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One of the last of the great innings-eaters, Vida Blue was a terrific southpaw who never quite lived up to his potential.  He has the distinction of winning a Cy Young and MVP Award in the same season, but he is more widely known for his substance abuse problems.  Blue was banished from the game an entire season for off-the-field issues with cocaine, which has done nothing but sour the stardom he had early in his career.

Originally drafted by the Kansas City A’s before they moved to Oakland, Vida was given his first look at the Major League level in 1969 but did not impress.  However, he was just 19-years-old and when the A’s summoned him again in 1970, he was up to the task.  On September 21, Blue no-hit the Minnesota Twins.  The feat is made even more remarkable given the fact that the Twins were in first place.  So Blue showed his brilliance late in 1970 and carried it into his magical 1971 campaign.

In 1971, Vida won both the Cy Young Award and the MVP Award by pacing the American League in shutouts, ERA and WHIP.  With an earned run average of 1.82, the Man from Mansfield, Louisiana went 24-8 for the AL West champion Athletics.  All season long Blue worked with a lumber-eluding tonic that he had on every offering.  He surrendered just 209 hits in 312 innings of work.  Although Vida was brilliant all season, he struggled during the postseason–something he did throughout his career.

When you’re building a cathedral, you’d like to work unimpeded to erect a massive body of work, but Blue didn’t adhere to a relentless work ethic.  Instead he held out at the beginning of the 1972 in a well-publicized contract dispute.  The holdout hurt Blue but not the A’s who captured another AL West title.  Vida came back to post a 6-10 record–far removed from his sensational 1971 season.  During the postseason, Blue was used out of the bullpen as the A’s started Catfish Hunter, Kenny Holtzman and Blue Moon Odom.

Vida rebounded nicely in 1973 to post his second 20-win season.  He, Hunter and Holtzman gave Oakland three 20-game winners as the A’s romped to their second straight World Series win.  Yet Blue, for the second postseason in a row, didn’t notch a victory.  That finally changed in 1974 when Blue outpitched Hall of Famer Jim Palmer in an ALCS Game III 1-0 pitcher’s duel.  The A’s were firmly established as a dynasty when they won their third consecutive World Series title in ’74.

For the 1975 A’s, Vida won 22 games and carried the boys of green and gold to another ALCS where they were dethroned by the Red Sox of Boston.  The A’s couldn’t recover and began to collapse–their dynasty dying as quickly as it was brought to life.  The Kansas City Royals became the AL West powerhouse as the A’s became the doormat in the late 1970s.  Blue suffered through a 19-loss campaign in 1977 despite a decent ERA.  With the dynasty done, the A’s looked to cash in their chips and Blue was one of their strongest pieces.

Traded to the Giants for six players and $300,000, Vida ventured to the National League for the 1978 season.  He went 18-10 his first year with the Giants before suffering through his worst campaign in 1979, when he led the senior circuit in earned runs allowed.  He returned to form in 1980 with ten complete games on a 2.97 ERA.  He trimmed his ERA down to 2.45 during the strike shortened 1981 season.  After the season he was traded to the Royals for Atlee Hammaker, Brad Wellman and two other pitchers.

Blue was the only KC pitcher to reach 100 strikeouts in 1982.  After a dismal 0-5 campaign in 1983, Blue was brought up on charges in a cocaine scandal that rocked the baseball world.  Kept out of baseball the entire 1984 season, the Royals washed their hands of Vida when he made a comeback in 1985.  He returned to the Giants and pitched two final years in San Francisco. 

THE NUMBERS

W 209/L 161/PCT .565/ERA 3.27/G 502/CG 143/SHO 37/IP 3,343/H 2,939/BB 1,185/SO 2,175

A fine second baseman during the 1960s and early 1970s, Glenn Beckert was an expert at controlling his bat.  One of the most difficult strikeout victims of his time, the Cubs second baseman led the NL five times in smallest strikeout-per-at-bat ratio.  Although he was gifted at making contact, Beckert’s defensive play had room for improvement.  He led the league four times in errors, but he was larger than your typical second baseman and thus covered more ground that the average middle infielder.

