned Martinez, a longtime broadcaster. “I used to be 10 years outdated when Willie Mays walked onto Seals Stadium for the primary time and I used to be like, ‘Wow, that is Willie Mays.’ You might inform. You did not should see him do something, and you did not have to see his quantity. But you knew that was Willie Mays. Same with Vida Blue.”

Growing up in Louisiana, Blue’s ardour was soccer: He wore No. 32 for Jim Brown, idolized Johnny Unitas and reveled in doing all of it — quarterback, cornerback, punts, kick returns. He turned down a soccer scholarship to the University of Houston after the dying of his father, Vida Sr., a steelworker.

Blue, the oldest of six youngsters, turned the household supplier. He obtained a $25,000 bonus from the A’s, however he struggled to extract way more from Finley. He later turned down $2,000 from Finley to alter his first title to “True,” as in True Blue — the title he shared along with his father mattered a lot to Blue that ultimately he wore VIDA on his again.

It was all a part of Blue’s model, an interesting package deal of expertise and aptitude that impressed future ace left-handers: a gangly child from Livermore High in California named Randy Johnson, and a man from Vallejo, Calif., named Carsten Charles Sabathia Sr. , whose son, CC, turned a member of the Black Aces.

The longtime pitcher Jim “Mudcat” Grant used that time period because the title of his 2006 e-book celebrating all of the Black pitchers with 20 wins in a season. There are 15 such pitchers, with Sabathia (in 2010) and one other left-hander, David Price (2012), as the latest members.

Black participation within the majors has dwindled since Blue’s period, with rising prices for amateurs, restricted availability of faculty scholarships and the super depth in worldwide expertise. Norris, 68, who joined the membership in 1980, mentioned Blue’s dying was a reminder of what the game is lacking.

“The Black pitchers had extra swag than everyone else,” Norris mentioned. “I took pleasure in that. It’s an perspective, man, stroll on the market such as you’re the best. The opposing staff is like animals — they odor worry, and also you fight that with your individual ego.

“That’s all it’s, it is ego. And that is one factor Vida can take to the grave: He was one of many biggest.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *