Continuing the series of posts featuring my favorite top 100 ballplayers of all-time.
The Oakland Athletics dynasty of the early '70s was my first experience with baseball dominance. Those memorable funky green and gold teams were stacked with pitching, defense, speed, and power. The A's three straight World Series titles in 1972-73-74 have only been matched once since (1998-2000 Yankees). They must have made an impression on me, because as I worked my way through this Favorite 100 list, I was surprised by how many of this mustached crew show up.
When I think about those dynasty A's teams, it starts with great pitching -- and their great pitching started with Vida Blue. After spending most of the 1970 season in the minors, he got called up in September and promptly tossed a no-hitter in his second start. 1971 was his first full season in the majors, and he broke out with a 28-4 record with a 1.82 ERA winning both the Cy Young & MVP awards. Forty years later, he remains the answer to a great trivia question: Who was the last switch hitter to win the American League MVP award?
After dominating in 1971, Blue, who once turned down a bunch of cash to legally change his name to "True" became one of the many Oakland players to battle with owner Charles Finley over money. In protest to his low salary (me made less than $15K in 1971) Vida held out most of the 1972 season, when he returned he won only 6 games, but the A's won their first World Series. He returned to form with 20 wins in 1973, 17 wins in '74, and 22 in '75. But his problems with Finley never really ended. On two separate occasions he was traded (1976 to the Yankees and 1977 to the Reds) only to have the deals rejected by MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn as "not in the best interests of baseball".
In 1978, after all of his famous former teammates had left via free agency, he was finally able to be traded out of Oakland. In the only 7 players for 1 deal in MLB history Vida was send across the San Francisco Bay to the Giants. It was in Candlestick he did what I most vividly remember him for... he was the first player I ever saw to wear his first name on the back of his jersey. He spent the most of his remaining career with the Giants. He still lives in San Francisco. On a down note, he did pitch for the Royals in 1982 and part of the '83 season before getting caught up in a MLB cocaine sting, sending him to jail for 90 days and costing him the 1984 season to suspension.
In the end, Vida Blue pitched 17 years in the major leagues, winning 209 games. He was a six-time all-star, and was the first pitcher in major league history to start the all-star game for both the American League (1971) and the National League (1978).