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Exemplar of Defense the Oriole Way: Paul Blair Orioles “Motormouth” and Golden Glove Dead at 69

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Paul Blair the legendary 8 time Gold Glove Center Fielder of the Baltimore Orioles American League and World Series teams of the 1960s and 1970s died yesterday at the age of 69. He died just under a year after his Hall of Fame Manager Earl Weaver did, both while doing things that they loved.

Blair was bowling in a celebrity bowling tournament in Pikesville Maryland after completing a round of golf when he complained of not feeling well and slumped over unconscious. He died shortly after arrival at Mount Sinai Hospital in Baltimore.

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Blair was born in Cushing Oklahoma but grew up in Los Angeles California. He tried out for the Dodgers but was rejected because they did not believe that he was big enough. The Mets signed him to a minor league contract in 1961. After being left unprotected by the Mets he was drafted by the Orioles in 1962. He moved up through the Orioles farm system and gained his nickname “Motormouth” in 1963 by his manager Harry Dunlop while playing with the Stockton Ports of the California League, it was something that he would relate to me in 2003 when I met him in Mayport Florida and I gave him a Ports hat to autograph. The nickname was revived when he got to the majors by Frank Robinson and Curt Blefary.

After a six month tour in the Army Reserve in 1964 he returned to the Orioles where he became the starting Center Fielder. Known for his speed and skill in the outfield Blair was awarded 8 Gold Glove awards, seven consecutively between 1969-1975. The record of 8 was a record for outfielders only broken by Ken Griffey Jr.  Blair’s career fielding percentage was .987, he only had 57 errors in 4462 chances.

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In a 1997 interview with USA Today Baseball Weekly Blair said of his defensive prowess “I was taught to play defense. Back in our day it was pitching and defense. Our philosophy (the Oriole way) was don’t make the little mistakes that cost you ballgames. That is the way we won over such a long period of time.” Earl Weaver said of Blair’s speed in the outfield “I never saw Paul Blair’s first step.” Orioles All Star Don Buford who played alongside Blair for 5 years noted “When you talk about the greatest defensive center fielders, he was right in the mix.”

Blair hit for a lifetime batting average of .250 with 1513 hits and 134 home runs, an average that may have been affected by being severely injured when he was beaned by Angels pitcher Ken Tatum in May of 1970.

Blair won two World Series rings with the Orioles and another two with the Yankees and was voted to the 1969 and 1973 All Star team. He is the only player to get five hits in an ALCS game when he did so in the final game of the 1969 ALCS against the Twins. After his playing career he coached at he high school and college level and served as an outfield instructor with the Yankees and Astros.

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I met Blair twice in 2003 and 2005 when he doing goodwill tours to military bases. On both occasions we had time to talk. In Mayport Florida I was able to spend over an hour with Blair, the late Hall of Fame 1st Baseman of the Twins Harmon Killebrew, Hall of Fame Pitcher Ferguson Jenkins as well as John Tudor, Manny Sanguillen and Jimmy Wynn. I really enjoyed Blair’s stories about his time in Stockton, which I consider my home town as well as his stories about his playing days. He was a joy to be around.

I was hoping that I would get another chance to meet up with Blair. That won’t happen now so I will just say Rest in Peace.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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One Pitch, Game or Season too Many

In 1973 Willie Mays signed with the New York Mets after being released by the San Francisco Giants at the end of the 1972 season.   It was  a mistake and was his worst season in the majors.  He showed his age, he had lost his speed.  His arm was shot and hs hitting was a shadow of what it once was. He committed errors that never would have happened early in his career.  He was unable to play on a daily basis.  He wanted to do well.  However the inability to be in the lineup on a consistant basis, lack of outfield speed, weak arm and poor hitting hurt his team.  As a Giants fan I love Willie Mays.  I believe that he is quite possibly the best player who ever lived.  It hurt to see him finish his career in that fashion.

Other players have done this as well.  They go for that last season that last chance for glory and leave not at the top of their game, but at the bottom.  They end up tarnishing their final year and a career that should have ended in triumph ends in a whimper.  A recent example is NFL great Brett Farve.  His debacle with the New York Jets after retiring from the Packers has pushed his greatness to the side.  The continuing confusion of whether he will try to return for one more year has made many former supports stop caring.  Roger Clemens in the way that he played his last couple of years, sitting out half a season to make a dramatic entrance and then not performing well in his last season left a sour taste in the mouth of many in and out of baseball.

