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A Power Pitcher

“The Old Sachem,” Bill Stewart
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  Vida Rochelle Blue was a major league baseball left-handed pitcher from 1969 to 1986, spending most of his career with the Oakland Athletics as the team won three consecutive World Series championships from 1972-1974. He won the American League Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player award in 1971.

  Vida Blue was a six-time American League All-Star and the first pitcher to start the All-Star game for both the American League in 1971 and National League in 1978. He played for the San Francisco Giants from 1978 to 1981 and again from 1985 to 1986. Between these two periods, he pitched for the Kansas City Royals in 1982 and 1983.

  Vida Blue was born on July 28, 1949, in Mansfield, Louisiana, the oldest of six children of Vida Blue Sr. and wife Sallie. He went to DeSoto High School in Mansfield as a pitcher on the baseball team and the quarterback in football. As a senior he pitched a no-hitter with 21 strikeouts in a seven-inning game. As a quarterback, he passed for 3,400 yards, completing 35 touchdown passes and rushing for 1,600 yards.

  As a power pitcher, Vida favored his fastball with a speed of 94 miles an hour, occasionally reaching 100 miles per hour. He also threw a very good changeup and an occasional curveball. Baseball historian Bill James called Vida the second-hardest thrower of his era, only eclipsed by Nolan Ryan.

  Vida pitched for the Oakland Athletics from 1969 to 1977. He was traded to the San Francisco Giants, where he pitched from 1978 to 1981, was traded to the Kansas City Royals (1982–1983) and back to the Giants, where he pitched during 1985 and 1986. His Major League Baseball statistics were wins–losses 209-161; ERA 3.27; and 2,175 strikeouts over his career.

  Vida was an All-Star six times: 1971, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1980 and 1981. The A’s were World Series champions during his time: 1972, 1973 and 1974. He was the American League Most Valuable Player in 1971, and he won the Cy Young Award the same year. He had a no-hitter on September 21, 1970, and a combined no-hitter on September 28, 1975. He was inducted into the Athletics Hall of Fame and San Francisco Wall of Fame.

  When he was 18 years old, he received an offer of $15,000 salary with a $35,000 signing bonus. After his great 1971 season, he stated that he wanted a salary of $115,000. Owner Charles Finley offered $50,000, and they finally agreed to $63,150. In that 1971 season, he lost his opening game then won the next eight. He finished the season with a record of 24 wins and only eight losses. He had eight shutouts and an ERA of 1.82.

  He was 10-1 when he came to Fenway Park and battled the Sox star pitcher, Sonny Siebert, who was 8-0 at the time. The Sox won 4-3 in what is considered as one of the most dramatic games in Fenway history. In 1972 he had a 6-10 record as he constantly argued with Finley about his salary. He was back on top in 1973 with a 20-9 record, 17-15 in 1974 and 22-11 in 1975.

  After an 18-13 record in 1976, Vida opened up to reporters that he hoped Finley would breathe his last, fall flat on his face and die of polio. Finley didn’t have much use for black players. The two of them were at each other’s throat during Vida’s career in Oakland. At the end of the 1976 season, when free agency was first established, most of the players left Oakland because of Finley. Blue stayed with a virtually new team and was 14-19.

  In March of 1978, Vida was traded to the San Francisco Giants for six players and $300,000, which included Mario Guerrero and a player to be included later to the Giants. His record in 1978 was 18-10, including a 2.79 ERA as the Giants won 89 games and a third-place finish. He started the 1978 All-star game and was Sporting News National League Pitcher of the Year. He went 14-14 in 1979 with a 5.02 ERA, 14-10 in 1980 with an ERA of 2.97, 8-6 in 1981 with an ERA of 2.45, a season where a strike interrupted the season.

  For the 1982 season, Vida was traded to the Kansas City Royals. He went 13-12 with an ERA of 3.78 on 31 starts. In 1983 he went 0-5 with an ERA of 6,01 in 19 appearances, including 13 starts. After the 1983 season, Blue along with former teammates Willie Nelson, Jerry Martin and Willie Aikens pleaded guilty to purchasing cocaine. Vida was sentenced to three months in prison and was suspended by MLB for the 1984 season.

  In April 1985 he was a free agent and was returned to San Francisco. He went 8-8 with an ERA of 4.47 in 33 appearances, including 20 starts. In 1986 he went 10-10 with a 3.27 ERA. He retired in 1987.

  He faced many DUI charges in 2005. In 1971 he accompanied Bob Hope on the USO tour of the troops in Vietnam, He worked for many charitable events, including Safeway All Stars Challenge Sports, celebrity golf tournaments and charities for children. Vida Blue had many personal faults but was an outstanding pitcher in his early seasons.

  (Editor’s Note: Bill Stewart, better known to Saugus Advocate readers as “The Old Sachem,” writes a weekly column about sports – and sometimes he opines on current or historical events or famous people.)

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