When Hall of Famer Frank Robinson joined the Orioles in 1966, he was surprised by the youth the club had in key areas, including then-22-year-old center fielder Paul Blair who would play to Robinson’s right for most of the next six seasons. Blair was coming off his first 100-plus-game season in the majors when the 30-year-old Robinson was acquired to man right field.
“I didn’t know how many years [Paul] had been there, I just had heard we had a [young] center fielder, a rookie second baseman [Davey Johnson], a rookie catcher [Andy Etchebarren]. And you just don’t have that up the middle on a winning ballclub.”
It didn’t take long for Robinson to realize what the club had in Blair, who passed away Thursday at age 69.
“I didn’t have any preconceived notions about Paul Blair, but it became very evident real quick that he was a talker -- No. 1. He loved to talk. I think he probably tried to talk when he was sleeping," Robinson said. "And No. 2, he was to the outfield what Brooks [Robinson] was to the infield. He was our glue out there. I had to play such a small area [in right field] just to get out of his way, and so did the left fielder, that it felt like we weren’t even on the field.”
Here are more quotes from Frank Robinson on Blair and their tremendous years together roaming the Orioles’ outfield and laughing in the clubhouse:
“He was a tremendous outfielder. I never saw Paul Blair run into a wall. He’d go back to the wall, full speed, jump, come down with the ball, straight down, and he would never run into the wall. He knew where the wall was at all times. He played a very shallow center field. He was an outstanding center fielder. There were some times his throw wasn’t as consistent as it should be, but he was a tremendous defensive center fielder. And his hitting was coming around in his first, second (full) years until he got hit in the face in Anaheim and after that he wasn’t the same hitter.”
“He was a great guy to have on the ballclub. He kept you loose. He was talking all the time. And he enjoyed the game of baseball. I know the Baltimore organization has lost an outstanding individual because he loved Baltimore and he loved the Orioles. The thing I’ll remember about Paul Blair is how much he loved the game. He loved the game. When he had that uniform on, he was in his prime time. On and off the field, he’d be yakking, yakking in the dugout. He’d keep you loose all the time. And not just talking to an individual but also the things he’d say or do. The things he’d say he was going to do: In the clubhouse, on the bus, on the plane, whatever. One thing I’ll remember about him that has always stuck in my mind is he loved to put on the Oriole uniform. He loved the game and he wanted to go out and compete.”
Robinson was asked if he had any final thoughts on the passing of his friend and teammate, and this is what he said:
“You lost an Oriole, a true Oriole passed away yesterday. The players, the organization, the fans, they are going to miss him because he was an Oriole through and through. That’s the thing I’d most want to say about him.”