Pool: Remembering Vida Blue, Oakland's first Superman pitcher originally appeared nbc sports birea
A country boy with a curious name from a small town in Louisiana arrived in Oakland as a 19-year-old with a fastball from high-heat heaven, and within six years he'd won an MVP award, a Cy Young Award, three Was the owner of the World Series. Rings and three 20-win seasons.
If only he could catch the sudden magnetism of young Vida Blue, Who died on Saturday at the age of 73,
For anyone growing up in Oakland in the 1970s, Vida was the first Superman pitcher we could see alive and in color, as the A's green-and-gold cranky showman Charles O. Owned by Finley. The three-time World Series champions had great pitchers in the early 70s, Hall of Famers, but only departures brought the Flames.
The crowd was mesmerized by what was easier on hearing than watching an All-Star bat at high speed by a left-handed kid. One stroke, lean forward on the seat. Twice, go to the edge. Three strikes, stand up and get ready to perform miracles.
Each two-strike windup by Vida was a moment, not unlike Stephen Curry pulling up behind the 3-point line or Barry Bonds stepping into the batter's box at the turn of the millennium. A buzz of anticipation reverberated through ballparks in Oakland and elsewhere.
In my childhood home, with a baseball-fan mom in Louisiana, Vida was addressed by first name, as if she were a member of the family.
Vida's “Blue Blazer,” play-by-play man Monte Moore called his fastball, apparently clocked in the mid-to-upper 90s with explosive movement. Sometimes it cut through, sometimes it seemed to line up when it came to the plate. We knew it was fast.
Baltimore Orioles slugger Boog Powell told sports illustrated, “He throws harder than Sandy Koufax.” “He has an effortless pace, a smooth, compact delivery. He goes out for nine innings and doesn't seem vulnerable.”
So popular was Blue—attendance at the Oakland Coliseum would double or triple that for his debut—that Finley requested his manager and staff shuffle the rotation to maximize exposure at home.
Other great pitchers have captivated the baseball world for a few years. The Tigers had Mark “The Bird” Fidrych. The Dodgers had Fernando “El Toro” Valenzuela. The Mets had Dwight “Doc” Gooden. The Marlins, years later, had Dontrelle “D-Train” Willis.
Everyone conjured from the mound, but none exploded onto the scene with the sheer power of young Vida. Five weeks after his 21st birthday, he threw his first one-hitter. Ten days later, he threw a no-hitter.
The following year, 1971, Vida produced a season that read like fantasy. He won 10 consecutive games in nine innings, all but one, in the six-week span before Memorial Day. He struck out 10 or more batters 13 times, including 17 in an 11-inning shutout. He finished with a 24–8 record in 312 innings with a 1.82 ERA, 0.952 WHIP, and 301 strikeouts.
Such was the Vida Blu incident that not only made the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine and The Sporting News, but Time magazine as well.
The attention Vida received reached a level she could not have imagined.
“It's a strange sight,” he once told reporters. “You win a few baseball games and suddenly you're surrounded by reporters and TV men with their cameras asking you about Vietnam and race relations.”
He's actually come a long way from DeSoto High, a segregated school in Mansfield, La., where he once pitched a seven-inning no-hitter, accounting for a strikeout for every out he pitched — but because of 10 walks. fell the Beat.
After a brief run through the minor leagues, Blue was promoted to the A's at age 19 as Finley saw dollar signs. Not many pitchers have the power, especially at age 19, so he ordered the kid sent to the big leagues.
Vida's first two seasons were meager, totaling 18 appearances, 10 starts, with mixed results. He was clearly in a hurry.
The great Joe DiMaggio, a coach at the time in Oakland, said, “It was a shame to bring up a kid like that when he hadn't pitched for two years.” “He throws as hard as anyone else, but he hasn't learned to pitch yet.”
By his third season, in '71, Vida was a master. The second half of his career was uneventful; He went 110–67 in his first eight seasons in Oakland, 99–94 in his final season with the A's, followed by stints with the Giants and kansas city Royals.
In the later years of his career, Vida battled off-field issues—including a cocaine charge that landed him in jail for three months—that derailed a Hall of Fame-bound career .
As an adult in sports media, I came to know a little about the retired Vida. I'll touch his left hand. “See if you've still got it.” He will laugh again, abuse, laugh again.
As a kid chasing batting-practice baseballs in the Coliseum bleachers, time stopped when Vida took the mound. The memories will live on forever.