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Catching Up With ... Former Oriole Paul Blair

From time to time in The Toy Department, veteran sportswriter Mike Klingaman tracks down a former local sports figure and lets you know what's happening in his/her life in a segment called, "Catching Up With ... " Let Klingaman know who you'd like him to find and click here to check out previous editions of "Catching Up With ... " paul-blair-1.jpg


Three days before Christmas, Paul Blair felt the pain. It was as if he’d hit the fence, chest first, while chasing a fly ball.

Rushed to Howard County General Hospital, Blair, the former Orioles’ outfielder, learned he had suffered a heart attack.

“Doctors said that my main (coronary) artery was 98 percent blocked,” said Blair, 66, of Woodstock. “If it had closed up, they said I could have cancelled Christmas.”

Instead, surgeons inserted a stent in the artery and prescribed four months of physical therapy for Blair, who expects to complete it this week. What are a few aerobics for a guy who spent 12 years prowling center field for Baltimore, making diving, leaping and over-the-shoulder heists that won games and wowed fans?

Eight times, Blair won a coveted Gold Glove award, including seven straight from 1969 to 1975. Only Brooks Robinson (16) won more defensive honors as an Oriole.

A mainstay during the club’s golden era, Blair helped the Birds win two World Series. It was his bat that turned the tide. In 1966, he tagged a Claude Osteen fastball for a 430-foot home run and a 1-0 Game Three victory in the sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“That was the longest home run I ever hit,” said Blair, then 22 years old. “I ran around the bases thinking, ‘This is Fantasyland.’ I mean, four years earlier, I’d been in high school – and now this?”

In the 1970 World Series, Blair batted a team-high .474, a feat overshadowed by Robinson’s stellar play at third base against the Cincinnati Reds.

Likewise, Blair is remembered as a defensive whiz, an outfielder who seemed to taunt hitters by playing shallow and then running down balls if they tagged them good.

“I had no fear out there,” said Blair. “I mean, I didn’t play (sluggers like Minnesota’s) Harmon Killebrew right behind second base. But I felt that if the ball stayed in the park, I could catch it.

“I worked hard at being a good outfielder, too. That was my way of getting to play every day. I figured that even if I was in a (batting) slump, the pitchers still wanted me out there to offset the mistakes they made.”

During batting practice, at Memorial Stadium, Blair would work on scaling the chain link fence in center field, over and over, until he’d memorized the best spots to plant his feet.

“I did that against Boston, going way over the fence to get a ball hit by Tony Conigliaro,” he said. “One of the best catches I ever made.”

paul-blair-2.jpg

In 1977, mired in a two-year batting slump, Blair was sent to the New York Yankees. Word was that he had never fully recovered from a beaning seven years earlier that left him shy at the plate. Not so, Blair said.

“What hurt me more was when the Orioles traded Frank Robinson in 1971,” he said. “I’d batted second, and Frank hit third. With him in there, all I saw was fastballs, because who would walk me to get to Frank? But with (Robinson) gone, I started getting sliders and change-ups, which were harder to hit. And I didn’t have the discipline, at the plate, that I had in the field.”

Blair retired in 1980 and coached for a spell – in college (Fordham, Coppin State) and the pros (Yankees, Orioles, Houston). Married, he has three children and four grandchildren. One son, Terry, died in 1994. Another, Paul Blair III, signed with the Chicago Cubs and got as far as Triple-A.

The heart attack behind him, Blair plays golf almost daily, bowls several times a week and rails at the Orioles’ misfortunes.

“There’s no reason for a team that was the best in baseball to now be the worst,” he said. “What’s lacking? Leadership. Discipline. Fundamentals.

“In my day, the Orioles won because we didn’t make mistakes. This team makes them over and over, and nobody corrects them.”

Does Blair think he could set the team straight?

“At my age, I doubt that any club will call and ask for my help,” he said. “But I could take the Orioles today and make them a better ball club.

“I know, in my heart, that I could turn this team around.”

Photo credit: Paul Blair coaches Coppin State / Baltimore Sun photo / May 7, 2001

Comments

“I know, in my heart, that I could turn this team around.”

I believe him!

My father and friends fathers can not say more good things about Blair and his constant attention to detail and fundamentals.

Baseball players these days are all show and no straight work ethic.

Fundamentals are gone in the major leagues it seems.

Great article. Glad to hear he's recovering from his close call. Asesome glove.

Paul Blair for O's manager? I'd go for it.

Mike, thanks so much for these updates. Paul Blair was a true Oriole, when that meant something. Sounds like he is still pretty special. Glad you are recovering well, Paul.

I remember Paul Blair working as a salesman in the sporting goods department at Montgomery Wards on Monroe Street in the off-season. In those days he was probably doing it for the extra money, and for Wards he was a drawing card. A real gentleman and a great athlete. Glad to hear he's recovering well.

Thanks - another great story on another Orioles hero. One career highlight not mentioned was his game saving catch in Game 4 1966 World Series against Willie Davis. Also, Paul was a gifted bunter and I tried to copy his drag bunt technique when I was a kid. As an outfielder, he was fast yet graceful and always caught the ball fundamentally in the same spot.

My biggest memory of Paul Blair came in a game against the Yankess in 1973 at Memorial Stadium. Bobby Murcer hit a shot that looked like a home run when it left the bat. Oriole RF Merv Rettenmund thought so as well as he hardly moved for the ball and started looking up a the standings. So did the rest of the crowd. From the corner of my eye, Paul Blair shot across and went into a full sprint. He hit the fence at full speed - bringing the ball back and somehow holding on. I don't think that I have ever been to a game when a player received such a long standing ovation from the Orioles fans. It must have gone on for 3 minutes. I'm 53 and have attended many Orioles games - this catch was the best I've ever seen in person. Thanks Mike for another great article

I was ten years old in 1969 and my favorite part about those great Orioles teams was not when they were up at bat, but when they were in the field. It was such a great joy, even for a kid, watching Brooks, Bellanger and Blair. Paul Blair was my favorite. He would play so shallow, yet nothing got over his head. Watching him chase after those balls, always knowing exactly where to go as soon as the ball came off the bat was incredible. Mr. Blair I am glad you are still with us and hope that you will be for many years to come. Thanks for the memories.

