While gathering reactions from former Orioles players on the death of Paul Blair, Orioles Hall of Famer Jim Palmer shared an interesting story with me.
Palmer was quick to say how much Blair, who died Thursday at the age of 69, deserved a great deal of credit for the Orioles' success during the 1960s and '70s.
He was especially important to Palmer, who said he wouldn’t have been a Hall of Famer and wouldn’t have won three Cy Young Awards without Blair patrolling center field. Being a fly-ball pitcher, Palmer knew how much having Blair in the cavernous outfield of yesteryear – at places like the old Yankee Stadium and Metropolitan Stadium in Minneapolis – helped him.
Palmer mentioned a funny story that showed how much Blair meant to him and also gave a little bit of added insight to his well-documented relationship with manager Earl Weaver in those days.
The way Palmer starts the story, it was late in his 1976 Cy Young season and Palmer was upset with Weaver for starting the “B” lineup for the doubleheader game he was pitching in. And Palmer let Weaver know it.
“If you don’t like the lineup I made, then you make it yourself next time,” Weaver quipped back at Palmer.
So the next time Palmer started a doubleheader game -- which he said was against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium – Palmer remembered what Weaver said, and wrote out his own lineup card and presented it to Weaver.
“What’s this?” Weaver asked.
“You told me to write up the lineup,” Palmer answered.
That wasn’t going to fly with Weaver.
“If I let you write the lineup card and we win, then people are going to know you’re smarter than me,” Weaver said, according to Palmer.
But he did hand Palmer three different lineup cards and told him to choose one.
One had Blair playing center field. The other two didn’t. And Palmer said that pitching in Yankee Stadium, having Blair in center was his deciding factor.
Palmer pitched a complete-game shutout for his 22nd win of the season -- and Blair had nine putouts in center.