On opening day of the 1971 baseball season, the Washington Senators chased young pitching phenom Vida Blue to the showers in the second inning. Blue’s next start, on April 9, was a different story.
Blue faced the Kansas City Royals. His Oakland team, considered strong contenders in the AL West, had lost its first three games.
Not to worry. Blue was almost unhittable on the day.
He set the pattern in the top of the first by fanning the Royals’ first two batters — Freddy Patek and Cookie Rojas. The latter didn’t strike out much.
Blue completed the inning by retiring Amos Otis on a ground ball.
He would go on to strike out 13 batters in six innings, after which the game was called due to rain.
Blue walked Patek — who was listed at only five feet, five inches — twice. Lou Piniella and Dennis Paepke each singled. Otis reached on an error by Bert Campanaris. And that was it. The Royals didn’t score.
Oakland scored five runs, all in the second inning. The eruption was mainly due to the generosity of KC starter Jim Rooker, who walked four batters in that frame.
It’s unfortunate that the game was called after the top of the sixth, because Blue was on pace to break the existing record for strikeouts in a nine inning game (18). Moreover, he seemed to be picking up steam. In his last inning of work, he struck out the side — Piniella, Bob Oliver, and Paepke.
Blue would go on to win his next seven starts, all complete games. Counting the April 9 game, he racked up ten straight wins before his next loss in late May.
So the Vida Blue of April 9, not the opening day version, was the true Blue.
That, by the way, is how Oakland owner Charlie Finley wanted to market Blue. Obsessed with nicknames (like Catfish Hunter and Blue Moon Odom), Finley wanted Vida Blue to change his name to True Blue. He offered Blue $2,000 to make the change.
When the pitcher declined, Finley instructed the team’s radio and television announcers to call him True Blue, anyway. This led to friction between the owner and the player and helped contribute to a blow up at the end of the season.
Apologies to Mr. Blue for using Finley’s wordplay in the title of this post.
NOTE: Although I’m boycotting Major League Baseball due to its decision to weigh in on the Democrats’ side of a political issue, there’s no reason not to continue writing about baseball history. My “this day in baseball history” posts do not benefit the current game. Fifty years ago, baseball wasn’t “woke.” It did not take the left’s side on any controversial issue of which I’m aware.
The achievements of the players back then deserve to recognized and fans of that era deserve to be reminded of them.