Vida Blue passed away at age 73 this week, and the baseball world lost an absolute legend of a human in the process. He was a legend off the field in ways in which you’d hope your next of kin would be, his generosity celebrated throughout a lifetime that just so happened to also feature an elite ability to throw a speedball by you and make you look like a fool.
Blue won a Cy Young Award and an MVP in a remarkable 1971 campaign for the Oakland A’s, was a 6-time All Star, won a trio of World Series titles, won 209 games with over 2000 career strikeouts, and was more deserving of the Hall of Fame than Jack Morris ever was. He was also supposed to be a Cincinnati Red for the 1978 season (and beyond) before then Commissioner Bowie Kuhn vetoed the deal that would have seen him sent to the Reds in exchange for 1B prospect Dave Revering and cash, noting at the time that the deal wasn’t nearly enough in compensation for Blue and was ‘bad for baseball.’
It was the second such time that Kuhn had blocked a deal to trade Blue, as the New York Yankees thought they’d landed him a season before. That deal, like the one the Reds thought they’d made, was canned for being ‘bad for baseball.’ The Reds, at the time, were deemed to be pushing the limits of keeping the rest of the league within the competition.
It’s s definite ‘what if’ for the Reds, who obviously were wrapping up the Big Red Machine Era but - as George Foster proved - were still plenty potent in 1978. So, too, was Blue, who eventually was dealt to the San Francisco Giants and went on to fire 258 IP of 2.79 ERA, 2.68 FIP ball in an All Star campaign. Add that to a Reds club that won 92 games and who knows how many more chapters are added to this franchise’s most storied decade.
It’s quite the backdrop to remember such an era of the Commissioner’s office, one that saw it intervene in dealings for the betterment of the overall game. I say that as the current iteration of the Reds welcome the New York Mets to Great American Ball Park for a 3-game series, the Mets the newest transaction villians in the game today. With owner Steve Cohen throwing caution (and luxury tax compensation) into the wind to sign as many free agents as possible regardless of cost, it’s certain indicative of a different era of “competitive balance,” one that Reds owner Bob Castellini would certainly voice an opinion on if asked.
The Mets, for instance, sport a payroll pushing $350 million at the moment, and that’s after the Carlos Correa megadeal fell apart. The Reds, on the other hand, sit somewhere in the $86 million range. That’s roughly the exact same salary spent by the Mets just on Justin Verlander ($43.3 million) and Max Scherzer ($43.3 million).
Scherzer will start tonight for the Mets, who sit a game under .500 at 17-18 on the season.
Luke Weaver, signed as a free agent for some $2 million, will start for the Reds, who are 10-8 in games played at their home park so far this year.