Vida Blue on one of his baseball cards.

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

RIP, Vida Blue, a great pitcher way back in the day for the Oakland A’s.

Blue passed away at the age of 73, the A’s announced on Sunday.

I got an opportunity to meet and interview Blue on Aug. 11, 1973, when he was 24-year-old, just after he shut down the New York Yankees on Old-Timers Day at the old Yankee Stadium.

I was 21-years-old at the time and a summer intern at Newsday.

I felt fortunate to get an opportunity to work for my hometown newspaper at the time, covering all sorts of events, including baseball, New York Jets training camp, seniors track meets, tennis tournaments (which included Dr. Richard Raskin, aka transsexual Renee Richards, handicapping harness races (while the regular analyst, Tony Sisti, was on vacation), and shark fishing tournaments.

I even attended Secretariat’s Triple Crown clinching race at Belmont Park that June, even though I didn’t watch the historic event. I was in my car near the barns in the shadows of the track, ready to return the newspapers’ photographers to the papers’ headquarters in Garden City, N.Y. Hey, remember, this was in the stone age when we used film cameras and not cellphone or digital cameras to take pictures.

No wonder I have always called it the best summer ever.

It was; well, at least for an aspiring sportswriter!

I had asked Stan Isaacs, then the sports editor, if I could have the day off because my late grandfather took me to many Old-Times Days and since this was going to be the final one at the original.

Stan had a better idea. He had me cover it, help Tony Kornheiser, get quotes from famous Yankee players of the past.

What an opportunity!

Prior to game, I was in the Yankee clubhouse, talking to some of the legends of the game, players I had only read about or saw in black-and-white film – Phil Rizzuto, Don Larsen, Allie Reynolds, Whitey Witt, Ralph Terry, Jonny Mize and Bobby Richardson.

They were all gracious in talking to this 21-year-old kid with super long hair (yes, I did have hair once upon a time).

It seemed I spoke to just about every former Yankee but the big catch of the day — The Mick. He had retired in 1969 and like many youngsters in the tri-state area, he was my hero, an icon, even if he was toppled from his pedestal in Jim Bouton’s 1970 book, Ball Four.

Mantle was my first sporting hero.

The big joke among the writers was that Mantle was hiding from the media in his favorite place in the stadium — the trainers’ room.

One by one, the writers from the other papers went to the press box to file their stories before the game itself.

Because I didn’t have to write a story, I decided to stay and wait for the big guy.

It was worth the wait. Minutes before the ceremonies were about to begin, I saw this broad-shouldered person with the No. 7 on his back walking toward the clubhouse door that led to the field.

So, it was no joke. Mantle was in the trainers’ room.

I never moved so fast in my life and got in between Mantle and the door.

I asked The Mick the same questions I had queried to his former teammates.

His answer:

“I don’t like seeing them change Yankee Stadium. This has been the ballpark of ball players. Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio. It’s a shame they have to change it, but that’s modern times … and I guess they have to do it.”

I returned to the press box with my prize and told Kornheiser what I unearthed, that no one else had. He wound up writing the story but told me that I should have written it.

Truth be told, Kornheiser wrote a marvelous story that day and I know I could not have gotten close to his prose. But, looking back, it would have been nice to have gotten a shared byline or something at the bottom of the story (which many papers and websites do today, that Michael Lewis contributed to the story).

As the game wound up, Kornheiser asked me if I could work the A’s locker room and talk to Vida Blue, who held down the Yankees in a 7-3 win. Feeling that I just had conquered the world, I said yes.

About four or five other writers surrounded Blue afterwards and we asked him about his transition from a power pitcher to someone who could finesse the hitters.

“Mickey Lolich and all that jazz,” he said, referring to the great Detroit Tigers’ lefthander. “Strikeouts mean nothing. Look at Nolan Ran. He’s a .500 pitcher.”

He kept on looking at me, probably because he wasn’t that much older than me and I wound up leading the Q&A with him. Heck, I felt I was having a discussion with him.

“Sometimes I chunk,” he said, meaning that he threw only fastballs. “Sometimes I throw. Sometimes I pitch. Today, I did all of them … If it means I have to change speeds, then I’ll change speeds.”

In his first full season in the big leagues in 1971, Blue set the American League on fire with a 24-8 record, and a 1.82 earned-run average while striking out 301 batters in 312 innings.

Unfortunately, Blue could never come close to that season. He retired after the 1986 season with a 209-161 record and 3.27 ERA. Pretty good numbers, all things considered.

RIP, Vida, and thanks for helping make a memorable day for a 21-year-old sportswriter even more memorable.