Some sad news to report on the day after Christmas, as former Yankees and Orioles outfielder Paul Blair died at the age of 69 due to a heart attack. MASN Sports reporter Roch Kubatko reported that Blair collapsed at a bowling alley in Pikesville, Maryland and passed away tonight.
Blair will undoubtedly be more remembered for his prime years with the Orioles since he played in Baltimore for 13 of his 17 years in the majors. He made two All-Star teams in Baltimore and won a remarkable eight Gold Gloves, honors that were well-deserved according to SI.com's Jay Jaffe. Playing almost entirely in center field, Blair recorded 18.5 dWAR during his long career, the second-highest total of any outfielder in the history of baseball. Blair won the World Series twice in Baltimore: first in 1966 as the O's shocked Sandy Koufax's Dodgers in a four-game sweep and again in 1970 when the O's triumphed over the Big Red Machine in five games. The latter Fall Classic was particularly strong for Blair, as he hit .474/.524/.526 with nine hits in the series. Blair also won the pennant two other times with the O's in '69 and '71, though they fell in the World Series to the Mets and Pirates, respectively.
Blair's superb defense led to five five-win seasons by rWAR measure in Baltimore, reaching peaks at 6.8 in '67 and 7.1 in '69. Uncoincidentally, those were also his two best years at the plate; he hit .293/.353/.446 with a 135 OPS+ and a league-leading 12 triples in '67, and .285/.327/.477 with a 122 OPS+ and career-highs in doubles (32) and homers (26). Overall, he hit .254/.306/.388 with 269 doubles, 51 triples, 126 homers, a 99 OPS+, and 39.7 rWAR as an Oriole, a total that ranks fifth-highest in Baltimore franchise history since their move from St. Louis in 1954.
After two more AL East division crowns in '73 and '74, Blair's tenure with the Orioles ended in a January 20, 1977 trade to the defending AL champion Yankees in exchange for the quickly-declining Elliott Maddox and Rick Bladt, who never played a game for the O's. By '77, Blair was 33 and not very good with the bat anymore, but he was still a fine defensive player. Thus, he filled in nicely off the bench for Billy Martin's club. He hit .262/.303/.396 with a 90 OPS+ in 83 games, though perhaps he is most remembered for being sent in by an enraged Martin to replace Reggie Jackson in right field during a June game at Fenway Park after Reggie's slow approach to a Jim Rice single led to a double. Blair was a frequent defensive replacement in the postseason, and he also went 3-for-9 in seven playoff games as the Yankees won their 21st World Series title. One of his career highlights came in the Game 1 opener against the Dodgers, when he lined a walk-off RBI single to left off Rick Rhoden to win it in the 12th.
Blair declined in '78 to a sub-50 OPS+, though he did go 3-for-8 in the '78 World Series when the Yankees beat the Dodgers again to secure Blair's fourth and final World Series ring. Blair played two more years, split with the Yankees and Reds, then called it a career in 1980. Blair was one of the best Orioles in franchise history, and he is honored in their Hall of Fame at Camden Yards. Blair's contributions to the Yankees' late-seventies championship squads earned him annual invitations to Old Timers' Day, where he always received a nice ovation. Rest in peace, Paul Blair.
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