Friday, April 3, 2009

And Now You Know!: Vida Blue

Looking ahead to the baseball season in 2 days I stumbled upon an interesting tidbit. Who is the last switch hitting player to win the AL MVP? If I told you that he batted just .118 that entire season would it surprise you even more?

The story started when Jack Aker, relief pitcher for the Yankees was working on a string of 33 scoreless innings when the Oakland A's ended that steak giving Vida Blue his first career victory. That was back in 1969 when the 19 year old, Vida Blue, was trying to find his way in the Major Leagues.

A year later Vida Blue made his first career start, shutting out the Royals. Not to be outdone though, for his second career start Blue threw a no-hitter in front of just 4,000 fans in Oakland.

The legacy goes on as the next year Blue worked his first full season in the league and at 22 years old went on to win the Cy Young award and MVP awards. Blue would be the last switch-hitter to win the award although he only had 12 hits that year. Obviously the awards were for his performance on the mound in which Blue went 24-8 with a 1.82 ERA (League ERA = 3.36). Blue also had 301 strikeouts in this year but never had more than 189 strikeouts in any other single season during his 17 year career.

Blue then went on to do what ever other current player seems to do in MLB, he held out for more money. Blue made a mere $15,000 that year, a bargain to say the least, and was holding out for close to $90,000. Blue was insistent on not playing anymore if he didn't get his money. Blue was a deft tradesman when it came to plumbing and was willing to work to fix toilets for the rest of his life if the Athletics did not meet his demand.

After a month into the season the A's gave into the star pitcher and Blue returned to work on May 2, 1972. Unfortunately for Blue, he wasn't working on his game while holding out and returned to the mound overweight and out of shape. His arm would never be the same again as aforementioned, his strikeouts remained low.

Still, strikeouts did not make the player as Vida Blue averaged over 19 wins a season from 73-76, and in '76 the Athletics tried to move Blue to the Yankees but the transaction was blocked by Commissioner Kuhn and again in 1977 when Kuhn rejected an attempted transaction with the Reds. Kuhn claimed that the trades weren't fair for baseball as they made the powerful teams in the league more powerful without relinquishing enough in return.

The A's owner, Charlie Finley filed a $10 million lawsuit against Kuhn and refused to play Blue for 10 days, along with Rollie Fingers and Joe Rudi, two other Athletics involved in deals.

Finally in 1978 the Athletics got their wish and moved Vida Blue to the San Fransisco Giants. The deal was declared fair by Kuhn in large part because the Giants were trading 7 players for 1 guy, a major league record for any one player.

Blue would go on to only win 85 games in the last 8 years following his trade. In 1983 Blue was sentenced to 90 days in jail on charges of possession of cocaine. Kuhn suspends Blue for the entire 1984 season.

Kuhn would return to baseball for a few years and in 1987, a month after signing with the Athletics, Blue announced his retirement finishing with 209 victories, never reestablishing the dominance he had back in 1971 but still fighting his drug addiction. He was a dominant post season pitcher going 6-2 including 3-0 in World Series games as he helped the A's win 3 titles in a row.

Blue will probably never make the Hall of Fame although he has had a positive impact on baseball, including most recently working in Community Relations with the Giants. Blue's stats are very similar to another recently retired pitcher, Curt Schilling, and the debate goes on whether or not he should be in the Hall. We shall see!

And Now You Know! (And Knowing is Half the Battle)

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Marc Edelman said...


Great piece. The voided Vida Blue trade was the subject of one of sports law's great cases: Finley v. Kuhn.

Also, another fun fact about Blue--I believe he was married at Candlestick Park before a Mets-Giants baseball game.

As far as Blue making the Hall, for all he accomplished, I believe he woul have accomplished even more had he not become mixed up with drugs. I look at Vida Blue as being a lot like Doc Gooden: a great talent who had a very good career, but, with proper guidance, could have done even more.

Unfortunately, I only got to see Blue pitch at the very tail end of his career, after his fastball was gone and his years were catching up to him. However, he would have been a lot of fun to watch in his prime.

Oh, and one more Vida Blue to Doc Gooden comparison. Doc Gooden also was a switch hitter. However, his manager Davey Johnson only let him bat righty because he didn't want Gooden exposing his precious right elbow to an oncoming fastball.

Funbags Fernandez said...

Can your next article be about Dock Ellis and his no hitter on acid?