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TWISH: Vida Blue throws no-hitter en route to hall-of-fame worthy career

On Sept. 21, 1970, Oakland Athletics pitcher Vida Blue retired César Tovar on a popup to complete his first no-hitter. Blue, who was 20, had only been called up to the big leagues earlier that month and was still adjusting to the new level of competition. However, in his fourth appearance of his rookie season, Blue managed to accomplish something that multiple 300-game-winners and baseball hall-of-famers have failed to achieve. 

Blue was the ace for an Athletics team that went on to dominate Major League Baseball (MLB) for the entire early 70s. With Blue on the bump, Oakland won the World Series in 1972, ‘73 and ‘74, with Blue leading a formidable pitching staff. 

Blue himself won both the American League (AL) Cy Young award and the Most Valuable Player award for the 1971 season, one of only eleven such seasons for a pitcher in the history of MLB to date. Blue is the youngest to ever record such a season.

It’s a travesty to forget such a tremendous season, during which Blue was only 21 years old. Not to mention, he led MLB in ERA (1.82) complete games, and shutouts.

Known for his quick-working style and unique windup, Blue was a flamethrowing southpaw who could reach up to 100 mph in velocity. He was seen as a menacing pitcher by some of the greatest hitters of his era, with the likes of Pete Rose singing his praises. Baseball historian Bill James cited Blue as being the second hardest-throwing left-handed pitcher of the 70’s, behind only Nolan Ryan. 

At the time of his landmark no-hitter, Blue was the youngest pitcher to have accomplished the feat in the 21st century. The stakes of the game were high, as the Minnesota Twins were a mere win away from clinching the division title. Champagne was stored in the clubhouse in the event of a Twins victory. Instead, Blue faced 28 batters, surrendering only a walk in a dominant no-hit outing. 

Blue left the Athletics in 1977, before finishing out his career with the Royals and Giants. Unfortunately, Blue fell prey to cocaine use, an issue that a lot of players struggled with in the early 1980’s. Blue was arrested and sentenced to three months in prison, as well as suspended for the 1984 season. 

Blue retired before the 1987 season after finishing out his career with a couple solid seasons post-incarceration. After his waiting period of eligibility, Blue only appeared on the Hall-of-Fame ballot four times, falling under the minimum vote share threshold to remain on the ballot in 1994. He died of cancer in May 2023.

Blue was a unique pitcher and an outstanding man. His struggles with substance abuse do not define his character. He was often a major contributor to numerous charitable causes. After his playing career, he was an integral part of developing baseball’s popularity in Costa Rica, an often overlooked part of his legacy. 

It is a shame that Blue was not voted into the Hall of Fame. He remains one of the most overlooked players in the history of professional sports, rejected for his illness and struggles with addiction. On the week of his historic no-hitter which launched his meteoric rise, it’s important that we reflect on the legacy of this forgotten titan.

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