February 1 – Happy Birthday Paul Blair
Paul Blair’s best days were behind him when the Yankees traded their former starting center fielder, Elliott Maddox to the Orioles in January of 1977, to acquire the eight-time Gold Glove winner. For the next two seasons, New York used Blair mostly as a late-inning defensive replacement for the moody Mickey Rivers. Blair performed perfectly in that role and won two more World Series rings while in Pinstripes to add to the two he had already won with Baltimore.
His most famous Yankee moment took place in a June, 1977 game against the Red Sox in Fenway and as usual, Blair was sitting on the bench when that contest started. At the time, New York was two games behind the Red Sox in the AL East pennant race and the mercurial Billy Martin was trying to fend off the meddling of Yankee owner George Steinbrenner with his on-the-field moves. At the same time, Martin hated his star player, Reggie Jackson and the feeling was mutual.
In the sixth inning of the contest, Jim Rice hit a ball to right field and Jackson misplayed it into a double for Rice. A livid Martin felt Reggie loafed on the play and immediately sent Blair to right field to replace his outspoken superstar. I’ll never forget Blair shrugging his shoulders as a disbelieving Jackson ran past him toward the Yankee dugout. The chaotic scene that followed in the Yankee dugout has to be one of the low points in Yankee franchise history.
Blair, who was born in Cushing, Oklahoma on February 1, 1944, was once asked to compare playing for his Oriole manager, Earl Weaver to playing for Martin. Blair responded that both were fiery and demanding but that Weaver was forgiving while Martin held grudges forever.