Six-time All-Star pitcher Vida Blue died at the age of 73 over the weekend, according to a statement by the Oakland Athletics. Blue won 209 games over 17-year career and is one of 11 players to win both the Cy Young Award and MVP in the same year. He spent two years with the Royals in 1982 and 1983, winning 13 games.
We join the baseball community in mourning the passing of Vida Blue. We send our deepest condolences to Vida's family and loved ones. pic.twitter.com/hzi8V3SSnF— Kansas City Royals (@Royals) May 7, 2023
Vida Rochelle Blue, Jr. was born in northern Louisiana, the eldest of six children. His high school principal formed a baseball team just so Blue would have a platform to show off his talents. He was also recruited to play football for a number of major programs, but when his father passed away, he decided he needed to take the money and signed with the Athletics for $12,500.
The lefty was in the big leagues at age 19, and by age 21 he was the best pitcher in the league, winning 24 games and earning Cy Young and MVP honors. He led the league with a 1.82 ERA and struck out a whopping 301 hitters in 312 innings in 1971, one of the best pitching seasons in the last 50 years.
Blue asked for a significant pay raise to reward his amazing season, but was rebuffed by owner Charlie Finley. In response, Blue announced he was withdrawing from baseball to work for a steel company. He sat out the beginning of the season until May, when Commissioner Bowie Kuhn finally stepped in to broker a deal.
That holdout would cost Blue from having another great season, but despite that the A’s won a title, the first of three consecutive championships they would win with Blue. He bounced back to win 20 games in 1973 and finished top six in Cy Young voting in 1975 and 1976.
Finley began dismantling the A’s about that time, and he sold Blue to the Yankees for $1.5 million. Commissioner Kuhn intervened and invalidated the deal as not being in the best interest of baseball, and Blue would stay in Oakland until they traded him across the bay to the San Francisco Giants in 1978 for six players and $300,000. He won 18 games and finished third in Cy Young voting his first year in San Fran, and was an All-Star in 1980 an 1981.
The Giants decided to go with a youth movement in 1982, so at the end of spring training they deal the 32-year old Blue to the Royals for infielder Brad Wellman and pitchers Atlee Hammaker, Renie Martin, and Craig Chamberlain. The Royals added Blue to an already veteran rotation that included Dennis Leonard, Larry Gura, and Paul Splittorff. He went 13-12 with the Royals that year with a team-best 3.78 ERA in 181 innings with 2.7 rWAR.
But Blue’s fastball was fading, and he struggled in 1983, failing to win a game before being demoted to the bullpen. He was 0-5 with a 6.01 ERA in 85 1⁄3 innings when the Royals released him in August. But his troubles were just beginning. After the season, Blue and three other Royals - Martin, first baseman Willie Aikens, and outfielder Willie Wilson - were charged with possession of cocaine. Blue plead guilty and served 81 days in prison, and was suspended for the entire 1984 season by Kuhn.
Blue would return to the Giants for two more seasons before retiring in 1986 at the age of 36, indicating he was still battling his demons with addiction. After his career, he played in the Senior Professional Baseball Association, frequently gave talks on his battles with substances abuse, and worked as a TV analyst for the Giants.
From everyone at Royals Review, we send our condolences to the Blue family and his loved ones. May he rest in peace.