Bright light will come soon. That night in May of 1970, the old ballpark at the confluence of the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers was dimmer than the lights in the big leagues. Tony La Russa was there, so he knew all too well about it.
La Russa was destined for a stellar career as a major league manager, but on the field, he was a really unbeatable bonus baby. He played for the Iowa Oaks, where he matched his talent level after several trials in the majors. Iowa’s pitchers that night went far beyond that. In his nine innings he struck out 14 Evansville hitters and at bat he even had two hits.
“We have minor leaguers, we have big leaguers, we have All-Stars and top leagues with Hall of Famers,” La Russa, 78, said by phone Monday. “And that was Vida, and he was 20.”
By the end of that 1970 season, Vida Blue pitched a no-hitter in the Oakland Athletics’ majors for good. His upcoming season will be a comet in baseball, a marvel of both grandeur and brevity, the kind of year people will forever talk about, especially in moments of loss.
Blue died Saturday at the age of 73, removing another pillar from the only franchise other than the Yankees to win three consecutive titles. In , he visited the ruined and declining Coliseum in Oakland, California, a place of former glory. Blue slowly limped toward the diamond, his left hand clutching his aide’s elbow and his right hand holding a long wooden cane.
“He looked really, really frail and was walking around with a big pole,” former Oakland teammate Mike Norris said in a phone call on Monday. He told me he was dead and weak and in a lot of pain.We are both Christians so we kept praying for each other and yesterday was that.”
Blue’s obituary reached former catcher Dave Duncan late Sunday afternoon in Tucson, Arizona. While Duncan, 77, was caring for his grandson, he stopped briefly to share what he saw from behind the plate in 1971.
The lefty Blue went 24-8 with a 1.82 ERA, 24 complete games, 8 shutouts, and 312 innings that season. He won the American Most Valuable Player of the Year award and the Cy He Young Award, but nothing stood out in it.
“If he threw 120 pitches, 115 of them were fastballs.” I put it right in my hand, right in my left-handed hand – and he didn’t miss. He was amazing.”
The 1971 season was phenomenal at the time and now incomprehensible. Blue lost his first start and then went on to win eight straight games, all pitching complete games. Average from June 1st to July 21st is more than 9 innings in 11 starts (he went 11 twice).
In his next start, he took a three-day break and Blue took a break. Detroit’s Tigers, who won his game as an All-Star earlier that month, had fans flocking to every corner of his stadium, and Blue played only six innings.He gave up one hit and an earned run and improved to 19-3 with a 1.37 ERA
“He was charming,” said La Russa, who was watching from the bench that day. And he did it.It was the circus.He was like Mark McGuire as a hitter in 1998 and ’99.”
Former catcher Buck Martinez struck out all three times against the Blue in 1971, stealing 15 overall. Martinez remembers the occasional curve in his blistering fastball.
“He was a lot better than Mark Fidrich, but he got as much attention as Bird in 1976,” Martinez said, using Fidritch’s nickname. “Everyone wanted to see Vida pitch. Even if he’s trying to stick it to you.”
Blue became a national sensation. During the trip, his starting appearance was the most-attended non-opening game for any of the six AL teams (Baltimore, Boston, Detroit, Kansas City, Washington Senators, Angels). At the Coliseum, his 20 starting appearances accounted for his 40% of the season’s attendance figures.
It happened, and Blue, just 22 years old, is all about crossover stardom, including a Time magazine cover, a name drop on “The Brady Bunch,” and a spot on Bob Hope’s Goodwill Tour to a military base in South Vietnam. had the mark of ; Okinawa, Japan; Thailand; and later. His contract negotiations with Charlie O. Finley, the poor owner of A, fell prey to comedy.
Blue: “Mr. Finley is a very convincing guy. He pointed out that I only used one arm last season.”
Hope: “So you’re signing the same contract next year? Are you pitching for the same money?
Blue: “Yes. I’m right-handed.”
Blue is really a switch hitter and answers one of the key trivia questions. American Who was the last switch hitter to win his league MVP?He wasn’t much of a hitter (. I called.
“It was like watching Bo Jackson walk into a baseball field or Mike Trout,” said longtime broadcaster Martinez. I was 10 when I stepped in. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s Willie Mays.’ You could say, you don’t need to see him doing anything. No, you didn’t need to see his number, but you knew it was Willie Mays, the same as Vida Blue.”
Growing up in Louisiana, Blue’s passion was soccer. He wore Jim his Brown jersey number 32, idolized Johnny his Unitas, and enjoyed everything from quarterback, cornerback, punts and kicks his returns. He turned down a football scholarship to the University of Houston after the death of his father, his Vida Sr., who was a steel worker.
Blue, the eldest of six children, became the provider of the family. He received a $25,000 bonus from his Ahi, but struggled to withdraw more than that from Finley. He later turned down his $2,000 from Finley and changed his name to “True,” like his True Blue. The name he shared with his father was so important to Blue that he eventually wore his VIDA on his back.
It’s all part of Blue’s style, a fascinating package of flair and talent that inspired a future left-handed ace. A gangster kid named Randy Johnson from Livermore High School, California, and a man named Kirsten Charles Sabathia Sr. from Vallejo, California. , whose son, CC, became a member of Black Aces.
Longtime pitcher Jim “Madcat” Grant used the term as the title of his 2006 book celebrating all black pitchers who have won 20 wins in a season. 2010) and another left-handed David Price (2012) are recent members.
Since the Blue Era, black participation in majors has declined, the cost of amateurs has risen, access to college scholarships has been limited, and international talent is very deep. Norris, 68, who joined the club in 1980, said Blue’s death was a reminder of what the sport was missing.
“Black pitchers had more swag than anyone else,” Norris said. “I was proud of it. It’s an attitude, man, go out there like you’re the best. The opposing team is like an animal. They smell fear.” and you are fighting it with your ego.
“That’s it, it’s ego. And that’s one thing Vida can take with him to the grave. He was one of the greatest.”