Sunday, February 6, 2011

#92 - Paul Blair

Here is an action shot of perpetual Gold Glove centerfielder Paul LD Blair. Someone once told me when I was a kid that LD stood for Love Doctor. Nothing against Paul or his amorous abilities but I do not believe that was really the case. I probably believed it at the time however. In '73 Paul was certainly worthy of SOME superlative designation. After consulting with a hypnotist he put together his best overall season since he suffered a horrible beaning in '70, receiving his second All-Star nod as a result. Given Paul's ruddy face I assume the photo was taken mid-summer which means he and his boys were smack dab in the middle of another pennant race.

Paul Blair grew up in LA and was signed by the Mets in '61. Assigned to the NY C team the next year Paul homered 17 times but also hit only .228 and struck out 147 times. He was then drafted by the Orioles in the first-year Rule 4 draft; he was left off the Mets 40-man roster, hence his availability. In '63 in A ball he put up the same power numbers, dropped his K totals almost in half, and added 100 points to his average. Ex-Yankee Gene Woodling was a big help, suggesting to Paul that he treat any two-strike at bat as a game of pepper at which he excelled. After a year in Double A he made the Baltimore roster in '65 as the starting center fielder but by the end of June his ,20 average in the pole helped return it to incumbent Jackie Brandt while Paul went to Triple A. After hitting .329 at that level he returned to the O's in August and hit .255 the rest of the way to earn the regular gig outright.

During the '66 season Blair missed a bunch of time to military reserve work byr around it he managed to raise his average substantially and the had a bang-up Series against LA, winning one game with a solo homer and another with a circus catch. He upped the offensive ante another notch in '67 when he put in a full season, led the AL in triples, and came in fifth in the batting race. He also recorede his first Gold Glove that season; he would win eight of those in all. In '68 his numbers took a big hit, cused in part to a broken ankle he suffered in winter ball that made him miss all of spring training as well as some games. But he bounced back in '69 with his best offensive season: he scored over 100 runs the only time in his career, topped out personally in doubles, homers, and RBI's, and made his first All-Star team. He was off to a similar start in '70 when he got nailed in the face by a pitch from Ken Tatum that broke his cheek and his orbital bones. He missed about a month and came back pretty strong, peaking in the Series by hitting .474. But the strikeouts took off again and the power numbers declined leading many to believe that Blair was a bit tenuous at the plate. After his '73 revival Paul had a very similar '74 in which his numbers stayed roughly intact and he recorded a career-high 27 stolen bases. But in '75 his playing time decreased a bit as Earl Weaver began platooning Paul with Al Bumbry and Jim Northrup and then much moreso in '76. When the field time went south so did Paul's average and RBI totals so that by '76 they numbered .197 and 16 respectively. That following January he went to the Yankees for Elliott Maddox and assumed a role as primary backup outfielder for NY the next two seasons. He won Game 1 of the '77 Series with a 12th inning single. He then reprised his backup role for the '79 Reds. In 1980 he was signed by the Yanks as a minor league instructor, got some major league at bats and called it a career. He hit .250 lifetime with 134 homers and 171 stolen bases. In the post-season he hit .260 with 15 RBI's in 52 total games.

As a fielder Blair played relatively shallow. Great speed and very good instinctual play allowed him to run down many fly balls and many opposing managers viewed him as the most important piece in the Oriole puzzle. Paul had a lifetime fielding average of .988 and continues to rank high in lifetime assists (15th all time), double plays (16th), and putouts (16th). A quote regarding his fielding ability went "...Two-thirds of the world is covered by water. The rest is covered by Paul Blair."

Following his playing career Blair coached both professionally (for the Yankees, Baltimore, and Houston) and collegiately (for Fordham and Coppin State). He also ran his own baseball camp for a while. He has since retired in Maryland where he occasions card shows and golf courses.

There's the LD. I have zero idea what it stands for, but his nickname was Motormouth. He was apparently full of stories and very funny. The three homer game in '70 happened before the beanball. The hoops game was a high school one.

We are crossing leagues again which may make this tough. Here goes:

1. Blair and Reggie Jackson '76 Orioles and '77 to '78 Yankees;
2. Jackson and Ken Forsch '82 to '84 Angels.

1 comment:

  1. I have this card with Gaylord Perry on the front. I confused me as a 7 year old. I always wondered if it was worth anything as a misprint.