Well, Well!!!!!!
I love the way Mr. Blair puts the facts on the table. I think that Mr. Trembly is a great person. But we need someone like Blair or Earl to "kick" some butt.
I used to go to more games when Blair and others of his era were playing. Its was a great time and always entertaining watching these pros work!!!!! Thanks Mr. Blair

Yep! It was well known that his beaning did leave him shy at the plate. Thank you Paul for setting the record straight. Of course Frank not batting behind you would make a hugh difference in your at bats. Much the same as Cal batting in front of Eddie in '83 and stealing the MVP from Eddie. Paul Blair was something special. Everybody felt cool as long as Paul was in centerfield, the fans, the Oriole players, of course the Oriole pitchers ERA's were lower simply by his presents and abiolity. The amazeing catches by Paul are many, but I'll share just one that I heard on the radio in a game at the Brewwer. Now remember this is over the radio. The Brewers power hitter crushes the ball to deep centerfield, Paul Blair running as hard as he can to the deepest part of the centerfield wall catches the ball and craches through what ever barrier he ran into. Baseball was always better on the radio, but even at that I believe that was one hell of a catch. Oh yeah we won that game because of Paul and his wonderful band of
Baltimore Orioles. Thanks for bring back the memories.

Mark Griffin: If you tried to "drag bunt" like Paul Blair, I bet you didn't have much luck. Drag bunters bat left-handed. Paul Blair batted right-handed, and would have had to run to third base, which, last time I checked, is not allowed. He was a good bunter, though, which is a lost art.

Paul Blair was won of the great Orioles when the O's were truly great. Am so glad o hear he is doing well. I think he was one of the more unheralded Oriole greats and think his mindest/ estimation of the current team's woes are spot on. thanks for everything you did as an O, and keep in good health . God Bless!

I can remember listening to Chuck Thompson and his sidekick who's name I forget on the radio calling so many fly balls that were going over the fence only to be caught by Blair. What great teams they were. He's right they were the best organization and now the most embarrassing.

Remember, too, that Mr. Blair caught the fly ball that ended the 1966 sweep of the Dodgers. I remember his saying, on national TV after the game, "Ain't nobody gettin' this ball from me!", in reference to the final out. I hope he still has it.

I had 3rd base front row box season tickets the years Paul Blair won all of his Gold Gloves. I can still picture his trot to the dugout after each inning...glove tucked to his left shoulder.

The O's don't want a guy like Paul Blair though. He will tell it like it is, and they can't handle the truth. There is no "coddle" in Mr. Blair's approach.

You've heard about the "Oriole Way." It was a desire for perfection. Make excuses and settle for anything less and you have the current Orioles.

Transpose the first letters of Paul Blair's name and it describes his occupation.

Paul Blair = Baul Plair

Paul Blair, for me, will always be the best ball player ever. Besides being a great athlete, he was a great guy. I remember going to the games and waiting around afterwards for autographs. He always did autographs. There were some who didn't, but he did. I see him now, occaisionally, at the bowling center, talking with his friends. I don't bother him for autographs. (I still have the other autographs). But, if I did I am sure that he would oblige me.
Thanks for the memories! Stay healthy Paul!

I will always rememberthe way Chuck Thompson's called a fly ball to center: "Fly ball, center field... Blair is there"

Blair is there. Just a great player. So sad stupid Tatum hit him and stole some great hitting years. That's how you play center field.

Hi easywriter01 -- maybe you're not too familar with drag bunting or baseball in general but you don't have to be a left handed batter to drag bunt. I challenge you to do some research by typing in "drag bunt" in Google to find out what I mean. The trick is to bunt for a basehit up the third base line.

Check out these sites:
http://www.ehow.com/how_2053723_drag-bunt.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bunt_(baseball)
http://www.qcbaseball.com/skills/bunting_dragbunt1.aspx

Next time - think before you comment.

As center fielders go, almost everyone talks about Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider to the point of ad nauseum. My favorite center fielder of all time is definitely Paul Blair.

Hi Mr. Blair I played with your son in L.A. We played for the padres and mr Laverne was my coach. was wondering how your son is doing. God Bless.

thanx for your kind words, well wishes & memories. uncle paul is great; golfing daily & happily retired. we're blessed to have him & hope for eons (smile). from uncle paul's family... 'preciate all your good thoughts. [will make sure he sees this article!]

What a great player Paul was. One of the greatest of outfielders, good base runner, could bunt , and decent at the plate. And now I know.....because it didn't make any sense. Paul was tougher than being shy after being hit in the head by a pitch. Of course, batting in front of Frank, what a blessing. Frank is traded, Paul struggles at the plate. Thanks Paul for setting that straight. Your wonderful play and the play of your mates is still in the minds of so many of us old timers. Yeah man....the GLORY DAYS.

Paul Blair deserves each and every accolade he is getting from this article. Great fielder, good hitter, strong clubhouse presence, great overall ballplayer.

But he makes two mistakes here.

First, although I don't doubt that the Frank trade hurt him in the lineup, regardless of what he says, the beaning is what ended his hitting and thus his career.

And second, no way he turns around this franchise. Jesus, Ghandi, and Al Bundy together couldn't turn around this franchise.

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