Paul Blair, a key member of four Orioles World Series teams and considered the best defensive outfielder in franchise history, died Thursday evening in Pikesville while participating in a celebrity bowling tournament, according to Gloria Blair, his wife of 42 years.
He was 69.
Gloria Blair said her husband played 18 holes of golf with friends Thursday morning, and when he came home was asked to take part in a celebrity bowling tournament at AMF Pikesville Lanes.
"Paul was honestly too tired, but he never says no," she said. "During a practice round, he threw two or three balls, then sat down and told a friend, 'I feel funny' and kind of collapsed. He lost consciousness and they called 911 and the ambulance took him to [Sinai Hospital], but the doctors there told me they never got a pulse. I was told he died around 6:45 p.m."
On Dec. 23, 2009, Mr. Blair suffered a heart attack and was rushed to Howard County General, where a stent was inserted, and he returned home Christmas Day.
Over the years, Mr. Blair, a resident of Woodstock in Howard County, worked as an Orioles' spring training instructor and was a fixture at old-timers' events in the Baltimore area. After he retired in 1980 he turned to coaching with stops that included Fordham and Coppin State.
He spent 13 of his 17 seasons with the Orioles, winning two World Series (1966, 1970) and capturing eight Gold Gloves as the club's sure-handed center fielder. The Orioles acquired him in the first-year player draft from the New York Mets in the 1962 offseason, and he made his debut in the majors at age 20 in 1964.
By 1966, he had emerged as a competent hitter and force with the glove. He then became a mainstay near the top of the Orioles' dangerous order.
Known as "Motormouth," Mr. Blair won seven consecutive Gold Gloves from 1969 until 1975, the second-most in club history — and earned the reputation of covering more ground than just about any outfielder in his day. Videos of No. 6 running to the wall to make a basket catch or sprinting in, grabbing a liner and catapulting his body with a throw are etched into Orioles' lore.
He's also remembered for his frantic dashes around the diamond, leading the league in triples with 12 in 1967. He batted .474 with nine hits in the Orioles' 1970 World Series victory over the Cincinnati Reds and might have been the Series MVP if it weren't for the amazing play of Brooks Robinson.
The Orioles traded Mr. Blair to the New York Yankees before the 1977 season for Elliott Maddox and Rick Bladt, and he played on two more World Series champions in the Bronx. He also played briefly with the Reds before ending his career in 1980 with the Yankees.
Al Bumbry, who eventually replaced Mr. Blair as the Orioles center fielder, started out in left field because center was Mr. Blair's domain.
"He taught me a lot, a lot about playing. He always made me feel comfortable. It wasn't like we were competing for the same position," Mr. Bumbry said. "He played very shallow and I would always marvel about how he played as shallow as he did and how well he could go back on balls."
Mr. Blair was a career .250 hitter with 134 homers and 171 stolen bases, and three times in his career he hit 17 or more homers and stole 20 or more bases in the same season.
Throughout their time together as players and later on the celebrity golf circuit, Mr. Bumbry said, "Motormouth" didn't stop talking.
"He was that way; he never stopped talking, and it wasn't always about baseball. I figured all the Gold Gloves he won gave him the right to talk," Mr. Bumbry said. "He was very humorous, so funny. Everybody loved him."
Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Campbell contributed to this article.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun