Blue a red-hot talent on diamond

Former MVP was part of three World Series champions

November 16, 2010
Vida Blue will appear on the 2011 Expansion Era ballot for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

Watch a video on the Expansion Era Ballot

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – He was the baseball story of 1971, and Vida Blue turned that season into his own at the age of only 22.

And yet Blue's best – as a pitching anchor of the dynastic Oakland A's teams of that decade – was still to come. Now, Blue stands one step short of the ultimate milestone: The Hall of Fame.

Blue, who played for 17 seasons for the A's, Giants and Royals, is one of 12 finalists on this year's Expansion Era ballot that will be considered by the committee on managers, umpires, executives and long-retired players at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The 16-person committee will vote on Dec. 5 at baseball's Winter Meetings in Orlando, and the results of the vote will be announced Dec. 6.

The 12 candidates on the ballot are: Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Pat Gillick, Ron Guidry, Tommy John, Billy Martin, Marvin Miller, Al Oliver, Ted Simmons, Rusty Staub, George Steinbrenner and Blue. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all ballots cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2011.

The committee consists of Hall of Fame members Johnny Bench, Whitey Herzog, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Tony Perez, Frank Robinson, Ryne Sandberg and Ozzie Smith; major league executives Bill Giles (Phillies), David Glass (Royals), Andy MacPhail (Orioles) and Jerry Reinsdorf (White Sox); and veteran media members Bob Elliott (Toronto Sun), Tim Kurkjian (ESPN), Ross Newhan (retired, Los Angeles Times) and Tom Verducci (Sports Illustrated).

Born in Mansfield, La., on July 28, 1948, Vida Rochelle Blue starred in both baseball and football in high school, striking out 21 batters in one game on the diamond. He was taken by the Kansas City Athletics with their second-round pick (No. 27 overall) in the 1967 amateur draft – and by 1969 Blue was in the majors as 19-year-old left-handed flamethrower.

The next season, Blue went 12-3 with a 2.17 earned-run average and 165 strikeouts in 133 innings for Double-A Iowa before being recalled to the A's near the end of the season. It was then that he gave the world a glimpse of what was to come, no-hitting the eventual American League West champion Minnesota Twins on Sept. 21.

Ten months later, Blue stood at 18-3 after his first post All-Star Game start and appeared poised to make a run at a 30-win season. He fell short at 24-8, but posted a 1.82 ERA, a league-best eight shutouts and 301 strikeouts en route to the AL Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards. The A's won 101 games and the AL West title that season, but fell to the Orioles in the ALCS.

"I've never seen a pitcher dominate a season like he did in 1971," said former Oakland A's teammate Sal Bando. "Vida was unhittable."

The next season, Blue missed time due to a contract dispute, going just 6-10 in 25 appearances. But Oakland again won the AL West, and – with Blue working mostly out of the bullpen – the A's defeated Detroit in the ALCS and the Reds in the World Series to capture the franchise's first World Series title in 42 years. In the postseason, Blue had two saves in eight games and posted a 2.57 ERA.

In 1973, Blue was 20-9 with a 3.28 ERA to lead Oakland to another World Series title. And the following year, Blue went 17-15 to lead the A's to a third straight Fall Classic win – becoming the only franchise besides the Yankees to win at least three World Series in a row.

"One of the greatest pitchers ever," said Charles O. Finley, who owned the A's when Blue played.

Blue went 22-11 to lead the A's to their fifth straight AL West title in 1975, but Oakland lost to the Red Sox in the ALCS – marking the end of the A's dynasty. He was 18-13 in 1976 and 14-19 the following season as the A's entered a rebuilding phase.

Prior to the 1978 season, Blue was traded across the Bay to the Giants for seven players and cash. Blue went 18-10 with a 2.79 ERA that year, finishing third in the National League Cy Young Award race. He was named to the NL All-Star team in both 1980 and 1981, becoming the first pitcher to win the All-Star Game in both leagues in the latter season.

Blue pitched for the Royals in 1982 and 1983 before missing the entire 1984 season while serving a suspension for substance abuse issues.

"I prayed a lot and just changed my lifestyle somewhat," Blue said of his year out of baseball.

He returned to win 18 games over two seasons with the Giants in 1985 and 1986, then signed with the A's as a free agent on Jan. 21, 1987 – only to retire less than a month later.

His final numbers: a 209-161 record, a 3.27 ERA and six All-Star Game selections – along with three World Series championships with the A's.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum