Blue signed with the Athletics at age 19 instead of accepting one of numerous scholarship offers to become a major-college quarterback. He had his first wrangle with A’s owner Charles O. Finley right away, when Finley wanted Blue to change his first name to “True.”
He was called up to the A’s late in 1970. On September 21, 1970, he no-hit the Twins, who narrowly edged the Athletics for the division title. As a sophomore, Blue won 17 games by the All-Star break, then was the winning pitcher in the only All-Star game won by the American League between 1962 and 1983, when the NL was 19-1. Blue finished 1971 at 24-8, with 301 strikeouts in 312 innings. Though bombed in the ALCS by Baltimore, he was named both MVP and Cy Young Award winner.
Blue’s prolonged holdout in 1972 was only resolved through the intervention of baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Blue slumped to 6-10. Rumors flew that he’d hurt his arm by pitching without spring training and reporting overweight. Blue denied serious arm pain, but his strikeout record was never as spectacular the rest of his career as it was in 1971. Much later, he acknowledged that his drug problems had begun in 1972. As the Athletics won their first of their three straight World Championships, Blue contributed four shutout innings in relief of Blue Moon Odom to save the fifth and final playoff game.
He rebounded with 20-9 in 1973, when the Athletics had three 20-game winners, and was 17-15 in 1974, 22-11 in 1975, and 18-13 in 1976, as the Athletics chased the Royals to the wire in the last year the nucleus of their dynasty remained together. Already Finley had attempted to sell Blue to the Yankees in mid-season, for $1.5 million. Kuhn vetoed that deal. While most of the other Oakland stars departed through free agency, Finley tried to send Blue to the Reds for $1.75 million plus Dave Revering. Kuhn vetoed that, too. After suffering through a 14-19 season in 1977, Blue was finally traded to the Giants for eight players and $390,000. He gave the Giants an 18-10 season, becoming the first pitcher ever to start an All-Star game for each league, and earning NL Pitcher of the Year honors from TSN. Erratic pitching over the next few years continued after he was traded to the Royals after 1981. Drug rumors concerning Blue were confirmed in 1983. Blue was one of five members of the Kansas City Royals who eventually served prison time plus a suspension from baseball (a year in Blue’s case) for cocaine use.
Given another chance by the Giants in the Bay Area where he remained popular, Blue was 18-18 in 1985-1986. The Athletics signed Blue for 1987, promoting a reunion with slugger Reggie Jackson, who also rejoined the club after 11 years away. However, Blue flunked a urine test to detect cocaine use, and retired rather than face further scandal.