Beckert was called up by the Cubs in 1965 and play everyday as the regular second baseman.  As a freshman, the tall second sacker scored 73 runs and turned 101 double plays.  He fanned 52 times as a rookie but would never again whiff 40 times in another season.  Glenn came into his own in 1966 when he finished second to superstar Pete Rose in base hits among Major League second basemen with 188.  He also set career highs in triples, RBI and stolen bases, as he expertly avoided the dreaded Sophomore Jinx.

Just as good in 1967, Beckert led NL second basemen in runs scored and was the only 2B in the Major Leagues to eclipse 30 doubles.  But his finest hour was right around the corner.  In 1968, Beckert won his only Gold Glove, led the National League in runs scored, finished in the Top Ten in MVP voting and paced Major League second basemen in batting average and base hits.  Despite all those accolades, Glenn didn’t make his first All-Star appearance until the following year.

Beginning in 1969, Glenn made four straight All-Star squads with the Chicago Cubs.  Although his run production was down significantly in ’69, he was the only second baseman in the senior circuit to hit over .290.  But his run production spiked in 1970 when he scored a career high 99 runs.  With shortstop Don Kessinger, the 1970 Cubs boasted the Major League’s top run-scoring middle infield, as the duo combined for 199 tramples of home plate.

At his best with the bat in 1971, Beckert set career highs in batting average, slugging average and on-base percentage.  He was the only second baseman in the National League to hit over .300–Glenn’s batting average was of the Speakeresque mark of .342. 

Beckert was named to his final All-Star team in 1972.  After that season, the injuries set in.  Glenn was limited to just over 100 games in 1973 and since his batting average had fallen to .255–the worst it had been since his rookie campaign–the Cubs traded him after the season to the Padres for Jerry Morales.  The Friars didn’t get much as Glenn spent two injury-plagued seasons in Southern California before calling it a career. 

THE NUMBERS

G 1,320/R 685/H 1,473/2B 196/3B 31/HR 22/RBI 360/SB 49/BB 260/SO 243/BA .283/SA .345/OBP .318

www.bleedcubbieblue.com

Yesterday the Hall of Fame announced its latest group of former stars and executives for HOF consideration.  The group consists of twelve personalities whose impact on the game came during what is called the Expansion Era: 1973 to present.  On the list are former players Vida Blue, Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Ron Guidry, Tommy John, Al Oliver, Ted Simmons and Rusty Staub.  Rounding out the twelve man roster are executives George Steinbrenner, Pat Gillick and Marvin Miller and one manager: Billy Martin. 

This is a rather weak group spearheaded by–wait for it–a couple of old Yankees: The Boss and Billy.  It would be a shock if George Steinbrenner didn’t get in, since his death has erased many of the bitter memories folks had of the man.  Billy Martin was a proven winner as a manager but the red flag on him is that he couldn’t hold down a job.  He’s kind of like that misunderstood guy in the neighborhood who has worked for every retail store.  Those type of guys aren’t the folks you’d want dating your daughter, but that might not play against Mr. Martin’s Hall of Fame induction.

Of the players, the class is laden with guys who amassed decent career stats but weren’t considered stars.  Rusty Staub has more hits than many Hall of Famers, but he began play shortly after the fall of the Trojan Empire.  Tommy John, the southpaw with an impressive amount of wins, threw his first fastball when Pericles gave his famous funeral oration and Al Oliver slapped out his first base hit after Shakespeare put the final line down in MacBeth.  So, although those are exaggerations, those three men have impressive career numbers but they never were elite ballplayers. 

