Friday, February 27, 2009

Vida Blue Was Cool

The other day in the FanDome, there was a comment to a Fan post concerning Dontrelle Willis about Willis being this generation's Vida Blue. While the Fan can understand the comparison, and though Willis is loved here in this place, Vida Blue was electric and he was cool. There is no comparison.

Vida Rochelle Blue Jr. of Louisiana was drafted out of high school by the Oakland A's in the second round of the 1967 draft. While Charlie Finley, the eccentric owner of the A's, was famous for making up nicknames for his players for marketing purposes ("Catfish" Hunter, "Blue Moon" Odom and "Mudcat" Grant being three examples). No such moniker was needed for Blue. His name was cool all by itself.

Add the high leg kick and a 100 MPH fastball and a lefty to boot, and you had one very cool and very hot pitcher. He pitched briefly with the A's as a nineteen year old and was knocked around a bit. Then he came up in September in 1970 and one-hit the Royals and ten days later, no-hit the Twins. Not a bad start!

He was so good in 1971 that he became the youngest player to win the MVP award and the Cy Young award. He started 39 games that year as young as he was and finished 24 of them. He threw eight shut outs. He struck out 301 batters in 312 innings. He went 24-8 with a 1.82 ERA. His WHIP that year was 0.92! But he wasn't done. He still had to pitch in the post season and unfortunately for the A's, they ran into a buzz saw in the Championship Series with Baltimore.

At that time, Blue's fastball was rivaled only by Nolan Ryan. Pete Rose said he threw the hardest of anyone he ever faced. But throwing 312 innings as a 21 year old plus the post season wasn't the best thing in the world for Blue. He struggled through the next year and though he won twenty games two more times and 17, 18 and 18 in other seasons, he was never again the same pitcher he was in 1971. He did throw 143 complete games in his career and had 37 shutouts.

Still, he won 206 games in his career, two more as an All Star pitcher and went 17-10 in post season games. He later got caught up in the cocaine scandals of the 1970s, which hurt his reputation. But he got through that and was later known for his generosity with young children and rebuilt his life.

1971 was a thrill ride for all of us that got a chance to peak into it once in a while. Unfortunately, that was before the days of ESPN and daily highlights. But you just had to follow along in the papers and in the Sporting News and you just knew he was real and Vida Blue was cool.


Josh Borenstein said...

I wasn't saying Willis is as good as Vida Blue. But Willis is similar, in that he is a black southpaw with a high leg kick.

William said...

Sorry Josh, didn't mean to pick on your comment. I know what you meant and how you meant it. I guess it came out badly and I apologize.