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Contributor Joe Chambers takes a look back at one of the top outfielders in Orioles history, Paul Blair.
Paul Blair was a talented outfielder for the Baltimore Orioles, one of the best players to roam the outfield in an Orioles uniform in franchise history. He spent 13 of his 17 pro seasons with Baltimore and was one of the best outfielders in Major League Baseball during his playing career.
Blair was an eight-time Gold Glove Award winner, winning seven straight from 1969 – 1975. Known for his great fielding ability, Blair owned a .988 fielding percentage over the course of his nearly two-decade-long career. Playing primarily in center field, Blair averaged less than five errors a season.
In three different seasons, Blair finished in the top five in outfield assists, logging 13 assists in 1967, 14 in 1969, and 14 in 1973. Blair had a great arm and was able to throw runners out at any base. He recorded 34 assists at second base, 28 at third base, and 24 at home plate in his career. For reference, Orioles center fielders combined for just three outfield assists in 2019.
Throughout his career, Blair was a decent hitter, owning a career slash line of .250/.302/.382 with 134 home runs, 1,513 total hits, and 171 stolen bases. Clearly, his defense was his carrying tool. Half of his career WAR (37.8) came from his defensive value.
Despite playing extremely shallow throughout his career, balls rarely found their way past Blair. In an interview with USA Today Baseball Weekly in 1997, Blair said, “”I was taught to play defense. Back in our day it was pitching and defense. Our philosophy (the Oriole way) was don’t make the little mistakes that cost you ballgames. That is the way we won over such a long period of time.”
Growing up, Paul Blair was one of my favorite players and a role model to look up to. Meeting him at an Alumni Monday on Eutaw Street was a life-changing experience. Living fairly close to me right before he passed away, it was always nice to say hello and chat for a little while at Oriole Park.
Paul Blair will forever go down as one of the greatest Orioles to ever play. He currently ranks eighth in career-WAR for position players (fifth in Defensive WAR), seventh in games played (1,700), and ninth in total outs made (4,526).