Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Looking Back on Blue Streak That Left Baseball, Fans Agog

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Looking Back on Blue Streak That Left Baseball, Fans Agog

Article excerpt

The numbers are preserved in record books. The awards are displayed on some shelf. But what remains special to Vida Blue is the feeling. The invincibility he felt in 1971, when he was 21 and had baseball in the palm of his hand.

Twenty-five years later, his season holds up as a Blueprint for phenoms. And 25 years later, he can pull the memory from his heart like he was on the mound yesterday.

Giddy with confidence and the naivete of youth, it mattered little whom he faced. Future Hall of Famers such as Killebrew and Kaline, Robinson and Yastrzemski, crossed his path that summer and all were at his mercy.

"You can use all of the verbs and adjectives and nouns and pronouns, but you can't explain the feeling you have during a year like that," said Blue.

"To be out there on the mound and have the confidence to know that you can throw the ball past anyone. To know that the hitter knows what you're going to throw and you're still throwing it by him. That's what that year was like."

It was not the greatest season in modern baseball history. He won 24 games, and others have topped that. He had an 1.82 ERA and some have bettered that. What Blue's summer of '71 was, was a snapshot of baseball at its best.

Nothing can top the emergence of a young talent, and few have arrived like Blue. He served notice in 1970 when he was brought up and pitched a no-hitter and a one-hitter among his six starts.

After spending the offseason in boot camp for the Army Reserves, Blue headed to spring training in peak condition. He lost on Opening Day, then won his next 10, including five shutouts. By June 25, he was 16-2 with a 1.37 ERA.

"It was a wonderful experience to catch him, but he used to tear my hand up," said former catcher Gene Tenace, now a Blue Jays coach. "He'd throw the first pitch at 95 mph, and he wouldn't waver the rest of the game.

"His fastball just exploded. It'd be coming straight at you and then all of the sudden it would jump."

Ten years before Fernandomania swept Southern California, Blue created a stir in the northern half of the state.

Even though Oakland was about to win the first of five straight division titles - and in 1972 would win the first of three straight World Series - the Athletics did not attract fans in droves. …

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