Vida Blue’s Major League Baseball debut was overshadowed by something even a confident young man from Mansfield, Louisiana had to admit was a bigger deal. He first took the mound on the same night man walked on the moon for the first time, July 20, 1969.
In the next few years, though, Blue would become famous in his own right, both for his memorable name and his ability to make hitters feel like they’d just spent a couple of weeks in orbit.
While there’s a feeling of “what might have been” that will always surround his career, the pitcher who won 209 games, struck out over 2,100 hitters and won three World Series rings was remembered fondly for his friendly nature after he passed away Saturday at age 73 from complications of cancer.
Here’s a career chronicling look back as his career through cardboard–six cards commemorating his six All-Star appearances.
1970 Topps #21
Signed by the Athletics in 1967, Blue spent two years in the minor leagues before making his major league debut in 1969. He was back in the minors for much of the ’70 season, but made a splash after his September callup, throwing a one-hit shutout followed by a no-hitter against the Twins just ten days later. Only a walk to Harmon Killebrew stood in the way of a perfect game.
Blue’s 1970 Topps rookie card is one he shares with another player who would make a huge impact on Oakland’s 1970s dynasty. Located in the first series (#21), most ungraded examples in nice condition can be had for under $25.
1971 Topps #544
Picking up where he left off in 1970, Blue won the 1971 American League MVP and Cy Young awards after going 24-8 with a 1.82 ERA. He led the league in multiple categories, helping the franchise to its first postseason appearance since 1931.
He became the first and only player to ever start season opener, the All-Star Game and the playoff opener in the same season. National media took notice. He appeared on the cover of both Sports Illustrated and TIME Magazines.
His first solo appearance came on card #544 in the unforgettable ’71 Topps set, a unique shot of Blue who is either 1) finishing a posed follow through, 2) giving the peace sign or 3) giving a friendly wave. Most youngsters of the time went with #2 or 3.
From the 5th series, it’s a little pricier than you might think.
1972 Topps #92 AL ERA Leaders
Salary disputes with Charlie Finley began to put a damper on his career in Oakland by 1972 and while his record slipped, he still finished with a 2.80 ERA and helped the A’s win the first of three straight titles. He threw four shutout innings against the Tigers to save Game 5 of the 1972 American League Championship Series that sent the A’s to the World Series.
That incredible 1971 season put Blue’s face on three different Leader cards in the 1972 Topps set, including this one that features Hall of Famer Jim Palmer as ERA kings of the American League–one you can grab for a few bucks– at most.
1974 Topps #290
From 1973 through 1978, few pitchers embodied the term “workhorse” more than Blue, who consistently racked up big inning totals. He started a career high 40 games in 1974. Once again, in the postseason, he came through with a performance that steered the A’s toward the World Series, tossing a complete-game 1–0 shutout against the Orioles in Game 3.
His 1974 Topps card carries the unofficial moniker of “happiest card.” It’s easily attainable for next to nothing.
1978 MSA Wiffle Ball Discs #4
After the A’s dynasty crumbled and Blue suffered through a rough season in 1977, Blue was traded to the San Francisco Giants, where he started the All-Star Game and won the Sporting News National League Pitcher of the Year award after going 18-10 with a 2.79 ERA.
Plenty of 1970s kids made believe they were him in their backyard wiffle ball games so it’s appropriate he was one of the players who had a card on the box of a ball that summer even though he’s still listed as a member of the A’s.
Somewhat rare but still attainable, you can usually find one for less than $10.
1986 Mother’s Cookies Giants #10
Blue spent two years with the Royals and was then suspended on drug charges before reuniting with the Giants in 1985. In ’86, he won his 200th career game and finished his final season with a 3.27 ERA at age 36.
During a good chunk of the 1980s and 90s, west coast based Mother’s Cookies produced dozens of regional sets including some that were part of a giveaway at ballparks in areas where the product was sold. The round bordered card served up some sweet tasting memories of his beloved 1971 Topps card, too.