Blair was born in Cushing, Oklahoma but grew up in Los Angeles where he attended Manual Arts High School. An accomplished athlete, he played basketball, baseball and track while a student. Blair was originally signed by the New York Mets as an amateur free agent in 1961. After spending the 1962 season in their farm system, he was drafted by the Orioles in the 1962 first-year draft.
He broke into the Orioles’ lineup in 1965 and, despite hitting only .234 with five home runs and 25 runs batted in, impressed many with his defensive skills. In 1966 he batted .277 and won his first of four World Series titles. In Games Three and Four of that World Series, which the Frank Robinson-led Orioles swept from the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers in four games, Blair played a major role in 1-0 shutouts by Wally Bunker and Dave McNally respectively, hitting a 430-foot home run off Claude Osteen in Game Three, and robbing Jim Lefebvre of an eighth-inning home run that would have tied Game Four. Blair also caught Lou Johnson’s fly ball for the final out of the Series.
In 1967 Blair established a career high .293 batting average with 11 home runs and 64 RBIs, along with an American League-leading 12 triples. He also won the first of his eight Gold Glove Awards. After slumping to .211 in 1968, Blair had perhaps his best season in 1969. Batting second behind Don Buford in the Orioles’ lineup, he hit .285 with career highs in home runs (26), runs batted in (76) and runs (102). He also made the All-Star team for the first time; he would repeat this feat in 1973. His Orioles won the pennant, with Blair becoming the first player to have 5 hits in a post-season game, with 5 hits in 6 at-bats against the Minnesota Twins on October 6. The Orioles lost to the Miracle Mets in the World Series. Blair went only 2-for-20 in that Series, including being the victim of one of Tommie Agee’s two spectacular Game Three catches (Agee had also robbed Elrod Hendricks earlier in the game). On that Agee catch, Blair would be the first batter Nolan Ryan would face in a World Series—the only World Series game the Hall of Fame pitcher would participate in. One of Blair’s two hits came in the seventh inning of Game Two; it broke up Jerry Koosman’s bid for a no-hitter.
On May 31, 1970 Blair was beaned by California Angel pitcher Ken Tatum and suffered a broken nose. He recovered quickly, finishing the season batting .267. That year, Baltimore won another pennant and defeated the Cincinnati Reds in five games in World Series. Both Blair and Series MVP Brooks Robinson atoned for their 1969 World Series performances (Robinson went 1-for-19, the lone hit coming in Game Two, scoring Blair; he was himself the victim of a spectacular catch, by Ron Swoboda in Game Four) by tying a five-game Fall Classic record with nine hits apiece. In 1971 Blair took up switch-hitting but stopped after batting only .193 (11-for-57). He finished the season hitting .262. His Orioles won another pennant, but lost the World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates in seven games.
Blair’s speed going back in the outfield enabled him to play shallow, and make catches à la Willie Mays. In each of the Orioles’ three consecutive World Series seasons, Blair won a Gold Glove. He would also win a Gold Glove over the next four seasons, his last Gold Glove in 1975 coinciding with teammate Brooks Robinson winning his 16th consecutive—and last—Gold Glove at third base. On January 20, 1977, Blair was traded to the New York Yankees for outfielders Elliott Maddox and Rick Bladt. On June 18 of that year in a nationally televised game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, he was tangentially involved in one of the most bizarre scenes in baseball history. Yankee manager Billy Martin took right fielder Reggie Jackson out of the game and replaced him with Blair after Jackson had misplayed Jim Rice’s fly ball for a double. As the cameras watched, Jackson and Martin nearly came to blows.
Actor Seth Gilliam played Blair in one episode of the ESPN mini-series The Bronx is Burning. The mini-series chronicled the 1977 Yankees season. After winning World Series titles with the Yankees in 1977 and 1978, Blair was released early in the 1979 season. The Cincinnati Reds signed him as a free agent less than a month later, and Blair returned to the Yankees in May of 1980. He retired after the Yankees released him a second time, on July 1 of that year. In his 17-year career, Blair, whose nickname, “Motormouth,” came from his talkative nature, batted .250 with 134 home runs and 620 RBIs, 1513 hits and 171 stolen bases in 1947 games played. He was also one of the top bunters in the game, recording at least 10 sacrifice hits four times in his career, including 17 during the 1975 season.
At the end of his playing career Blair was hired as an outfield instructor for the Yankees in 1981. In August 1982 he was named the head coach at Fordham University. Blair only coached one season at Fordham with the team finishing with a 14-19 record. He would then go back to work as an outfield instructor with the Houston Astros and as a third base coach for the Orioles Triple A team in Rochester and worked in that capacity until 1985. In 1989 he would play for the Gold Coast Suns in the newly formed Senior Professional Baseball Association, though the league would fold after the season. Blair would get his next shot at coaching in 1995 when he was named the manager of the Yonkers Hoot Owls in the newly formed Northeast League, an independent league of professional baseball. The team would last just one season and would finish a dismal 12-52. Blair would get his next, and last, shot at coaching in 1998 when he was named as the head coach for the Coppin State College baseball team. Blair would coach the team from 1998-2002. Unfortunately, his overall record at Coppin State would be a disappointing 30-185.
After his retirement from coaching, Blair lived in Woodstock, Maryland with his wife, Gloria. In his retirement, Blair often appeared in celebrity golf and bowling tournaments. At the time of his death, he was known for working out at Triangle Fitness in Eldersburg, Maryland and bowling at Kings Point Lanes in Reisterstown, Maryland. His son Paul Blair III played eight years in the minors for the San Francisco Giants and the Chicago Cubs. On December 26, 2013, Blair suffered a heart attack and lost consciousness while playing in a celebrity bowling tournament in Pikesville, Maryland. He was taken by ambulance to Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, where he was pronounced dead.
- February, 01, 1944
- Cushing, Oklahoma
- December, 26, 2013
- Pikesville, Maryland