Despite this talent with a baseball, Blue probably would rather be throwing touchdown passes like Joe Namath and Johnny Unitas, both of whom he especially admires. "Every year when I go back home I go by the high school and before I know it I find myself running plays with the backs, diagraming plays on the blackboard, and then I'll run around the football field six times without stopping. I've got a little brother Michael who's 10. I'm going to make him into that QB."
Once early this season Ron Bergman, who covers the A's for the Oakland Tribune, was expostulating with a hotel desk clerk about his room assignment when Blue slipped up behind him. "Bergman," said Blue reprovingly, "have you ever lived in a ghetto?"
Mrs. Sallie Blue, Vida's mother, still lives in the house she reared him in—a bright eight-room white frame structure at the end of Mary Street. That part of the street is not paved, but most of the houses around are well kept and the lawns are green and neat. The whole black section of Mansfield is a remarkable neighborhood. On one side of the street there might be a tumbledown shack with two elderly people and a yellow dog sitting out on the front porch and the chassis of a '49 Hudson in the front yard, and right across the street there might be two crisply dressed young couples in lawn chairs out in front of a new brick house with a Volkswagen in the carport. There are not any very big houses, but the nice-looking homes easily outnumber the rundown ones. Here and there in the yards are patches of corn, stringbeans and strawberries.
Vida is the oldest of six children (the next oldest, twin sisters, are students at Grambling). He says his father was "what you'd call a common laborer" at the local iron factory, which manufactures drag lines, buckets and chains. But the family got along well enough that Mrs. Blue had to work only one year while the children were growing up; that was the year after Mr. Blue developed heart trouble but before Vida signed with the A's for an estimated $30,000 to $40,000. Most people in the neighborhood work in the local mills or the pants factory or the trailer plant, but some commute 40 miles north to the Western Electric plant in Shreveport. "Nobody in Mansfield is hungry," says Mrs. Blue. She is sitting in her living room, in which hangs a picture of Vida and the plaque and key to the city of Mansfield presented him on Vida Blue Day, held last year after his no-hitter. "Those that got," says Mrs. Blue, "give to those that don't have."
Currently there is discomfiture in Mansfield over remarks attributed to Vida in the California press. A recent issue of The Mansfield Enterprise reprinted a story from The San Francisco Chronicle
in which Blue was quoted as saying, "A guy...asked, after a good win, if I'd ever got a telegram from my home town. 'Hell no,' I told him, 'and I don't expect one.' They don't owe me anything, I'm not saying that. But they could have said 'Nice job, Vida,' anyway.... There's only two or three black officials in my home town. And it is almost an entirely black population. The blacks should have...something to say about what's done down there."
Alongside the story, the Enterprise printed a letter from its editor to the Chronicle writer: "Why in the hell don't you sportswriters around the country get some facts about Vida Blue and his home town and how he is treated here instead of painting the race angle erroneously and slurring the South without reason?
" Vida Blue told you no such things about his home town; if he did, he did not tell the truth.
"We gave him a ' Vida Blue' Day in Mansfield last December 4.... This is the first time in history that a Negro, young or old, has been so honored by a Southern town.... We did not honor him because of his color, we honored him because he is proud of his home town, too. Also, an all-white band led the parade in his honor. Quit putting words in that young man's mouth for he likes us and we like him."
Mansfield "claims 8,000 people," says one resident, "but the census could find only 6,400," well over half of whom are black. A visitor does not have to look far to discern why a young black product of Mansfield might not be its most enthusiastic booster. At the Mansfield Battle Park, where on April 8, 1864 began the successful effort to drive "the federal enemy" from the Red River Valley ("thus was Texas saved from the physical ruin wrought by the war in every other Southern state"), the otherwise most gracious white-haired curator says: "They gave that nigra a day last year and I told them at the time they shouldn't have done it. It was a bigger thing than any man has ever been given in Mansfield. Everybody thinks a lot of old Vida, and then a thing like that has to come out. It's just an ugly thing."
It is misleading to suggest that Blue has risen from squalor in the South to a new world in northern California, but until a federal registrar intervened while Vida was in high school most black people in Mansfield could not vote. DeSoto High still is virtually all black while Mansfield High is 70% white. Still, whatever Blue's childhood was like, it seems to have left him about as stable and as unbitter as anybody in America. "Everybody in Mansfield knows each other," says Mrs. Blue. "Black and white, yes indeed." Coach Baldwin says he is tired of having to explain all these Vida Blue quotes to people in town.