On the surface,
it looked like the biggest put-on since Sam Yorty's election campaign or a
Clifford Irving quote, with the tone of the moment set by a sheepish grin and a
This, then, was
Vida Blue's press conference last week in Oakland and, for holding an audience
in serious heed, one suspects that Harold Stassen or Chicken Little did better.
For after baseball's best young pitcher (see cover) preparedly stated that he
was through with the game at the doddering age of 22, nonbelievers outnumbered
Blue believers by odds approaching the Texas Rangers' pennant chances this
Vida didn't help
the solemnity, of course. Looking for all the world like a kid caught with both
feet and a catcher's mitt in the cookie jar, he smiled when he said he was
junking his job with the Oakland Athletics for an executive position with Dura
Steel Products Co. of Santa Fe Springs, Calif. At the mention of what his title
would be, "...Vice-president of Public Relations," his
giggle-snicker-chuckle erupted, born either of nervousness or humor, and he
said, "Hold it. I'm serious," to make it seem even less so.
That Dura Steel's
hottest market item is a toilet cabinet called the Over-John made things even
more ludicrous, and one could envision Judge Landis somewhere at 10,000 rpm's,
while snide commentary was the order of the Bay Area's evening newscasts. Gene
Hackman would have won better acceptance from the media had he announced his
intention to teach driver education.
But for those
with persistent faith, Blue's announcement was rife with trouble for a league
that can ill afford more of it and additionally vexing to baseball's sainted
reserve clause, which would do battle in the Supreme Court (the Curt Flood
case) four days later, a historic masterstroke of timing.
retirement, however, it wasn't. Toward such end, Blue would have to notify the
A's in writing, have it approved by the league office and then Commissioner
Bowie Kuhn and be idled for no less than 60 days. Even as the nation's most
durable holdout, it was highly unlikely that Vida would go that far—or that he
would bag baseball in 1972 for the noble cause of bathroom appurtenances.
Tinged with racial overtones and shades of farce, Blue's contract hassle with
A's Owner Charles O. Finley had grown into the top serialized drama of spring
training, with villains to match any outlook. Daytime TV should have it so
For those who
disdain uppity kids asking for the world and time before proper, humble
apprenticeship, there was Blue, trying to go from a $14,750 salary to $92,500
or suitable alternative in a single season, unlike any second-year man before
him. Obviously, with those kinds of ideas, the kid belongs somewhere on the ABA
draft list. For greater Kansas City and those who boo the massa, there was
Alabama-bred Finley, again exhibiting plantation-owner mentality toward one of
the field hands he expects to shuffle off toward the mound. Blistered for
dubious appreciation, he said adamantly that $50,000 was his final, absolute
offer, and small wonder Vida's fans confuse Charlie with Avery Brundage.
Then we have
Robert J. Gerst, the Los Angeles attorney whom Vida retained to pry the loose
change away from Charlie, now taking increasing abuse from fans of both camps
despite some telling indictments of the reserve clause that Finley invoked
against Blue. The grousers are calling Gerst a bigger grandstander than Finley,
blaming him for the whole wretched situation and wondering why did Vida have to
go and mess with a lawyer?
The only thing
seemingly beyond bad-mouthing in l'affaire Blue is the Over-John, a cabinet
approximately 20 inches wide that resembles a medicine chest with two doors
instead of one. It sits above the water chest of the average, familiar toilet,
at eye-level, and is equipped with storage shelves. A hardware man says,
"It's a wonderful innovation," retailing at $16.95.
If blame must be
assessed in the situation, and it seems a necessity for Bay Area fans, you can
start with Blue. Vida is at least partly at fault for the athletic limbo he now
endures, quite aside from the fact that he angered Finley by retaining an
attorney. The salary deadlock, after all, was spawned when Blue produced some
awesome results out of keeping with his paltry wages of last year, when Richard
Nixon recognized him as baseball's most underpaid superstar.