This is not confined to sports figures it occurs in almost every career vocation.  For many this desire to stay just one more year, one more tour one more chance at glory the attempt ends in personal humiliation. They realize later that they should have gotten out at the top of their game.  When I was a young Medical Service Corps officer we had about 250 Colonels in our branch.  We only had one billet for a Brigadier General.  That was usually 3-4 year term for whoever was the Chief of the Medical Service Corps.  Additionally there were only a few actually billets for Colonel’s to command actual units.   Some of these officers would have sld their soul’s to get the star.  I’m sure that at least a few did. But with only one General Officer billet that came open every 3-4 years the chances were pretty slim for anyone to get the job. Yet we would have men well past their prime holding on, going from staff assignment to staff assignment until they hit the statutory retirement point.  Many were miserable and felt that they should have been the annointed one. Unfortunately both in attitude and for the fact that by holding on indefinitely they kept others from getting promoted they hurt the Corps.  This is not uncommon in botht he military and the civilian world, even in churches.  It often harms those that hold on, those that work for them and the institution when younger men and women with fresh ideas can’t get promoted.  Since I left the Medical Service Corps as a  fairly junior Captain to go to seminary I never had a dog in this fight, but it was intersting to observe the effect on individuals and the institution.

There are times in life as well where we go through different seasons.  Adjusting to the changes of those seasons is just as important, be they family, spiritual or vocational.  Knowing when the season is changing and having people help us through are key. Likewise for those who have a religions faith, my Christian faith is a moderate Anglo-Catholic Episcopal spirituality with a membership in the Church of Baseball.  After all the Deity does speak to me through baseball.

It takes a bit of self-awareness to know when you shouldn’t go on.  Mike Mussina retired at the end of the 2008 season.  He went won 20 games for the first time in career had a 3.37 ERA and won his 7th Golden Glove of his career.  He could have probably played for another year or two.  However, he decided to go out on top.  He left at the end of his 17th and best season.

In daily life we have the same situation.  A pitcher needs to know when to tell his manager that he can’t pitch.  Likewise the manager and pitching coach have to be able to tell when their pitchers are losing their edge. My department head knows what I have been through in my life and what I have been dealing with both personally and physically.  He trusts me to tell him when I am having trouble.  He knows how to get the best out of me without wiping me out to do it.

Sometimes people not only stay too long, but in staying to long end up hurting their team, political party, business organization or religious organization.   We have all probably known people like this.  They finish badly and seldom does someone gently come alongside and say, “Friend, you had a great run, it’s time for you to step aside and let others carry out the mission.”

I for one know that I desire to go out on top when it is time for me to leave the military.  I will be retirement eligible in about 2 ½ years.  I want my tour where I am to be the best of my career regardless of whether I retire or get promoted and remain in service.  I want people to remember me in the best possible way. If I know that I cannot do the job anymore it is incumbent on me to be honest enough with myself to admit it and go home before people say: “Yah, he was a good chaplain back in the day, but he’s lost something…he’s not the same.”   I trust that the Deity Herself will assist me in this; Lord knows that this miscreant Priest needs all the help that he can get.

Peace,

Steve+

Post Script: I saw the Tides win again tonight and bring their record to 28 and 13, the best in AAA baseball.  They won on a Justin Turner hit a walk off single to drive in Oscar Salazar with 2 outs in the bottom of the 10th to defeat the Rochester Red Wings.  Kam Mikalio got the win for the Tides and Bobby Keppel took the loss for the Wings.  It was a ugly game, perhaps the ugliest I have see this year.  Each team committed three errors for a total of six errors in the game.  Wings third baseman Matt Macri dropped a routine pop foul by Oscar Salazar who then singled and scored the winning run.  Wings starting pitcher Philip Humber hit three Tides batters.  Tides Manager Gary Allenson and Designated Hitter Robby Hammock was tossed in the bottom of the 8th and Wings Shortstop Trevor Plouffe was tossed in the top of the 10th.

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