By In Stuff

Feb. 1 birthday: Paul Blair

Paul Blair
Sport: Baseball
Position: Centerfield
Played from 1964 to 1980
Winner of eight gold gloves
Age: 69

They called Paul Blair “Motormouth” because he loved to talk. One teammate would say that they had to put him in centerfield just to get him away from everybody. But, of course, the real reason they put him in centerfield is because no one ever played the position better. Blair would play shallow — absurdly shallow, really, close enough to pass notes to the second baseman — and this meant he could steal more bloops and low line drives than just about anybody in the game.

It also meant that he had to often do one of the hardest things for an outfielder — that is, go back and chase down balls hit over his head. Blair was a genius at this. Earl Weaver used to say he never once saw Paul Blair’s first step — Blair seemed to make it before the ball was even hit.

He played centerfield almost every day for the Baltimore Orioles from 1965 to 1976, and in those 12 years, the Orioles won 95-plus games six times, won four pennants, won two World Series, and people always said it was because of pitching and the three-run homer. Sure. But Blair’s defense was a big part of that pitching. And Blair, though he wasn’t much of a hitter, did bang 16 of those three run homers and scored on many more of them.

I should expand on that part about Blair not being much of a hitter — he was a very good hitter in 1967 and 1969, and still a good hitter in 1970. But in 1970, he was hit in the face with a pitch by Ken Tatum — and there’s a very clear before/after story. From 1966 to 1969, Blair hit .270/.321/.423 which was very good for that era — good enough for a 115 OPS+.

From 1971 to 1975, Blair hit .252/.297.378 with a 94 OPS+. It’s hard to say what effect the beaning and subsequent facial surgery had on his hitting psyche and confidence. Defensively he was still a marvel.

In 1977, he was traded to the New York Yankees, and he was never again an everyday player, but his quote about the Yankees is still memorable: “We’re loved and hated, but always in larger doses.”

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13 Responses to Feb. 1 birthday: Paul Blair

  1. Michael says:

    Uh, Joe, “the real reason they put him in centerfield is because no one ever played the position better.” I love you and your writing, but I am reminded of when a recently hired Dodger announcer declared on the air, “Willie Mays is the best player I’ve ever seen.” Red Barber, ON THE AIR, said, “Young Scully?” “Yes, Red?” “How old are you?” Young Scully replied, “24.” And Barber said, “Why should anyone CARE who you think is the greatest playuh you have evah seen?”

    Now, to say that he was the greatest of his time, maybe. But for the first part of Blair’s career, Mays was still in center, and those around at the time said he still wasn’t as good as Tris Speaker. Just sayin’.

    By the way, Young Scully is now 85 and says that the best player he has ever seen is … Willie Mays. So, Joe, you may be right!

    • Rob Smith says:

      Yeah, which reminds me that Red Barber was a real a–hole. Scully had to put up with him several years too (we’re talking the BROOKLYN DODGERS too… long time ago). Amazingly Scully has nothing bad to say about Barber, whom supposedly was threatened by Scully and never ever nice to him. Scully’s one of a kind. The best ever to this day.

  2. robhschuster says:

    I meant to post this story to the Earl Weaver thread but I got lazy and school involved. But seeing that you then decided to write about the second part of the story I feel compelled to share. Compelled!

    My mom grew up in Baltimore a huge Orioles fan. She would bus or walk to Memorial stadium with her sisters to most of the games and, from what she told me, become at least name familiar with all the players, this was around the late 60’s to the middle 70s.

    She eventually moved to Jacksonville Florida to get married raise me and my brothers. One day the Orioles were having an exhibition game in Jacksonville (before I was born) and my mom went to the game with Earl Weaver’s book. Paul Blair recognized her and asked her what the hell she was doing in Florida. She explained herself and asked if he could get Earl to sign her book. Paul Blair took the book to the dugout and she could hear Blair saying, “Hey look Earl, I found the lady who bought your book.”
    I heard that story many a time in my childhood.

    Ok, one more cause this is a Paul Blair thread.

    So my mom had watched a game and it was late and I guess the busses weren’t bussing anymore. So Paul Blair offered to take my mom and her sisters back to their row home. As they were driving up to their house through their entirely Polish neighborhood they were constantly receiving dirty looks from the old folks, “What were the good Romanowski girls doing with this black man?”

    He dropped them off and the old Polish people of the neighborhood cornered the girls and asked them what they were doing with this man. My mom explained that it was Paul Blair, you know, the center fielder for the Orioles. Pause. “Well, why didn’t you introduce us!?”

    My mom’s awesome.

  3. Gary says:

    Blair was the exact opposite of Chet Lemon. When he was with the White Sox and centerfield was 440 feet from home plate, Lemon would play at approximately the 435-foot mark. No balls were going over his head.

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  5. I remember Paul Blair’s stint with my Yankees very well, for two reasons.

    1) Remember the famous incident in 1977 where Reggie Jackson loafed after a ball hit to right field, and Billy Martin went ballistic? Martin responded by immediately sending Paul Blair to replace Reggie in right field. Reggie went equally ballistic, and he had a major screaming match with Martin in the dugout that very nearly came to blows.

    2) Blair had a reputation as a brilliant bunter… but he never showed any signs of it in New York. Indeed, in one playoff series against the KC Royals, Blair laid down two awful sacrifice bunts that ancient catcher Jerry Grote jumped on, and proceeded to throw out the baserunners at second base with ease.

  6. purebull says:

    the very best? well…maybe. maybe not. doesn’t matter. blair was a tremendous defensive center fielder, and he was a joy to watch play…

    • Rob Smith says:

      Andruw Jones in his prime was as good as Blair and maybe as good as Mays. His first step was mystifying…. he took it before the ball was hit, just like the article said about Blair. With Andruw, however, he got fat, lost three steps and stopped caring…. so probably not that many remember how good he was…. and certainly nobody is going to mention him any longer in the same breath as Mays. But he was quite something during his prime.

  7. It also meant that he had to often do one of the hardest things for an outfielder — that is, go back and chase down balls hit over his head.


  8. KP says:

    Wonderful as usual Joe, only complaint is that we really need to stop calling specific outfield positions one word, its “center field”!!!

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