WHY HASN’T BLUE GOTTEN HALL CONSIDERATION?

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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! 

 

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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
Juan
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
Orlando
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
Lou
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. 
Consider this:

 

  • 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,
    respectively.

 

  • 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
    the Oakland
    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. 

 

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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
example.

 

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
all-time greats.

4 Comments

Love this. Vida was the greatest. Went to all the 73 and 74 W.S. games and have been an A’s fan since 1970. What sets Vida apart is not only was he a great pitcher, but he is also a great person.

Thanks for this great story. Vida Blue should be in The Hall. Just look at his numbers and compare with the above stated HOF’ers. There was none more dominant when he was on his game and 1971 was a magical year.

i grew up there watching those a’s teams and when vida went to san Francisco. vida was an impact player on some not very good teams. vida was great. even pete rose said so. in 1972 he relieved in the play-offs and world series. we wouldn’t have won without him. vida was an impact player for at least a decade. cocaine? I forgive him. he belongs in the hall

You did leave out that he is only one of two pitchers to ever start the all-star game in both the American League and National League – that should be the clincher… and nobody has ever won 3 world series in a row during my lifetime (early 60s) except those A’s, not even the Yankees, and he lead them to that in their first championship, starting it all. And, as you pointed out, all games he played were sold out and TV Ratings were up everywhere. I don’t think anybody ever in baseball has been as Phenom as Vida was with his start in baseball, not even Tim, and I’m a Giants fan. He was a major victim of Charley Finley, who ruined that team, sold players like Jackson and Hunter to the Yankees, and caused the Vida holdout you mentioned above. Then there was also the missed 1984 season. That is what is probably holding most of the voters out. Similar to the holdout on votes of Bonds, who was one of the top 5 players to ever play the game, no matter what was going on during that entire era with a large percentage of the players.

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