It has been a line I have used and re-used ever since I’ve been involved in baseball, either as a player or as a youth coach. It speaks to this: No matter how good and complete of a team you think you might have, there’s always one thing you have to worry about from the opposition.
“… As long as Vida Blue or James Rodney Richard doesn’t show up.”
The great thing about baseball is that it is the defense, specifically the pitcher, that controls the action. The other team might not be able to play catch before the game without injuring a few teammates, but that doesn’t matter if the guy who takes the mound is better than the rest of the team — his and yours — combined.
This was particularly true before baseball scouting became so precise. You could be playing an opponent from a small town you’d never heard of, but when you saw those first warmup pitches from the guy on the mound, you knew what you were up against. And there was a really good chance it wasn’t going to be pretty.
You can’t win, as they say, if you can’t score.
Blue (DeSoto Parish) and Richard (Lincoln Parish) were two great examples because they played high school baseball in North Louisiana before integration and their prep careers were largely unknown. But within a decade, they would become two of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball; the classic flame-throwing country kids.
There’s no doubt that the LHSAA high school coaches around here were glad they didn’t have to worry about Blue or Richard, who played in the LIALO, showing up in the other dugout.
But what about a day in which Vida Blue and James Rodney Richard both showed up?
For years, I’d heard the story of how Blue and Richard played against each other in high school. The timeline offers the possibility – Blue’s last year at Mansfield’s DeSoto High was 1967 when Richard was a sophomore at Lincoln High (in Vienna, just north of Ruston).
No kidding: I thought that one day I could literally write a book about this epic game. Imagine getting these two baseball greats together to talk about what that day was like. Sadly, Richard passed away in 2021. Blue, who won the Cy Young and the MVP for the Oakland A’s four years after playing for DeSoto High, died last weekend at age 73, so my opportunity has come and gone.
But you can do like I have done for years and imagine what that scene was like – scouts from every MLB team in attendance behind home plate, fans lining the field all the way around. Batters helplessly flailing at pitches they couldn’t see, much less hit.
After all, it is documented that Blue did strike out 21 batters in one game in his senior year. However, he did give up a foul ball that day.
So go ahead and think about what it must have been like to see a game like that between two future major league stars before anyone knew a thing about them. It’s one of those I-would-have-given-anything-to-see-that events in local high school lore.
There’s only one problem.
It didn’t happen.
At least there is no proof that it ever took place.
If y’all only could understand how much I wanted it to be true. I just knew that I was going to find something, somewhere in the archives, but I couldn’t make it happen. Search after search, newspaper after newspaper, keyword after keyword … nothing.
But I kept symbolically fouling off pitches, hoping that I could find that nugget hidden away somewhere. And then I realized that there was this thing called the internet, which means you could find just about anybody anywhere.
After a week of research, it took about 15 seconds to find one of Blue’s DeSoto High teammates living in Mansfield. I called, he answered.
(“Please, please say you have great memories of that game and that it was fantastic and you even have a scrapbook filled with memories.”)
No, he said, no memory of ever playing against James Rodney Richard.
There were no more pitches for me to foul off. Legend had given me hope, but reality struck me out.
Vida Blue is expected to be buried next week in Mansfield. You can bet there will be plenty of great memories shared during that time.
But I can’t help but imagine how great it would be if there were just one more.
Contact JJ at email@example.com