Everyone knows what Paul Blair could do with a glove in center field and what he meant to some of the greatest teams in Orioles history. He was a terrific outfielder – those who saw him every day say he was the best at that position in club history – and a great competitor.
He was the real deal. No doubt about it.
Blair was so real, in fact, that he could be blunt as a telephone pole on just about any subject, which probably cost him a few opportunities over the course of his post-baseball career.
That’s what I liked the most about him. He would show up at a charity golf tournament or an Orioles event and some subject would come up and, you can bet, Blair had an opinion and you were going to get it totally unvarnished. He was so old-school that if he were a school it would be St. John’s College.
Blair passed away on Thursday at the age of 69, another great Baltimore sports hero called home, and for some reason, the first thing that popped into my mind was the last time I saw Paul at a public event and incurred his wrath.
OK, it wasn’t really wrath, because he was laughing at me for saying something that he thought was absolutely ridiculous.
It’s not important which Orioles player I was talking about, but I made the comment that the reason that this particular player was struggling late in the 2013 season was because he had to be “tired.”
Well, get out of the way. Blair gave me one of those looks that really didn’t need an explanation, but I wasn’t getting off that easy.
“Tired?” he said, and excuse me if this is not a perfect quote ... just how I remember it a few months later.
“Tired? He’s tired? Don’t tell me you’re tired. He’s a major league baseball player. It’s your job not to get tired.”
The brief tirade ended with a hearty laugh and no hurt feelings, but it reminded me of the late, great University of Southern California football coach John McKay, when somebody asked him if he was worried about one of his many great tailbacks carrying the football 30 times a game.
“Why,’’ the always sarcastic McKay was reputed to have said, “it’s not heavy.”
The point that Blair was making wasn’t hard to understand, especially coming from him. He was imagining what kind of response he would have gotten from Earl Weaver if he ever explained away a tough day late in a pennant race by saying he was “tired.”
Now, he can ask him. Now, he lives forever in the heart of every old-school Baltimore sports fan.
Don’t know yet what the Orioles will do to honor his memory during the upcoming season. I think a mural on the center field fence would be a nice start, but you can be confident that the club will come up with a very appropriate way to remember one of the key members of the Orioles’ greatest generation.