Vida Blue, who entered the majors with an unhit fastball and became baseball’s hottest player in 1971, died Saturday. He was 73 years old.
The A’s announced his death, but did not specify the location or cause of his death.
Vida Blue was one of the stars of the flamboyant Athletics, World Series champions three years in a row, from 1972 to 1974. But his performances during those years never generated as much adulation as in his first season.
After losing in the inaugural game against the Washington Senators in 1971, blue, a left-hander, went on to win eight straight. Five of his first 12 games were complete games and shutouts. By July, he led both leagues in shutouts, wins, complete games and ERA.
He turned 22 in July, when his photo was featured in Sports Illustrated and Time Magazine.
At the mound, he was a man in a hurry. Unlike almost all pitchers, Blue ran to and from the mound. Baseball columnist Roger Angell marveled at his extremely dynamic swing at the mound.
Opposing hitters would reminisce in amazement at how his fastball would disappear or dodge their bats. Journalists obsessed over the two dimes he always carried in his pocket on the mound: some wrote that it was a lucky charm to help him win 20 games. Across the American League, attendances were up when he pitched, hitting highs not seen in years. On one occasion, fans of an opposing team (the Detroit Tigers) chanted, “We want Vida!” ” before the match.
The A’s lost to the Baltimore Orioles in the 1971 American League Championship, but Blue achieved the feat of winning the Cy Young and Most Valuable Player trophies in his first full season.
In 1971, Blue earned the paltry salary of $15,000, a figure that even drew a comment from the President of the United States:
After the season, Blue asked for $115,000 for 1972. The eccentric and headstrong A’s owner, Charlie O. Finley, offered him $50,000 and released the numbers. Blue, already on edge with Finley for publicly offering him $2,000 to change his first name, responded with a press conference where he announced he was quitting the sport to become vice president of public relations. of a steel company.
Ultimately, Blue and Finley settle on $63,150.
His second season ended with a modest 6-10 record. In the playoffs, he pitched well — as a reliever — without being exceptional. The A’s won the World Series.
Blue went on to become a standout regular-season pitcher, scoring 20 or more wins in three of his first five seasons while contributing to the A’s playoff success.
Blue was one of many big names in the Athletics of that era, including Blue Moon Odom, Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers, Mudcat Grant, and Rick Monday, nicknamed the Mustache Gang (wearing mustaches had been initiated by Reggie Jackson, who would sign in 1976 as a free agent with the New York Yankees for $3 million a year after turning down the $5 million a year offer from the Montreal Expos).
Blue was traded to the San Francisco Giants in 1978 and had another strong season, going 18-10 and having a 2.79 ERA.
His life off the court, however, would make headlines in 1983, with the Kansas City Royals. Blue and teammates were questioned as part of a federal cocaine investigation. He pleaded guilty to drug possession, served 81 days in jail, and was suspended for one year by Major League Baseball.
This event came as a surprise, with Blue showing remarkable maturity and composure despite being a 22-year-old superstar.
In his 2011 autobiography, Vida Blue: My Life, Blue indicated that he struggled with drug addiction for many years. “Along with all the glory I had gained, there was a growing darkness that came over me,” he wrote. “And the light started to dim as early as 1972, the year he fought Finley.
Vida Rochelle Blue 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. Excellent on the mound, he was also a star quarterback for his high school football team.
He intended to play college football, but the sudden death of his father at the age of 45 changed his plans. His mother told him that from then on he was the man of the family. When at age 18 the A’s offered him a $35,000 signing bonus, he accepted and gave much of it to his family.
Blue retired before the 1987 season. He then worked as a game analyst for the San Francisco Giants. He was not inducted into the Hall of Fame. A refusal attributable, he said, to his drug use.