WHY HASN’T BLUE GOTTEN HALL CONSIDERATION?
One of the highlights at our
Turn-Back-the-Clock Day was seeing my old friend Vida Blue again. “The
Blue Boy,” one of the more friendly and down-to-earth personalities among star
athletes, held court in the A’s dugout prior to Saturday’s game against the
Pirates, along with former teammates Joe Rudi, Campy Campaneris and Mike Norris. Sometimes, I think we forget just how
talented those A’s teams were in the 70s.
In the case of Blue, I have always wondered why his name hasn’t gotten
more serious consideration for Baseball’s Hall of Fame. The case can still be made.
For a younger generation who
has fussed and fawned over the early exploits of the Giants’ two-time Cy Young
Award winner Tim Lincecum, they may not be
aware that a 21-year-old Vida Blue may have done a better impression of “The
Freak” than even the Freak does. In 1971, 21-year-old Blue became a national sensation on the mound. In leading the franchise to its first
postseason berth in 40 years, Vida
posted a 24-8 record and led the American League in ERA (1.82), complete games
(24), shutouts (8) and strikeouts (301).
Barely drinking age, Blue won the Cy Young Award and also was voted the AL’s Most Valuable
Player. In fact, he is just the 5th pitcher to win a league MVP
trophy in the last 39 years!
Yet, it was the way Blue smothered the opposition that
really resonated with baseball fans. Not
only was he a fan favorite in Oakland,
he was a major gate attraction in every Major League ballpark he pitched
in. He was so athletic on the mound and
truly a blend of pitchers from the previous decade. His high leg kick was kind of a cross between
Marichal and Warren Spahn, with a fastball that would consistently approach or
hit 100 MPH, he was reminiscent of another lefthander, Sandy Koufax. Like Koufax,
the “Blue Blazer” would start waist high to a batter, and then explode upwards
above the letters.
Many veteran sportswriters,
like the San Francisco Chronicle’s
talented Bruce Jenkins, have spoken about
players “passing the sight test” when it comes to being voted into the Hall of
Fame. While statistics can tell a story,
you don’t need batting averages or career wins to find a real Hall of Famer. It’s how they played the game. And that was Vida Blue. When he took the mound, it was instant
excitement and like all worthy Hall of
Famers, he dominated during his
era. In some ways, I think Vida has been
the victim of playing on teams with so much talent. It took
Cepeda many years to enter Cooperstown, as voters were reluctant to add another Hall
of Famer from those Giants teams that already featured HOFers Willie Mays,
Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry or those Cardinal teams that were anchored by HOFers
Brock, Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton. Same for Tony Perez, who deserved enshrinement for years but was hurt by
the presence of Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Pete Rose on those magnificent Big Red Machine clubs.
Had Blue not become a
contract holdout prior to the 1972 season, who knows what kind of numbers he
might have recorded as a follow-up to his eye-popping 1971 MVP campaign? As it was, his first start of 1972 did not
happen until May 28 and he struggled to a 6-10 mark. That being said, Vida still went on to scroll
career statistics and honors that certainly should require closer Hall of Fame
examination, even at this late date.
- Blue was a 20-game winner three times over a
five-year period, also boasting 20-9 and 22-11 seasons in 1973 and 1975,
- He was a six-time All-Star and finished in the
Top 7 in ERA and Cy Young voting five times during his career.
- Vida threw one no-hitter (1970), one combined
no-hitter (1975), and three one-hitters (1970, 1971 and 1976) during his career.
- He still leads
A’s in career shutouts (28), strikeouts (1,315), complete games (105) and
innings pitched (1,946), and ranks second in career victories (124) to
Hall of Famer Jim “Catfish” Hunter.
- And, of course, he also was a key pitcher on
three consecutive World Series championship teams in 1972-74.
But if that isn’t enough
proof that Vida may very well belong in Hall of Fame, take a look at his career
statistics as they compare to some other pitchers who already have plaques in Cooperstown. Blue
compiled a 209-161 record and 3.27 ERA in his career. The Dodgers’ Don Drysdale posted a 209-166 lifetime mark. Jim Bunning
was 224-184 with an identical 3.27 ERA. Robin Roberts went 286-245 with a 3.41 ERA. Even Catfish’s numbers, while slightly
better, are comparable: 224-166, 3.26
ERA. And while Koufax’s career was sadly
cut short due to severe arthritis, Blue posted 44 more victories, six more
complete games and only three less shutouts than the Dodger southpaw.
Some critics of Blue’s
candidacy might point to his 1-5 record and 4.31 ERA in postseason play during
his career. But to hold that against him
would be like dismissing others who had brilliant regular season showings but
yet-than-stellar playoff performances (Ted Williams, Barry Bonds, Cepeda, to
name a few). And it should be noted that Blue only allowed 55 hits in 64.2
innings in those playoff games.
Others may suggest, even if under their breath, that Vida
has not gotten serious Hall of Fame consideration due to his well-documented
battle with personal demons, during his 17-year career. Perhaps, that theory has some validity. Yet, if voters–even the Veterans Committee–are
dismissing Blue as a bona fide Hall of Famer because it’s “a character issue,”
I say this: what really is
character? Is it being human and making
mistakes, or is getting up off the ground and overcoming those mistakes? Like all of us, Vida is not perfect. He has made his share of miscues, both on and
off the field. But I’ve know him for
nearly 20 years, and I am aware of the countless good deeds he has done in this
community. He has served Northern
California’s youth well, visiting schools, hospitals and playgrounds, sharing
his powerful message that even a former Cy Young and MVP winner can make mistakes
which could have a profound impact on your life. However, unlike some teachers or speakers,
when Vida talks to these teenagers, he bravely offers himself as a real-world
So, when you see Vida Blue
at the Oakland Coliseum at an Old-Timers or Turn-Back-the-Clock day, don’t
forget just how great the kid from Mansfield,
La. was. I was there back in 1971 and I witnessed it
first hand. He was truly one of the