The other players come with red flags also.  Vida Blue was a hothead, drug addict who could have been a star had he taken the game, and life, a little more seriously.  Dave Concepcion was a fine fielder and offered more with the stick than guys like Mark Belanger, but he wasn’t a force in the batter’s box like Ripken and the more modern shortstops.  Steve Garvey was a terrific hitter when pitchers dominated but his off-the-field issues with philandering can’t help his cause.  Ron Guidry’s career was the shortest of the group, but he was a Yankee, so he’s got that going for him.  Of the players, the best is clearly Ted Simmons.  He was a superior backstop who never got the credit he was due because he was in the shadows of the overrated Johnny Bench.  The numbers prove that Simba was a much more reliable player than Bench.

I can’t see Gillick getting much support and I would never consider Marvin Miller for the Hall.  Miller’s mark on the game has done more to remove the fans from the game than have them embrace it.  Free agency has made rosters unstable, as many players jump to the highest bidder, leaving their fanbase upset by their departure.  That’s why guys like Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell are so admired–because they stayed with their club while others (thanks to Miller’s intrusion) try on a different uniform every four to five years. 

Of the group I would vote for Ted Simmons and Ted Simmons only.  But, I believe that Steinbrenner and Miller will make it in with Tommy John, thanks to his high career totals, netting the most votes for former players, but still coming up short.  Dave Concepcion stands a better chance than most of the other players because he has two cronies (Bench and Tony Perez) on the 16-member judging panel. 

So stay tuned and champion your favorite player.  Be sure to visit their bios on this site and leave a comment expressing your views.

A selective power hitter, Big John Mayberry wasn’t like many free-swinging sluggers of his day.  The hulking first baseman led the American League twice in walks drawn and topped the circuit in on-base percentage once.  Although he wasn’t a high average hitter, Big John posted above average on-base percentages and fine power totals.  He topped 20 homeruns in eight separate seasons. 

Mayberry was originally drafted in the first round by the Houston Astros in 1967.  Houston gave the left-handed hitter cups of coffee in 1968 and ’69.  He got into 50 games in 1970 as a 21-year-old, and slightly fewer contests in 1971.  However, in the latter campaign, Mayberry showed his power potential by swatting seven homers in under 140 at-bats.  But, Big John’s batting average was a measly .182 and since Houston had a young Bob Watson in town, they traded Mayberry to the Kansas City Royals for the 1972 season.

The Royals made out like bandits as Big John came into his own in Kansas City.  He exploded onto the scene in 1972 when he became the first Kansas City Royals player to reach 100 RBI.  Of all the first basemen in the American League, only slugger Dick Allen reached 100 RBI with Big John.  But he was just getting warmed up.  Near the top of his game in ’73, Mayberry was named to his first All-Star Game as he led the league in walks, on-base percentage and intentional free passes. His 26 long balls topped AL first basemen and he fashioned another 100 RBI season.

Mayberry struggled through the 1974 season but he bounced back nicely to enjoy his best season in 1975.  As the MVP runner-up to Freddie Lynn, John led the AL with 119 walks.  The master blaster was clearly the top first baseman in the junior circuit, indicated by leading his position peers in doubles, runs and slugging average.  He also had career highs in homeruns (34) and RBI (106).  More importantly, the young Royals were becoming a force in the American League. 

The Royals captured the AL West flag in 1976 and had the first of many ALCS showdowns with the New York Yankees.  In the ’76 ALCS, Mayberry blasted a homerun, but the Bronx Bombers were victorious.  The following year Big John blasted 23 homeruns and added another in an ALCS loss to the Yankees.  After hitting .232 in 1976 and just .230 in 1977, the Royals decided to go in another direction and sold Mayberry’s contract to the Toronto Blue Jays. 

North of the border, Mayberry got back on track, raising his batting average 20 points in 1978 and another 24 points in 1979.  In 1980, Mayberry had one of his best power seasons when he socked 30 homeruns–Hall of Famer Eddie Murray was the only other Major League first baseman to reach the 30 homerun plateau.  He finished seventh in homeruns in the strike shortened 1981 campaign–his last good year.  He split the ’82 season between the Blue Jays and Yankees before ending his career.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,620/R 733/H 1,379/2B 211/3B 19/HR 255/RBI 879/SB 20/BB 881/SO 810/BA .253/SA .439/OBP .360