A Bad Case of Vida Blue

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A Bad Case of Vida Blue
(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

I've got a bad case of Vida Blue.

It's been dormant for nearly two decades, or about as long as the once-vibrant left-hander for the Oakland A's, the San Francisco Giants, and the Kansas City Royals was first denied entrance into the Hall of Fame

All the symptoms are there...the furrowed brow...the constant stroking of my beard...the continual head-shaking, sometimes up and down, sometimes side-to-side...and the itching of my scalp that just won't go away.

I have Curt Schilling to thank for this.

When Schilling announced his retirement on Monday, the debate was on.

Does Schilling belong in the Hall of Fame?

If he doesn't have enough career victories to qualify for the Hall of Fame, doesn't Schilling's postseason heroics count for something?

If Schilling is voted into the Hall of Fame, doesn't that mean that other pitchers with more victories but less saltier ERAs and WHIPs merit inclusion? We're talking Charlie Hough here, and Jamie Moyer, Frank Tanana, and Jerry Reuss.

The merits of Schilling's candidacy could be a transformative debate.

Perhaps it will lead to a devaluation of victories as the single-most important benchmark of a pitcher's Hall of Fame worthiness.

"Sudden Sam" McDowell is a classic illustration that victories, arguably, should be taken with a grain of salt.

In the case of McDowell, "Suffering Sam" better encapsulates his career.

McDowell labored in an era where runs were scarcer than they are today and even scarcer still for his Cleveland Indians.

In 1964, McDowell posted an 11-6 record with a 2.70 ERA. In 1965, McDowell finished 17-11 with over 273 innings and a sparkling 2.18 ERA. It was more of the same the following year as McDowell pitched nearly 200 innings and amassed a 2.87 ERA.

In 1968, McDowell would fashion a season for the ages. He pitched 269 innings with a microscopic 1.81 ERA. (McDowell's performance was just one of many amazing mound performances that year. The rules committee voted after season's end to lower the height of the mound from 15 to 10 inches to increase offensive production.) He won a mere 18 games and lost 14.

Is it any stretch of the imagination to conclude that McDowell, with decent or even above-average run support, could have tacked on another 50 victories over the course of his career?

Of course, we can only speculate what this alternative diamond universe would look like.

Hall of Fame voters don't, or shouldn't, look toward the sky for their answers. They must consult the record book.

And this brings us to Vida Blue.

The tale of the tape offers us some striking similarities between the careers of Schilling and Blue.

 

Games: Schilling, 569; Blue, 502

Innings pitched: Blue, 3,343; Schilling, 3,261

Complete games: Blue, 143; Schilling, 83

Shutouts: Blue, 37; Schilling, 20

Victories: Schilling, 216; Blue, 209

ERA: Blue, 3.27; Schilling, 3.46

WHIP: Schilling, 1.137; Blue, 1.233

Walks: Schilling, 711; Blue, 1,185

Strikeouts: Schilling, 3,116; Blue, 2,175

Postseason: Schilling, 10-2, 2.23; Blue, 6-2, 4.31


In addition to a slight edge in career victories, Schilling's unearthly control, knack for strikeouts, and commanding presence in the postseason are superior to Blue's totals.

Blue holds the edge in ERA, WHIP, and durability.

Another arguing point in Blue's favor is that he earned a Cy Young Award. Schilling finished second on three different occasions. Blue also earned an American League MVP in 1971.

Schilling finished 10th twice in MVP balloting. Schilling, however, does own a share of a World Series MVP (with Randy Johnson).

Overall, it's an edge to Schilling, but it's no slam dunk. The difference between their careers isn't enough to shut the Hall of Fame door in Blue's face. There is something else at work here.

Blue's career was blemished by substance abuse. He was part of a baseball cocaine scandal involving the Kansas City Royals. He went to prison and was banned for the 1984 season.

In both 1992 and 1993, Blue received less than 10 percent in Hall of Fame balloting, far less than a pitcher of his magnitude merited.

Schilling, by contrast, is justly heralded by the baseball establishment and beyond for his philanthropic bent. Despite his penchant for outspokenness, Schilling will likely come closer than Blue to the 75-percent threshold needed for the Hall of Fame, if he doesn't achieve baseball immortality on the first ballot.

Hopefully, by that time, there will be a cure for my persistent case of Vida Blue.

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