OAKLAND A'S PITCHER VIDA BLUE MAY 31, 1971

May 18, 1997

The mercurial upswings and downturns in the life and major
league career of Vida Blue were effectively captured on the two
occasions he appeared on SI covers. Blue made the cover the
first time (above) after he got off to a 10-1 start in his first
full big league season, for the Oakland A's, pitching a complete
game in each of his wins. He went on to finish 24-8 with a 1.82
ERA, throwing 312 innings and going the distance in 24 of 39
starts--the latter accomplishment virtually unapproachable
nowadays, when complete games are as rare as two-hour ones. The
lefthanded Blue won the American League Cy Young and MVP awards
that year and, at 22, appeared destined for Cooperstown.

So why did his next cover appearance, on March 27, 1972, carry
the billing VIDA BLUE, PLUMBING EXECUTIVE? In seeking
compensation for his brilliant '71 season, Blue was holding out
for a $77,750 raise, which would have increased his salary to
$92,500, and was threatening to quit the game and go to work
selling bathroom fixtures. Oakland owner Charlie Finley offered
him $50,000. "I don't believe in these unjustified, astronomical
salaries athletes are demanding today," said Finley. Blue
finally relented on May 2 and signed. Nevertheless, the
psychological miseries engendered by his holdout cost him
dearly. Though the A's went on to win the World Series in '72,
Blue finished a dismal 6-10 with only 151 1/3 innings pitched.

He had mixed results over the next 11 seasons with the A's, the
San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals--winning 20
games twice more and losing 19 once--and then was caught by a
sting operation in the fall of '83. Blue pleaded guilty to
cocaine possession and served 81 days in prison. In '85 he
returned to baseball, with the Giants, but after two .500
seasons he retired, with 209 career wins. In doing so, he
acknowledged he hadn't completely kicked his drug habit. "I
reached the point where I had to choose between baseball and
life," he said. Recalling that decision, he now says, "I needed
to work full time getting myself back on ground."

Today his feet are resolutely planted on terra firma. Always a
charmer, he is in his seventh year as a Giants Community
Representative. He speaks out against drugs at schools and
clubs; dresses up as Santa Claus for inner-city youngsters;
serves as commissioner of the Junior Giants, a youth baseball
program. "I know how it is to be young; you think you're
invincible," says Blue, now 47. "My problem gave me a wake-up
call. Now I like seeing myself as a person who can bring some
joy to others' lives."

--RON FIMRITE

COLOR PHOTO: KEN REGAN [Cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED featuring Vida Blue]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)