Ok, ok been off for a while. But today’s birthday boy is more than just the answer to a trivia question. Vida Blue won the Cy Young Award and MVP in the same 1971 season, yes. Other players who have done that: Justin Verlander (2011), Roger Clemens (1986), Bob Gibson and Denny McLain (1968).
The lefty’s 24-8 breakout season landed him on Sports Illustrated, Time and randomly in the movie Black Gunn. He was untouchable. Barely able to drink, Blue and the A’s made their move to the American League’s best.
From the Bayou originally, Blue’s career started in Oakland, during an incredible 1970s run with Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter and Rollie Fingers.
His rookie season made him a superstar, and rightly so. But the 21-year-old got a little too big for his britches, entering tough contract negotiations with Oakland’s famous owner Charles Finely.
Read about Finley here. He’s important in the story of the southpaw’s career, and for the sport in general.
That Jaffe article documents the struggle that they both had, and correctly points out that it’s impossible to exactly pin the 6-10 sophomore slump on the offseason shenanigans.
Shoddy though it is, this tells about other factors that possibly contributed to his poor 1972 season. But he did bounce back after that year.
Keep in mind, Oakland’s three straight World Series came right after the league lowered the pitching mound. Still, on the back of Hunter, Fingers and Ken Holtzman, the A’s finished with a 2.58 team ERA. Blue fit fourth into the rotation – a five man bunch, each finishing with a sub-three ERA in 1972.
As defending champions, manager Dick Williams moved Blue into a larger role. Three pitchers on the 1973 A’s tallied 20-win seasons, on the team’s way to the second of three straight championships. Blue’s 17-win 1974 season come to the forefront with a complete game shutout in the ALCS.
He kept his ERA low that season, 3.25, but only finished two games above .500.
In one of the more heavy-handed moves from a commissioner, Bowie Kuhn rejected the move that proposed to send Blue to the tail-end, 1978 Big Red Machine (entertaining though the color scheme could’ve been). Kuhn implored Cincinnati to give up more for the deal, making it a fair trade.
Kuhn rejected the monopolization of Cincy, saying a deal, “would surely enhance the Reds’ position and further separate the Dodgers and Reds from the other four clubs in the division.” The decision marked Kuhn’s second watershed act against Finley.
Recognizing that he could get value for his outstanding contracts rather than waiting till free agency, Finley tried to send Fingers and Joe Rudi to Boston. At the same time, he wanted to ship Blue’s contract to New York. Kuhn voided both moves.
Instead, Blue went across the harbor to San Francisco, pitching six years with a 3.52 combined ERA. Never after 1975 did he hit 20 wins again. Still, he made three more All-Star Games with the Giants.
Finely acted as Steinbrenner before Steinbrenner. He basically constructed the three World Series teams on his own and masterminded profits on promotions. Read this story about turning facial hair into the identity of the A’s best players.
More on Finley later. The important part is Blue’s 66th birthday.