The year 2013 opened up with one Orioles legend passing away when former manager Earl Weaver passed away while on a cruise in January. As the year draws to a close, another great Oriole is gone. Paul Blair, who played for the Orioles for 13 seasons from 1964-76, passed away Thursday night at age 69.
According to local media reports, Blair collapsed while at a bowling alley in Pikesville.
I am not old enough to have ever seen him play, but he is one of many great past Orioles who I would hear about from my dad, who talked about him with the same reverence that some reserve for Willie Mays. I always imagined it was just an exaggeration, though he is, by at least one measure, the second-greatest defensive outfielder of all time, ahead of even Mays. (Hat tip to SI's Jay Jaffe for the link.)
Blair was originally signed by the New York Mets in 1961 at the age of 17, then drafted by the Orioles away from the Mets in 1962. In his 13 seasons as an Oriole, he played in 1700 games and batted .254/.306/.388, numbers that don't look all that impressive to us now but were good for a 99 OPS+ at the time. Adjusted for park and league, 100 is a league-average hitter, so Blair was basically average while providing what was then unprecedented defensive value over a full decade. His defense alone was worth 18 wins above the average center fielder.
It takes modern statistics to put a number on his value, though he did receive recognition for his skill in his playing days as well. He won eight Gold Glove awards while he patrolled center field at Memorial Stadium, including seven consecutive wins from 1969-75. The only Orioles player who ever earned more was Brooks Robinson, with sixteen.
Blair was part of World Series-winning Orioles teams in 1966 and 1970 and was one of the greatest Orioles of all time.