Feb. 1 birthday: Paul Blair
|Joe Posnanski||Feb 2, 2013|
Played from 1964 to 1980
Winner of eight gold gloves
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."