When you grew up in Baltimore, in the late 1970s/early 1980s there were certain things you had to accept or you would never be able to speak at the dinner table.
They were truths passed down by my father, brothers and sisters, and though I may not have witnessed the things with my own eyes, I had to accept them as the Gospel of Balmer.
No quarterback was better than Johnny Unitas. Don’t even try to suggest Joe Montana or that machine-gunning Dan Marino. There simply was no room for argument at my dinner table.
No one – ever at any position – was a better fielder than Brooks Robinson. Don’t even try to suggest that Mike Schmidt was better all-around at third base because if Schmidt had been on the Orioles in the 1970s he would have been a great left fielder, I was told.
And don’t ever act like someone could play a better center field than Paul Blair. It just wasn’t humanly possible, I was instructed.
Blair died Thursday night. The eight-time Gold Glove winner was 69.
By the time I was old enough to really appreciate the beauty of baseball Blair had been traded to the hated New York Yankees, where he won two more World Series as an aging bench player.
So I never got to witness first-hand Blair’s play. But I’ve seen enough video over the years to almost trick myself into thinking I watched the real thing: Those ubiquitous shots of Blair playing a shallow center, then streaking to the wall -- only a fading No. 6 visible before the ball disappears into his outstretched glove. It seemed like there were hundreds of those plays during his 13 seasons in Baltimore.
I had the chance to talk to Blair several times over the years. He’d come out to Camden Yards, meet and greet fans, etc. And he was often chatty – which, I guess, helped earn him the nickname “Motormouth.” It’s obvious he made a huge impact on his teammates and fans over the years.
I’m sure the Orioles will do something special to honor his memory in 2014. Blair was an incredibly important member of the greatest Orioles teams.
He was so good that his exploits on the field were passed down from one generation to another. About that, I can speak from experience.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun