In 2006, Jim “Mudcat” Grant wrote a e-book titled “The Black Aces: Baseball’s Solely African-American Twenty-Sport Winners.” Celebrated in its pages had been the members of an unique membership: The African American or Black Canadian pitchers who had gained 20 or extra video games in a single MLB season.
On the time of publication, 13 males had grow to be Black Aces, and Grant, the primary Black 20-game winner within the American League, included a chapter on every of them, in addition to a number of Negro Leagues pitchers he believed would’ve completed the feat had they been allowed to pitch in MLB. Two different pitchers, CC Sabathia (2010) and David Value (2012), have joined the Black Aces because the e-book’s publication.
On this sequence, Yahoo Sports activities is highlighting the tales of the Black Aces and the seasons that made them members of this unique fraternity.
The seventh Black Ace: Vida Blue
There have been no hitters Vida Blue particularly regarded ahead to pitching in opposition to. Not even Hank Aaron, who broke Babe Ruth’s residence run document in 1974, was actually of curiosity.
“No, I did not look ahead to that,” Blue mentioned in a cellphone interview final yr, simply months earlier than he died on Might 6, 2023, at age 73. “I imply, I knew I could get him out, however I’d must work my tail off. You needed to nearly be excellent to get out a Hank Aaron or a Johnny Bench or Pete Rose or Robin Yount or a Tony Gwynn.”
It’s not that Blue didn’t take pleasure in a problem; moderately, he centered his power extra on the opposing pitcher. He mentioned he misses the times when groups pitted their high aces in opposition to one another to see who was the perfect. These days, groups usually tend to play their greatest guys on totally different days to extend their possibilities of profitable.
However when Blue was enjoying, his managers made positive he pitched the identical day because the Texas Rangers’ Nolan Ryan or the Baltimore Orioles’ Jim Palmer or the Philadelphia Phillies’ Steve Carlton or the New York Mets’ Tom Seaver. That’s precisely how Blue favored it and the way he measured the way in which he stacked up.
“That’s what I actually used to look ahead to. These had been the matchups I actually bought up for,” he mentioned.
Blue mentioned his most well-known duel was when he confronted off in opposition to Dock Ellis of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1971, and so they made historical past as the primary and solely time two Black pitchers began in opposition to one another within the MLB All-Star Sport.
Both pitchers gave up two home runs within the three innings they pitched, however Blue allowed three runs on two hits, whereas Ellis conceded 4 runs on 4 hits, together with Reggie Jackson’s famous moon shot that escaped the TV cameras as a result of it was hit so excessive. Along with his efficiency, Blue helped the AL win its first Midsummer Basic since 1962.
“I knew we had been two African American pitchers beginning the sport, however I did not notice it was the primary time,” Blue mentioned. “I did not get that, so now it means a lot to me to have made historical past in that means. There’s nothing higher than that.”
Vida Blue helps restore the A’s profitable methods
Of their first 29 years of existence, the Philadelphia Athletics had been five-time World Sequence champions, hoisting the trophy in 1910, 1911, 1913, 1929 and 1930. Between that point and the Seventies, the A’s moved twice — to Kansas Metropolis in 1955 after which to Oakland in 1968. Not one of the success the group beforehand loved adopted.
However one yr after resettling in Oakland, the workforce added one of many cornerstone items of its future championship groups. Blue did not grow to be an everyday starter till 1971, however he made his pitching debut for the A’s on July 20, 1969. It was considered one of two begins he made as a 19-year-old, and it put him on a two-year trajectory to changing into the primary Black Ace to go well with up for Oakland.
Recognized for his blistering fastball, Blue pitched his first no-hitter the next season, with a 6-0 win in opposition to the Minnesota Twins, and he completed his second season 2-0 in six video games performed. Then the 1971 season introduced his grand arrival to MLB.
A shutout of the White Sox makes Blue a Black Ace
Blue began the 1971 season on an unprecedented roll, profitable 17 of 21 begins earlier than the All-Star Sport. He carried two dimes with him each day trip, he mentioned, each for good luck and as a reminder of the purpose he got down to obtain that season: 20 wins. Quickly, it turned much less a query of whether or not the lefty would get to twenty and extra a matter of how shortly he would attain the milestone.
Heading into Oakland’s remaining sport of July, Blue had added two extra wins to his document, setting him as much as be one of many quickest 20-game winners in MLB historical past. Then the 22-year-old stalled in his subsequent two begins, shedding one and incomes a no-decision within the different.
On Aug. 7, 1971, Blue shut out the Chicago White Sox 1-0. However in that sport, he didn’t show his regular kind till the ninth inning, when he recorded two of his six whole strikeouts. After permitting 5 hits on the day, he went on the offensive in opposition to the sport’s remaining batters, and it paid off. It was the eighth shutout of the yr for Blue as he turned the primary A’s pitcher to win 20 video games because the workforce moved to Oakland.
“I challenged the batters within the ninth,” he recalled. “I wasn’t doing that early within the sport. As an alternative of doing the stuff you probably did to win 17, 18 and 19, rapidly you get cute. You reinvent your self to what you do not have to do.
“And it is laborious to do. To win that first sport is OK, however then to win the twentieth one — twentieth one is all the time the toughest one as a result of you understand you are there. You are one sport away.”
Vida Blue displays on a profession of highs and a few lows
Blue’s first 20-win season marked the start of an unbelievable run for Oakland. The ace completed the 1971 season with 24 wins and gained each the AL MVP and AL Cy Younger awards. The subsequent yr, the A’s gained the World Sequence. In 1973, Blue engineered his second 20-win season as a part of the workforce’s profitable title protection. Following an Oakland three-peat in 1974, Blue delivered a 22-win season in 1975. That’s three World Sequence titles and three 20-win seasons in 5 years.
After his remaining season with the A’s in 1977, Blue spent six seasons with the San Francisco Giants from 1978 to ‘81 and from 1985 to ‘86. Between his two stints in San Francisco, he pitched for the Kansas City Royals in 1982 and ‘83.
In his 17-year profession, Blue was a six-time All-Star, and he was the primary to pitch within the Midsummer Basic for each the American and Nationwide Leagues. 4 different pitchers — Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Roy Halladay and Max Scherzer — have since joined Blue with the both-leagues distinction, however he stays the one Black pitcher to perform the feat.
Whereas he’s within the Athletics’ Corridor of Fame, Blue isn’t enshrined in Cooperstown, partially because of the three-month jail time period he served in 1983 and his subsequent year-long suspension from MLB, each for possession of cocaine. In our dialog in January 2023, Blue paused earlier than discussing whether or not he believed he’d ever make it into the Corridor of Fame.
“I hope so,” he mentioned. “I hope they ultimately let me in, however I don’t know. … I realized from my errors. I take accountability for what I did. I shouldn’t have carried out it, full cease. I do know that.
“I’m not embarrassed by what occurred to me, however I’m upset about what it did to my status. And I’ve nobody in charge however myself. I put myself in that scenario, and it’s created a scenario the place I can’t actually inform you if I’ll make it to the Corridor. I’m mad I didn’t take into account the entire penalties. All I can do is attempt to restore the goodwill related to my identify.”