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Lu Blue

Lu Blue

Position(s):
1B, OF
Born:
March 5, 1897
Bats:
Left
Throws:
Left
Height:
5' 10"
Weight:
165 lbs
Major League Debut:
4-14-1921 with DET

Blue broke in with the Tigers in 1921, hitting .308. Although he and manager Ty Cobb were less than friendly, he held the Detroit first base job for seven years. Small for a first baseman at 5'10", Blue fielded his position well. He was a switch-hitter, adept at drawing bases on balls. He finished second in the AL in drawing walks four times, and ended with a career on-base percentage near .400. His career totals included 1092 walks, 1151 runs scored, 109 triples, and 150 stolen bases. In six of his twelve years as a regular, he scored at least 100 runs. A veteran of World War I, the Washington, D.C. native is probably the best-known former major leaguer to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Early years

Born in Washington, D.C., Blue grew up a fan of the Washington Senators. Despite stern discouragement from his family, who thought baseball was a waste of time, Blue was determined to play baseball. He attended Briarly Hall Military School in Poolsville, Maryland, where his play drew the attention of professional scouts. Blue signed with the minor league Martinsburg Blue Sox. In 1917, the switch-hitting Blue reportedly hit grand slams from both sides of the plate in the same game.

The Detroit Tigers purchased Blue’s contract in the fall of 1917. Blue did not make the team in 1918 and was drafted into the U.S. Army. Blue served at Camp Lee, Virginia until the war ended in 1919. He re-joined the Tigers after World War I, but was sent to Portland in the Pacific Coast League, where he played in 1919 and 1920.

First baseman for the Detroit Tigers: 1921-1927

In 1921, with Ty Cobb as the Tigers’ new player-manager, Blue finally made it to the big leagues at age 24. Blue credited Cobb with improving his performance as a hitter. Cobb taught him to study pitchers and to become a student of the game.

Blue hit .308 in his first season with Detroit and remained entrenched as the Tigers’ starting first baseman for seven seasons, 1921-1927. Blue was a reliable hitter in his years at Detroit, hitting above .300 four times, including a .311 season in 1924. He finished among the top vote getters in the American League Most Valuable Player voting three times for the Tigers: 10th in 1922, 19th in 1924, and 12th in 1925. In addition to hitting for average, Blue had a keen eye and a talent for drawing bases on balls. He was among the league leaders in bases on balls ten times in his career (1921–23, 1925–31). He finished his career with 1,092 walks – 67th best in major league history.

Driven in part by his ability to draw walks, Blue was also among the league leaders in on base percentage four times, including a career-high .430 on base percentage in 1931 – 2nd best in the American League. Lu's career on base percentage was .402 – 115 points above his .287 career batting average.

With his ability to get on base, Blue was also a top run scorer, with 1,151 runs scored in his career, including six seasons with 100 or more runs and a career-high 131 runs as the leadoff hitter for the 1921 Detroit Tigers.

Blue was also an excellent fielding first baseman. In 1,571 games at first base, Blue had 15,644 putouts and a career Range factor of 10.60 – almost 3.00 full points above the league average of 7.64 for first basemen in his era. In 1922, his range factor was 11.2 – more than 4.20 points higher than the league average of 6.94. He had 1,506 putouts in 1922 and led American League first basemen in putouts in 1929 (1,491) and 1931 (1,452). He also led American League first basemen in assists in 1928 (107) and double plays (121). Often among the league leaders in fielding percentage, Blue would get to balls other first baseman could not touch. On September 8, 1922, Blue had two unassisted double plays in a single game.

Blue was also a tough player – an attribute valued by Detroit's player-manager Ty Cobb. On June 23, 1923, Blue was knocked unconscious after being hit in the head by a ball during fielding practice. Blue nevertheless went to bat in the 1st inning and hit a single to right field. Blue was woozy from the pre-game blow and barely made it to first base. The Yankees agreed to allow a courtesy runner, and Blue later returned to finish the game.

In 1927, Blue clashed with the Tigers’ new manager, George Moriarty. Moriarty moved Blue from the leadoff spot to the 7th spot in the batting order. Blue’s relationship with Moriarty deteriorated through the season, with Blue announcing at the end of the season that he would never play another game for the Tigers.

St. Louis Browns: 1928-1930

The Tigers obliged Blue, trading him with future Hall of Famer Heinie Manush to the St. Louis Browns in December 1927 for Chick Galloway (who had fractured his skull during batting practice in 1927 and was never the same), Elam Vangilder and outfielder Harry Rice. Blue and Manush both became stars for the Browns. In 1928, Blue was second in the American League with 105 walks and showed that he could also hit for power, collecting 14 home runs, 57 extra base hits, and 80 RBIs. With Blue and Manush in the lineup, the Browns finished 3rd in the American League. In 1929, Blue continued to perform well, collecting 126 walks and ranking first in the American League in total times on base with 296.

Chicago White Sox: 1931-1932

In 1930, Blue had an arm injury, and his batting average slipped to .231. Fully recovered in 1931, Blue had one of his best seasons, after being purchased by Chicago White Sox. In 1931, he returned to the leadoff spot, batting .304 with a career-high on base percentage of .430. He got on base 309 times, ranking 3rd best in the league. He also wound up 17th in the American League Most Valuable Player voting in his first season for the White Sox.

Life after baseball

Blue played thirteen seasons and finished his career in 1932 with a career on base percentage of .402. He became a chicken farmer in his retirement. He died in Alexandria, Virginia in 1958 at age 61. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

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