Paul Blair, the eight-time Gold Glove center fielder who helped the Baltimore Orioles win a pair of World Series titles while gliding to make marvelous catches, has died. He was 69.
Blair died Thursday night at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore. His wife, Gloria, told the Baltimore Sun that Blair played a round of golf with friends Thursday morning and later lost consciousness at a celebrity bowling tournament in Pikesville, Md.
A member of the Orioles Hall of Fame, the popular Blair patrolled the outfield from 1964 to '76, playing key parts when Baltimore won its first two World Series crowns in 1966 and 1970 under Manager Earl Weaver. He won two more titles with the New York Yankees in 1977 and 1978 and also played for the Cincinnati Reds.
FOR THE RECORD
Paul Blair obituary:
The news obituary of Baltimore Orioles center fielder Paul Blair in the Dec. 28 LATExtra section incorrectly reported that Earl Weaver was manager of the 1966 and 1970 World Series-winning teams. Hank Bauer was manager in 1966. Weaver replaced Bauer in 1968.
In an era before highlight reels were a daily staple on TV, Blair frequently made catches that became the talk of baseball. Thin and quick, he played with a flair — at the end of an inning, he would tuck his glove up against his chest for a regal trot back to the dugout.
"He played very shallow. People talked about how Willie Mays played shallow, and Paul did the same thing. He played with assuredness," said Don Buford, an All-Star left fielder who played alongside Blair for five seasons in Baltimore. "When you talk about the greatest defensive center fielders, he was right in the mix."
In 17 seasons in the majors, Blair hit .250 with 134 home runs, 620 RBIs and 171 stolen bases. He appeared in six World Series, two All-Star games and won Gold Gloves in 1967 and 1969-75.
"Fortunately, I played for a manager who was smart enough to realize that saving a run is just as good as scoring one," Blair said of Weaver in a 1985 interview with Sport magazine. "As long as I fielded the heck out of my position, he was going to have me in that lineup regardless of my hitting. So I dedicated myself to making a science out of playing center field."
In the 1966 World Series, Blair homered for the only run in Baltimore's Game 3 victory over the Dodgers.
The underdog Orioles completed an unlikely sweep the next day, with Blair jumping high above the fence at Memorial Stadium to snare Jim Lefebvre's bid for a tying home run in the eighth inning. It was a timely grab too — Blair had just been inserted in the game as a defensive replacement.
Blair caught a routine fly by Lou Johnson with two runners on base for the final out in a 1-0 victory in Game 4, and leaped high in the air after the clinching grab to begin Baltimore's celebration.
Friendly in the clubhouse, he was called "Motormouth" for his constant banter. After his playing career ended in 1980, Blair coached Fordham in 1983 and at Coppin State from 1998-2002.
Born Feb. 1, 1944, in Cushing, Okla., Blair grew up in Los Angeles, where he played baseball and basketball and ran track at Manual Arts High School.
Blair was originally drafted by the New York Mets and spent one season in their minor league system. The Orioles drafted him from the Mets in late 1962.
Besides Gloria, his wife of 42 years, Blair is survived by their sons Paul III and Kevin; a daughter, Paula, from a previous marriage; five grandchildren; his mother, Zephra Primas; and a sister, Paulette Blair. A son from his first marriage, Terry, died in 1994.
FOR THE RECORD: xhxhxhxhx not Arkansas.