There are times when getting old sucks. This is one of those times. One of my boyhood favorites, Vida Blue died last week at the age of 73.
As a 21-year-old Oakland A’s pitcher, Vida came out of the Blue and had a spectacular season winning both the Cy Young Award and American League MVP. Pitchers rarely win the MVP: Only 5 have in the 52 years since Vida Blue’s arrival on the scene.
I was always more of a San Francisco Giants fan BUT Vida Blue was special. He had the sort of high leg kick that makes modern pitching coaches cringe. There’s something special about left-handed pitchers, they tend to be graceful with moves like Fred Astaire or Gregory Hines. That was Vida Blue.
Vida remained an outstanding pitcher, but never had a year as good as 1971. After that season, he had an enormous salary wrangle with the A’s asshole owner Charlie Finley. It left Vida embittered and cast a shadow over the rest of his career. The monetary dispute looks ridiculous next to today’s obscene player salaries: Vida wanted over $100K and Finley offered half of that sum. They settled in the $60K range, which left the pitcher seething.
Before the 1978 season, Vida Blue was traded to the Giants for seven warm bodies and $300K. Finley was breaking up his championship team and the Giants benefitted from the fire sale.
The Giants had fallen on hard time after the departures of Gaylord Perry, Juan Marichal, Willie Mays, and Willie McCovey. 1978 was a magical season with the Giants coming out of nowhere to contend in the National League West against our hated rivals the Dodgers until fading in September. Vida led the way along with Bill Madlock, Jack Clark, and Willie McCovey who was back to finish his career where he belonged.
1978 was also the year my interest in baseball revived. I was a hippie in my high school years and my interest in baseball had waxed and waned. It waxed again after Vida Blue joined the Giants.
After 4 seasons with the Giants, Vida was traded to the Kansas City Royals. It was the worst possible team for Vida as the Royals roster was full of cokeheads, which made Vida’s own drug problem worse. His control vanished and he became a wild and erratic pitcher. After a yearlong suspension, Vida returned to the Giants for two seasons, but age and drugs took their toll.
Vida Blue is one of the best baseball players to come out of the Gret Stet of Louisiana. It’s hard to choose between him and Ron Guidry as the best pitcher. Guidry had his own magic year in 1978 but he was a New York Yankee, so Vida Blue is my choice.
The Hall of Fame’s doors were closed to Vida because of his druggie days. Recently, there’s been talk of him as a viable candidate. One of the most comparable pitchers to Vida Blue was his Oakland teammate Jim Hunter who made it to Cooperstown. Hunter adopted the nickname Boss Finley suggested, Catfish. Vida refused to be known as True Blue. His real name was sufficiently cool.
I lost track of Vida Blue after he retired, but I’ll always remember 1971 and 1978. I may be old, but I saw Vida Blue pitch and Jerry Garcia play. That’s good enough for me.
The last word goes to Albert Jones:
3 thoughts on “Vida Blue, R.I.P.”
Great pitcher! I read that when Finley gave him a gas card instead of a raise, Blue gave it to everyone at the station to use.
Personally, I am partial to my cousin Ron as the best from the Gret Stet.
Oh well, nobody’s perfect.