For those who might be of a certain age, you might remember that Vida Blue almost became a member of the Cincinnati Reds. It was a trade that shook up the baseball world at the Winter Meetings in December 1977. That year’s meetings were held in Hawaii; an appropriate place for the star right-hander to escape the dungeon that was Oakland A’s owner, Charlie Finley’s employ.
The deal was to be structured as Vida Blue to the Reds for top first base prospect Dave Revering and $1.75M in cash. While playing for the Reds Triple-A ball club in Indianapolis during 1977, his stat line portrayed a .300 batting average, 30 home runs along with 110 RBIs. While Revering had proven himself to be ready for The Show, his path was roadblocked by Dan Driessen.
At the time of the deal, the Reds were locked into a tight race for the NL Western Division with their arch nemesis of the 1970s – the Los Angeles Dodgers. Reds ace Tom Seaver suffered a down year of sorts with a 16-14 record, surrendering over 200 hits and finishing second in the league in HR’s allowed with 26 (Don Sutton lead the league with 29).
A pitcher of Blue’s caliber could very well have altered history and led the Reds, not the Dodgers; to the NL West Division title (and perhaps have saved Sparky Anderson’s job. That’s another story for another column). A 1-2 punch of Seaver and Blue in a Cincinnati pullover would have been (arguably) the best in baseball.
So, what happened? Commissioner Bowie Kuhn voided the deal under a “Best Interests of Baseball” clause. Kuhn utilized this notion throughout his tenure in the desire to ensure that all teams maintain a certain level of competitive ability.
In 1976, Kuhn had voided previous player sale attempts by Finley. One that saw Rollie Fingers and Joe Rudi sold to the Boston Red Sox for $1M apiece. Another deal had Finley attempting to sell Blue to the New York Yankees for $1.5M. In his autobiography, Hardball, Kuhn gave some insight into Finley’s character.
” “I learned to expect almost any kind of aggressive move by Finley, the winner, but not this….[I] thought he was liquidating the A’s, disenchanted as he was known to be with free agency. A bully and cheapskate by nature, he could hardly face a world where the hired hands had the best of him.” “
– Bowie Kuhn, Hardball
Kuhn’s distaste for Finley (and vice versa) is well documented in the annals of 1970s baseball history. Two little known facts about Finley were (at the time of the proposed trade) he was in the midst of a bitter divorce and his insurance business had taken massive financial hits during the middle part of the decade.
As for the Cincinnati Reds, the 1977 season saw the club suffer decline in multiple areas. Bob Howsam traded franchise stalwart Tony Perez to Montreal. Dan Driessen hit .250. Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan both missed significant time due to injury. Despite a mix of injuries and underperformance, Sparky Anderson guided Cincinnati to a second-place finish with 92-69 record, finishing just 2 ½ games behind Los Angeles.
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In the end, Blue was traded to the San Francisco Giants. In 1978, he finished with an 18-10 record, a 2.79 ERA and an All-Star appearance. Imagine what Blue’s 18 wins could have met to the 1978 Reds? A division title most likely. Maybe a pennant? The glory days of the Big Red Machine might have lasted one more season. Oh, what might have been.