In 1971, Oakland Athletics rookie Vida Blue threw an unhittable fastball and became baseball’s hottest player.
athletics announced His death did not provide where or the cause of Blue’s death.
Vida (pronounced VYE-da) Blue was one of the stars of the athletics team that won three consecutive World Series titles from 1972-1974.
After losing to the Washington Senators in the opening game of 1971, the left-handed Blue won eight games in a row. In his first 12 games, he pitched his five-game shutout. By the summer, he was leading baseball not only in shutouts, but also in wins, strikeouts, complete games and earned runs.
Sports Illustrated and Time magazine put him on the cover. He turned 22 that July.
On the field he was in a hurry. Unlike almost every other pitcher in baseball history, he was on and off the mound.His delivery was capped off by New Yorker author Roger Angell explained as a “leap”.
Opposing hitters mystically talked about how Blue’s fastballs would disappear or fly over the bat. Reporters speculated as to why he kept his dime in his pocket when he pitched, with some suggesting it was the charm that helped him win 20 games. Across the country, attendance at his outings ballooned to levels stadiums hadn’t seen in years. ’ I cried.
The A’s made the playoffs for the first time since 1931 and ultimately lost the American League Championship to the Baltimore Orioles. Blue accomplished the feat of winning both the Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player Award in his first full season (beating his teammate Sal Bando to become MVP).
Blue earned a paltry amount of about $15,000 in paychecks to prepare for a major payday. President Richard Nixon called him “the lowest paid player in baseball.”
Yet he was already at war with Charles O. Finley, A’s colorful and nasty owner. Finley offered Blue his $2,000, hoping to legally change his name to Vida True Blue and use the name in advertising.
Blue was named after his father who died when Blue was a boy. “Every time Vida Blue’s name appears in the headlines, we honor him,” Blue said. Said time. “If Mr. Finley thinks it’s such a great name, why doesn’t he call himself True O. Finley?”
After the ’71 season, Blue said he should make $115,000. Finley countered with his $50,000 and made the controversy public. Blue held a press conference and announced that he was retiring from the sport to become vice president of public relations for a steel company.
In the end, Blue and Finley settled for $63,150.
After Blue’s winning streak in ’71 (at one point it seemed he could reach the incredible milestone of 30), he started the ’72 season late and finished 6th. At -10 it became a pedestrian. He pitched well as a postseason reliever, but ended with the A’s winning the World Series.
Blue told The New York Times in 1973 of Finley, “That man gave me a hard time.”
Blue cemented his reputation as an outstanding regular-season pitcher, recording 20 or more wins in three of his first five seasons. He contributed to the A’s subsequent success in the playoffs.
And even without changing his name, Blue was one of several memorable named Athletics. Among them were Blue Moon Odom, Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers, Mudcat Grant and Rick Monday.
Blue was traded to the San Francisco Giants in 1978 and had another strong year, going 18-10 and averaging 2.79 earned runs. However, he soon became known for his life off the field.
In 1983, as a pitcher for the Kansas City Royals, Blue and several of his teammates were interrogated as part of a federal cocaine investigation. He was handed a one-year suspension from baseball.
For a man admired for his maturity and composure when he was a 22-year-old superstar, this was an amazing turn of events.
In his 2011 autobiography, Vida Blue: A Life, Blue suggests that he struggled with substance abuse for many years. “A growing darkness was approaching me, with all the glory I had achieved,” he wrote. “And the light began to dim in 1972.”
Vida Rochelle Bleu Jr. was born on July 28, 1949 in Mansfield, a small town in northern Louisiana. His family lived on an unpaved street and his father worked in a steel mill. Vida’s reputation as a sports prodigy inspired his high school to form a baseball team. His overwhelming speed on the mound caused outfielders to zone out knowing no one could hit him, and the catcher’s hand was sore for days after the game.
He was also a famous quarterback, but his plans to play college football changed when his father died at the age of 45. Vida’s mother, Sallie Blue, told him that he was now a family man.
When he was about 18, he got an offer from the Athletics with a $35,000 signing bonus, according to Time. He gave much of it to his family.
Blue retired before the 1987 season. After his baseball career, he worked as his analyst on Giants television. He was denied entry into the Hall of Fame and regularly spoke to journalists about his perceptions that his drug use was to blame.
Information about Blue’s survivors was not immediately available.
As an old man, Blue spoke to a group of high school students at the urging of a friend, The Washington Post report In 2021, a boy was having a dark period at home. Blue took him aside and talked about his own struggles in his youth. We both broke down in tears.
“I flinched to polish that image and update the name Vida Blue Jr.,” he told The Post. “It’s a constant battle to do it every day.”