I just received word that Baltimore Orioles centerfielder extraordinaire Paul Blair died suddenly today. Blair apparently collapsed while at a bowling alley in Pikesville, Maryland. He did have a history of heart troubles. Blair was 69.
Blair originally signed with the New York Mets in 1961, but he would be plucked by the Baltimore Orioles two years later. His MLB debut with the O’s would come late in the 1964 season. Blair would become an everyday player the following season and would earn a World Series ring in 1966. In Game 3 of that Series, Blair would hit a home run off Dodgers lefty Claude Osteen. Blair’s homer was the only run of the game.
In 1967, Blair would win the first of his eight Gold Gloves for his sterling defense in centerfield. His finest offensive season came in 1969 when he hit .285 with 26 HR and 76 RBI earning his first of two AL All-Star appearances. That was the year Orioles won the first of three consecutive AL pennants under the stewardship of Earl Weaver. Although Blair would earn a second World Series ring in 1970 his offensive decline would begin that season after being beaned by California Angels pitcher Ken Tatum.
Blair would remain an Oriole until he was traded to the New York Yankees prior to the 1977 season for Elliott Maddox. While with the Yankees, Blair was largely consigned to being a late inning defensive replacement. Indeed, when Billy Martin pulled Reggie Jackson from a nationally televised game at Fenway Park for loafing on a bloop ball hit by Jim Rice, it was Blair who was placed into right field for Mr. October. Despite the turmoil, Blair would earn two more World Series rings with the Yankees in 1977 and 1978.
After a brief stint with the Cincinnati Reds in 1979, Blair would return to the Yankees in 1980. He retired from the game after being released in the middle of that season. In 17 big league seasons, Blair hit .250 with 134 HR and 620 RBI. He was also arguably the greatest centerfielder in the American League from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s.
But Paul Blair always knew the fans came first.