A friend sent me a text with a picture of him in a classic batting stance pose with a note above that read RIP Paul Blair. The sentiment of the message was spot on but I’m not sure about the picture or the note. While the Blair bat was certainty formidable he’ll always be remembered for the way he owned the lawn in centerfield. His glove of gold, his wheels, his instincts and leaping ability made him one of the greatest ever to play the position.
As for the RIP… hardly! Rest and Paul Blair? I don’t think so. I can see “Motormouth” talking his way his way through the Pearly gates, complaining to anybody who’ll listen about what’s wrong with the Orioles, demonstrating how he saved all those games for Palmer, Cuellar and McNally and that roaring laugh and wink as he pulls prank after prank. His last day with us included a round of golf with friends on a wintery day followed by a celebrity bowling tournament that he couldn’t say no to. What a way to go.
I always enjoyed running into Paul on the golf course or the ballpark the conversation usually centered around the Orioles. He’d tell me how he thought he could make Adam Jones an even better centerfielder and during the 14 year O’s black hole it was apparent how much it hurt him to see his Orioles down and out. He was proud to be a member of the Orioles Hall of Fame and he cared.
Paul Blair ranks right behind Willie Mays and Ken Griffey Jr. as the greatest centerfielder’s I’ve ever seen. His arm was ordinary but his ability to play in and catch everything in the ball park was extraordinary. Blair won 8 Gold Gloves, he played in 6 World Series and won 4 and played in 2 All-Star Games.
In the 1966 World Series Blair was the hero in game 3, he hit a 430 foot homerun the games only run as the Orioles beat the Dodgers 1-0. In game 4 his leaping catch over the centerfield fence in the 8th inning robbed the Dodgers Jim Lefebvre of the game tying homer. In the 9th inning Blair caught the final out and jumped for joy, The Orioles had shocked the Dodgers with a 4 game sweep for their first World Series title.
In the 1970 World Series win over Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine he hit .474 in the 5-games and likely would have been Series MVP if not for the brilliance of Brooks Robinson. Paul Blair’s Glove was his calling card but he won a lot of games with his bat. He hit 134 long balls and had a 26 home run season, he lead the league in triples, he had 171 career stolen bases and was an excellent bunter. He had a 3 homer/6 RBI game and was the first Oriole to have 5 hits in a post-season game.
The Orioles were the winningest franchise in all professional sports during a 25 year period that Paul Blair was a vital part of. Pitching and defense were the backbone of those 25 years. Brooks and his 16 Gold Gloves at 3rd, Mark Belanger and 8 Golds at short, Bobby Grich with 4 more at 2nd base and Paul Blair in shallow center double-daring hitters to drive it over his head. 8 Gold Gloves and a million memories for Orioles fans. God Bless Paul Blair and his family.