Thanks, Aaron, for that nice tribute to Paul Blair. You end by noting he put fans first. I was actually witness to that, at the creation so to speak.
In 1962, when the New York Mets were founded, they hastily put together a farm system. That included setting up a team in my hometown, which had been without baseball since the mid-1950s. To my delight (I was 12), the new team, named the Rancheros, would belong to the Class C (later Class A) California League, meaning visits by teams from such powerhouses as Modesto, Fresno, Visalia, and San Jose. Santa Barbara was now back in the big time with a strange mix of minor league journey men and rising talent, including Hank McGraw (Tug’s older brother) and a kid just out of high school named Paul Blair. One look at him and it was obvious he had star written all over him. He could do it all. Run, field, hit, always in the center of any game action. He didn’t hit much for average that year, but rang up big totals in ABs, runs, stolen bases. I saw him play in countless games that year, in lovely WPA-built Laguna Park (the ugly outfield plywood walls, especially from center field to right, lined against a backdrop of Santa Barbara’s Riviera and the Santa Ynez Mountains behind it). Blair was not yet a center-fielder, but a third-baseman, which meant he was much closer to the mostly empty stands where one day I very loudly told the friends I was with that Blair was going to be the next Henry Aaron. He must have heard me, because he looked over in my direction, smiled, and gave me a nice wave. That’s how I’ll remember him.