Vida Blue Was a Baseball Comet

The bright lights would come soon enough. On that May night in 1970, at the old ballpark at the confluence of the Des Moines and the Raccoon Rivers, they were dimmer than the lights in the big leagues. Tony La Russa knew that much, because he’d been there.

La Russa was destined for a storied career as a major league manager, but on the field he was a bonus baby who couldn’t really hit. Playing for the Iowa Oaks, after a few trials in the majors, matched his talent level. The Iowa pitcher that night was far beyond it. He struck out 14 Evansville batters in nine innings and even had two hits at the plate.

“There are minor leaguers, there are big leaguers, and then there’s that higher league of All-Stars and Hall of Famers,” La Russa, 78, said by phone on Monday. “And that was Vida, and he was 20 years old.”

By the end of that 1970 season, in the majors for good with the Oakland Athletics, Vida Blue would throw a no-hitter. His next season would be a baseball comet, a wonder in both majesty and brevity, the kind of year people talk about forever, especially in moments of loss.

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