- This article is about the baseball pitcher. For the jam band, see Vida Blue (band).
Vida Rochelle Blue Jr (born July 28, 1949, in Mansfield, Louisiana; died May 6, 2023 in San Francisco, California) was a left-handed pitcher who spent the 1969 season with the Birmingham A's. In his 17-year Major League career, he played for the Oakland Athletics (1969-1977), San Francisco Giants (1978-1981, 1985-1986), and Kansas City Royals (1982-1983).
Blue started 479 games in the major leagues, finishing his career with a 209-161 record (.565). His career earned run average was 3.27 in 502 appearances. He struck out 2,175 batters and pitched 143 complete games, of which 37 were shutouts. He also made 5 All-Star appearances as a major leaguer.
Blue was one of six children born to Vida Blue, Sr, a laborer in an iron foundry in Mansfield, Louisiana, and his wife, Sallie. He starred in baseball as well as football at DeSoto High School, which founded its baseball program to show off the young hurler. After the death of his father, Blue decided to forego a football career at the University of Houston. He was drafted by the Kansas City A's in the 2nd round of the 1967 amateur draft and received a $35,000 bonus to sign with the team.
Blue started his professional career with the Burlington (Iowa) Bees of the Midwest League, where he pitched a no-hitter and led the league with 231 strikeouts. He was a starter for the 1969 Birmingham A's staff. He continued to rack up strikeouts and finished with a 10-3 record while also getting 42 innings of work in the majors as a spot starter. He gradually learned to mix other pitches with his signature fastball and improved his high ERA before moving up in the A's organization.
In 1970, after spending the season in the minor leagues, Blue was called up in September and made two starts that provided a glimpse of what was to come for the 21-year old. In his first start he surprised fans by hitting a 3-run home run on the way to a 7-4 win. To follow that he shut out the Kansas City Royals 3-0, giving up only one hit, to Pat Kelly in the eighth inning on his next start on September 11. 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.
Blue had an astounding 24-8 record in 1971, his first full season in the majors. He won both the Cy Young and MVP awards with an earned run average of 1.89, 301 strikeouts, 24 complete games and 8 shutouts. One of those was the longest shutout in league history. On July 9, he fanned 17 batters in 11 innings on the way to a 20-inning 1-0 victory against the California Angels. Blue was clearly the star of the team, but still only made $13,000 a year. Owner Charlie Finley gave the pitcher a $10,000 Cadillac and paid for its upkeep and for Blue's wardrobe. He declined a $2,000 offer from Finley to change his name to "True", suggesting that if he liked it so much, he should change his own name.
Blue won 20 games in 1973 as he led the A's to the World Championship that year. He won 22 games in 1975. In 1976, baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn vetoed an attempt to sell Blue to the New York Yankees and in 1977, Kuhn cancelled an attempted trade of Blue to the Cincinnati Reds. In both instances, Kuhn said the trades would be bad for baseball because they would have benefitted already powerful teams without making them give up any significant talent in return.
Blue was traded to the San Francisco Giants on March 15, 1978. That year he won 18 games as he led the Giants to 83 wins as they battled all year for the National League West Division, won by the Los Angeles Dodgers. He won the Sporting News National League Pitcher of the Year for 1978. During that season he became the first pitcher to start the All-Star game for both the American and National Leagues. While with the Giants he wore "Vida" on the back of his uniform instead of his surname.
Later career and retirement
On March 30, 1982 he was traded to the Kansas City Royals. He played almost two seasons there before being released on August 5, 1983. He signed as a free agent with the San Francisco Giants on April 6, 1985 and stayed on for two seasons. He made his last appearance on the mound on October 2, 1986. He remained on major league rosters through another free agency, last signing with the Oakland Athletics on January 20, 1987.
After his retirement, Blue became known in the San Francisco Bay Area for donating his time to many charitable causes, mostly promoting baseball in the inner city. He held his 1989 wedding on the field in Candlestick Park during "Fan Appreciation Day" with 50,000 in attendance.
Blue battled drug addiction over the course of baseball 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 scandalous Pittsburgh drug trials.
- "A Bolt of Blue Lightning" (August 23, 1971) TIME Magazine.
- "Vida Blue" (May 30, 2007) Wikipedia - accessed May 30, 2007
- Vida Blue at Baseball-Reference.com
|American League Cy Young Award
|American League MVP