In 1971, 21-year-old Vida Blue stood on a mound in Oakland that might as well have been the top of the world. The Athletics pitcher struck out 300 that year, winning him both the American League's Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards. It was just the beginning of a brilliant, if troubled, career that would span 16 seasons and three world championships. But 1971, remembers Blue, was the high point. "It seems like yesterday," he says. "Before you realize it, in the blink of an eye, you have experienced a career, and you're on the downside of it."
Blue, now 41, could have wound up a whole lot further down than he is today. After being suspended from baseball in 1984 following a conviction for cocaine possession, he returned to the Athletics for a few weeks in 1987, but a drug relapse forced his retirement. Then he vanished. Blue says he escaped to Lake Tahoe, where he slept late, took long walks, and occasionally played the slots while he got the drugs and alcohol out of his system.
He might have stayed in Tahoe forever if a friend hadn't invited him to play in the Senior League, the experiment in geezer ball that lasted a bit more than one season. "Just getting the chance to put my uniform on again reignited the whole thing," says Blue. "I said to myself, `Nothing you can do will ever replace baseball. So what can I do to at least fill the void?' " He approached the San Francisco Giants, for whom he had pitched from 1978 to 1981, about a coaching job. The team offered him work with its community-services program.
SPEECHMAKER. Since December, Blue has put in roughly 25 hours a week for the Giants, making speeches at schools, hospitals, and Rotary Clubs about "drugs, staying in school, and how great the San Francisco Giants are," he says. Blue also does some gigs of his own, guest speaking at corporate functions and doing baseball card shows. Last year, he opened a Vida Blue Baseball Camp for children, and this year, he's running five one-week, nonprofit camps.
But Blue wants more from life. His financial position is sound, he says, thanks to a wise decision long ago to have his baseball pay deferred, but he can't see the Giants job as a career. "I've thought about going to broadcasting school, to learn the proper way to do stuff," he says. Despite scholarship offers, the Mansfield (La.) native never got to attend college. He went straight from high school into pro ball after his father died. His salary helped put two sisters through college.
Meanwhile, Blue says he wants to leave plenty of time for raising his 4-month-old daughter, Alexis, and his 7-year-old stepson, Samuel, who calls him "Daddy Blue." Although Blue says he'd play professionally again "in a New York minute" if anyone asked him, Sam keeps him from harboring illusions that he's still a baseball star. "He's a Jose Canseco fan," says Blue.