Vida Blue, a hard-throwing left-hander who became one of baseball’s biggest draws in the early 1970s and helped lead the brash Oakland Athletics to three straight World Series titles, has died. He was 73.
Baseball Icon Vida Blue, Who Led Oakland to 3 World Series Titles, Dies at 73
The A’s said Blue died Saturday but didn’t give a cause of death.
“I remember watching a 19 year old phenom dominate baseball, and at the same time alter my life,” Dave Stewart, a four-time 20-game winner for the A’s a generation later, wrote on Twitter. “There are no words for what you have meant to me and so many others.”
Blue was awarded the 1971 American League Cy Young Award and voted Most Valuable Player after going 24–8 with a 1.82 ERA and 301 strikeouts with 24 complete games, eight of them shutouts. He was 22 when he won MVP, the youngest to win the award. He remains among just 11 pitchers to win MVP and Cy Young in the same year.
In an interview with KQED’s Brian Watt last year, Blue spoke about the benefits of being a left-handed player.
“They say if you’re left-handed and still breathing, you can always get a job,” said Blue. “I’m not sure how true that is, but for some reason, they always look for left-handed batters, hitters, and always look for the left-handed pitcher.”
“But it’s all a bunch of hooey,” he added. “If you can hit, you could hit. If you can pitch, you can pitch.”
Blue finished 209–161 with a 3.27 ERA, 2,175 strikeouts, 143 complete games and 37 shutouts over 17 seasons with Oakland (1969–77), San Francisco (1978–81, 1985–86) and Kansas City (1982–83).
“Vida Blue has been a Bay Area baseball icon for over 50 years,” Giants President Larry Baer said in a statement. “His impact on the Bay Area transcends his 17 years on the diamond with the influence he’s had on our community.”
A six-time All-Star and three-time 20-game winner, Blue helped pitch the Swingin’ A’s, as Charley Finley’s colorful, mustachioed team was known, to consecutive World Series titles from 1972–74. Since then, only the 1998–2000 New York Yankees have accomplished the feat.
“There are few players with a more decorated career than Vida Blue,” the A’s said in a statement. “Vida will always be a franchise legend and a friend.”
Selected by the then-Kansas City Athletics on the second round of the 1967 amateur draft, Blue made his big league debut with Oakland on July 20, 1969, about a week shy of his 20th birthday. He made four starts and 12 relief appearances, then spent most of 1970 at Triple-A Iowa.
Called up when rosters expanded, he pitched a one-hit shutout at Kansas City in his second start. In his fourth start, Blue pitched a no-hitter against Minnesota on Sept. 21 at 21 years, 55 days, which made him the youngest pitcher to throw a no-hitter since the live-ball era started in 1920.
He held out after his MVP season and signed a $50,000 one-year deal. Blue didn’t make his first start until May 24 and went 6–10. From 1973–76, he went 77–48 and 0–3 in the World Series.
In 1975, he pitched the first five innings of a no-hitter against the California Angels, but was pulled early by manager Alvin Dark to rest him for the playoffs in a game finished by Glenn Abbott, Paul Lindblad and Rollie Fingers.
After Blue clashed publicly with Finley, the A’s owner traded Blue twice only to be blocked each time by baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn.
Finley attempted in June 1976 to trade Blue to the New York Yankees for $1.5 million and Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers to the Boston Red Sox for $1 million each. Kuhn vetoed the deals under the commissioner’s authority to act in the “best interest of baseball.” In December 1977, Kuhn stopped Finley from trading Blue to Cincinnati for $1.75 million and minor league first baseman Dave Revering.
Blue was traded to the Giants the following March in a deal that brought Oakland seven players, including outfielder Gary Thomasson and catcher Gary Alexander. Blue was dealt to the Royals in March 1982 and released in August 1983.
His death comes weeks after the A’s announced plans to move the team to Las Vegas.
“It’s a big business, and getting traded is a part of the business,” said Blue in an interview with KQED last year about the team potentially leaving Oakland. “Teams come and teams go, and hopefully they get something resolved and the A’s can stay in Oakland.”
KQED’s Brian Watt contributed reporting to this story.