Vida Blue, a hard-throwing left-hander who became one of baseball’s biggest draws in the early 1970s and helped lead the brash Oakland Athletics to three straight World Series titles before his career was derailed by drug problems, has died. He was 73.
The A’s said Blue died Saturday but they didn’t give a cause of death.
“There are few players with a more decorated career than Vida Blue,” the team said in a statement Sunday. “Vida will always be a franchise legend and a friend.”
Blue was voted the 1971 American League Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player after going 24-8 with a 1.82 ERA, 301 strikeouts and 24 complete games, eight of them shutouts. He remains among just 11 pitchers to win both honors in the same year.
Following his award-winning 1971 season, Blue clashed with A’s owner Charlie Finley over his salary and played sparingly in 1972 as the A’s marched to the first of three straight World Series titles.
The left-hander played an integral role in the 1973 and 1974 titles. But Blue’s tumultuous relationship with Finley was a sign of things to come as the owner broke up the A’s championship core instead of paying the stars in free agency.
After Blue clashed publicly with Finley, the A’s owner traded Blue twice only to be blocked each time by baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, first in June 1976 to the Yankees and then in December 1977 to the Cincinnati Reds. Kuhn vetoed the deals under the commissioner’s authority to act in the “best interests of baseball.”
Blue finished 209-161 with a 3.27 ERA, 2,175 strikeouts, 143 complete games and 37 shutouts over 17 seasons with Oakland (1969-77), the San Francisco Giants (1978-81, ’85-86) and the Kansas City Royals (1982-83).
A six-time All-Star, Blue helped pitch the Swingin’ A’s to consecutive World Series titles from 1972 to ’74. Since then, only the 1998-2000 New York Yankees have accomplished the feat.
“Vida Blue has been a Bay Area baseball icon for over 50 years,” Giants president Larry Baer said in a statement. “His impact on the Bay Area transcends his 17 years on the diamond with the influence he’s had on our community.”
Blue was released by the Royals in August 1983 and ordered that December to serve three months in federal prison and fined $5,000 for misdemeanor possession of approximately a tenth of an ounce of cocaine. Blue was sentenced to one year in prison but U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Milton Sullivant suspended the majority of the term.
Blue was among the players ordered by baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth in 1985 to be subject to random drug testing for the rest of their careers.
After sitting out 1983 and 1984, Blue returned to baseball with the Giants for two seasons.
After his 2005 arrest in Arizona on suspicion of DUI for the third time in less than six years, Blue was sentenced to six months in jail after failing to complete his probation. But he was told he could avoid incarceration by spending time in a residential alcohol treatment program.
A’s great Dave Stewart tweeted out his condolences, calling Blue “my mentor, hero, and friend.”
Vida Blue rest in peace, my mentor, hero, and friend. I remember watching a 19 year old phenom dominate baseball, and at the same time alter my life. There are no words for what you have meant to me and so many others. My heart goes out to the Blue family🙏🏿🙏🏿
— Dave “Smoke” Stewart (@Dsmoke34) May 7, 2023
The Athletics, Giants and Royals also tweeted out tributes to Blue.
Rest in peace, Vida 💚💛 pic.twitter.com/MXHRuRFfjH
— Oakland A’s (@Athletics) May 7, 2023
The #SFGiants are saddened to learn of the passing of six-time All-Star and longtime Bay Area pitcher Vida Blue. Our deepest condolences go to the Blue family, his friends and all those whose lives he touched. pic.twitter.com/gI7k1N68Mv
— SFGiants (@SFGiants) May 7, 2023
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
A Louisiana native, Blue threw a no-hitter in 1970 and was part of a combined no-hitter in 1975. He was the first pitcher to start All-Star Games for each league: the AL in 1971 and the NL in 1978 while a member of the Giants.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.