Vida Blue and 1971 attendance, revisited

In for a dime, in for a dollar….

In a recent post, I debunked a published quote by Vida Blue complaining that his 1971 home starts had been juggled so as to coincide with Monday’s Family Night promotion. Now I’m reading Dan Epstein’s joyous Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ’70s. Touching on Blue’s 1972 contract holdout, Epstein writes that Blue in ’71 had been drawing thousands of extra fans, at home or on the road, whenever he pitched.”

Although the prior post focused on the Family Night question, I also remarked that “the notion of a pitcher boosting attendance is usually bunk, and there’s little reason to think differently in this case,” adding that “the 3 biggest home crowds came to see Catfish Hunter (twice) and Blue Moon Odom.”

I should have looked more deeply, or else left that question alone. Vida Blue in 1971 averaged much bigger crowds than any other A’s starter, even the reigning ace and 3-time All-Star Hunter, who had a fine year himself (21-11, 2.96). This table shows the average attendance for each 1971 Oakland starter, in total and then broken out by home (H) and road (R):

[table id=74 /]

 

Notes:

  1. “Net” figures compare the pitcher’s average attendance to the team’s average for games not started by that pitcher.
  2. Doubleheaders were counted twice, crediting the day’s attendance once for each starting pitcher. Thus, these team averages do not match the official figures.

It’s interesting that Blue’s biggest impact came on the road, where the average crowd for his starts was 85% larger than for all other Oakland road games, a gain of almost 13,000 fans:

  • Baltimore’s biggest crowd saw Blue best Jim Palmer, 2-1, with both A’s runs scoring on a wild pitch/E-2.
  • Blue vs. the Red Sox filled Fenway with 1,200 more than their home opener; Rico Petrocelli hit 2 HRs to snap Blue’s 10-game win streak.
  • He drew Detroit’s largest crowd after Opening Day, larger even than a Sunday doubleheader featuring Denny McLain‘s return; the July 25 win put him at 19-3 with a 1.37 ERA.
  • He captured the Royals’ attendance crown.
  • The largest Angels crowd turned out for Blue (and red & white) on July 4.
  • He pitched to two of the four biggest crowds to RFK Stadium in the Senators’ final season; one of those games drew over 40,000, while the prior two in the series combined for just 12,000.
  • More than 30,000 saw Blue in the Bronx on June 1, when the previous day’s doubleheader drew 10,000 less.

Of the seven Oakland games that drew at least 40,000 fans that year, Blue started six, all on the road (and went 5-1).

So while the vast majority of attendance claims for star pitchers aren’t worth a rain check from a completed game, Vida Blue was definitely a huge draw in 1971 — just as another young Golden State southpaw would become ten years later. And your humble narrator is duly … humbled.

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90 Comments on "Vida Blue and 1971 attendance, revisited"

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Hartvig
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I also recall reading somewhere (BJNHBA maybe?) of the late, great Mark “The Bird” Fidrych drawing huge crowds during his fantabulously wonderfullistic 1976 season.

Jim Bouldin
Guest

Oh yeah. Mark packed stadiums single-handedly.

Richard Chester
Guest

Of the 21 games with the highest attendances for the Tigers in 1976, 14 were started by Fidrych.

e pluribus munu
Guest

No experience in baseball frustrated me more – or causes me more regret today – than the fact that I was overseas all of ’76 and never even had a chance to see Fidrych on TV. All I could do was read brief reports in the English-language newspaper and Time or Newsweek and pray that he’d still be pitching when I got back. My prayers were not answered.

scott-53
Guest

Pitcher’s are always a big draw aren’t they? I’m sure you would find lots of examples. Koufax for the Dodgers,Roger Clemens for any of the teams he pitched for. Nolan Ryan…

scott-53
Guest

The past 3 years would be a good time to check.(2010-2012) Attendance has been below 74 million for all 3 years after peaking above 79 million in 2007 according to(ballparksofbaseball.com)

scott-53
Guest

@3–Make that the past 4 years that MLB was under 74 million total attendance. (Yankees,Mets,Twins and Marlins all have new stadiums)

2005–74,385,000
2006–75,959,000
2007–(79,447,000)
2008–78,584,000
2009–73,401,000
2010–73,171,000
2011–73,451,000
2012–73,951,000

Jim Bouldin
Guest
Blue was THE MAN in 1971, I remember it fairly well. Just a flame throwing phenom. He and Lolich had an enormous number of innings if I recall right. Possibly the last guy with a legit chance to win 30 games. It’s interesting looking at those attendance figures, that the A’s were more or less suffering with the same problem they have ever since–small crowds. However, I believe 1971 was the first year they showed the real promise that made them the mini-dynasty they became the next three years, so the fans were just beginning to be drawn in most… Read more »
Doug
Editor

When a rookie pitcher makes the cover of Time magazine as Blue did in August of 1971, then you know that the average American has taken notice.

Andy R
Guest

Interesting fact about Vida Blue- I believe he is the only pitcher to have a 300-strikeout season, and never reach 200 K’s in another season…

That summer of ’71 was fun for me- saw Vida Blue pitch an 11-inning, 17 strikeout game in July, then saw James Rodney Richard make his major league debut at Candlestick two months later with a 15 strikeout effort…

Richard Chester
Guest

You’re right about Vida Blue never reaching 200 SO aside from that one season of 300+.

Howard
Guest

Wilbur Wood dusted both of them in pitching WAR at 11.5 to Blue’s 8.7 and Lolich’s 8.2.

Jim Bouldin
Guest

And judging by that guy’s site, I think that’s a book I need to read. Blast from the past and all that.

Jim Bouldin
Guest

And then there was the ol’ plastic grass…other forms of grass were also rumored to exist, or so I was told.

e pluribus munu
Guest
John, you’ve mentioned James’s study before – can you point us to it? It doesn’t seem to be in any of the items of his I have around the house (including the Historical Abstract). It doesn’t feel surprising that Blue escaped James’s model: he was incredibly exciting (I was one of the masses crowding in to see him in Detroit). What made Blue such a sensation – apart from his amazing season and his perfect baseball name – was that 1971 was set up by his explosive appearance in 1970: as a September call-up, he’d pitched a one-hit shutout, and… Read more »
e pluribus munu
Guest

I should add that it’s consistent with everything you do that you’d devote so much research time to documenting your own error.

Doug
Editor

To your point about the excitement that Blue engendered in 1971, the diagonal subtext across the top-right corner of the Vida Blue cover of Time Magazine (8-23-71) reads “New Zip in the Old Game”.

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Luis Gomez
Guest

I was watching the news the other day about the NY storm. It look really bad. Hope you guys in the area are all safe.

Bryan O'Connor
Editor

John, it takes a big man to admit you were wrong. And then to write 600 words about attendance as penance.

scott-53
Guest

Vida Blue did have lots of reasons to hold out in 1972 other than attendance. Take your pick.

-1967 Kansas City Athletics 2nd round draft pick.
-Won/Loss record of 24-8 in 1971.
-$ 14,750 salary in 1971. ($567 per week)(26 week regular season paycheck)
-Athletics swept 3-0 in 1971 ALCS by O’s 3-0. (best of 5)

P.S.-Minimum wage was $64.00 dollars per week in 1972. $1.60 per hour. Only 40 years ago.

scott-53
Guest

My clock says 12:50 P.M. (HHS is still on daylight savings time.)

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