Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

Paul Blair: Defensive Whiz

Posted on May 30, 2017 by Dean Hybl

Blair-OriolesMore than 40 years before current stalwart Adam Jones first patrolled centerfield for the Baltimore Orioles, the Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month roamed the field with grace while also providing the Orioles with timely hitting for more than a decade.

On a team that built its strength through pitching and defense, Paul Blair fit perfectly. He is one of seven members of the Orioles from that era who won at least three Gold Gloves and is tied with Mark Belanger for the second most in team history.

Arguably the best defensive outfielder of his generation, Blair won eight Gold Gloves during a nine-year stretch, a total eclipsed by only seven outfielders in baseball history. Possessing great speed, he could play shallow to swallow-up short balls and then use his speed to track down deep flies.

After playing briefly late in the 1964 season, Blair became the starting centerfielder for the Orioles in 1965 and quickly established himself as a defensive standout.

In the 1966 World Series, Blair used both his glove and bat to help the Orioles sweep the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Blair provided the only run of game three with a solo home run off pitcher Claude Osteen in a 1-0 Baltimore victory. In game four, he preserved a shutout and secured the series sweep by robbing Jim Levebvre of what appeared to be a sure home run in the eighth inning.

The following season, Blair earned his first Gold Glove and also displayed his offensive prowess. He hit a career-best .293 with 72 runs scores, 27 doubles, 11 home runs and a league-best 12 triples.

In 1969 Blair showed even more offensive pop by blasting a career-high 26 home runs. He also scored a career-high 102 runs, earned his first All-Star appearance and began a streak of seven straight Gold Gloves. Blair finished 11th in the American League MVP voting, the highest finish among the four years in which he received MVP votes.

Blair was a key component of an Orioles’ team that won four American League pennants, two World Series titles and two additional American League East division titles between 1966 and 1974.

In 13 seasons with the Orioles, Blair earned two All-Star appearances and hit .254 with 126 home runs and 567 RBI.

Following the 1976 season he was traded to the New York Yankees. Blair was part of two World Series Champions while with the Yankees.

During his career, Blair appeared in six World Series, winning four, with a .288 batting average. In seven American League Championship Series he hit .238 and drove in 10 runs.

Blair retired following the 1980 season with 134 career home runs, 620 RBI and a .250 batting average.

We are pleased to bring back the Vintage Athlete of the Month as a regular Sports Then and Now feature. If you had a favorite athlete growing up that you would like to see featured as the Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month, send me a nomination by e-mail.

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