Could Paul Blair have been even better?

Could Paul Blair have been even better?
December 27, 2013, 9:45 am
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(Paul Raphael-USA TODAY Sports)

As great a defensive player as Paul Blair was, the former Orioles center fielder — who died Thursday at 69 — also could be considered a case of what might have been.

Conventional wisdom holds that he never fully recovered as a hitter from a severe beaning he received in 1970 from the Angels’ Ken Tatum, which left him with facial injuries that included a broken nose. Blair supposedly had problems dealing with inside pitches for the rest of his career.

However, five months after the May beaning, Blair had a tremendous World Series at the plate, batting .474. And for his part, Blair said the departure of Frank Robinson had a lot more to do with his lack of hitting than the aftereffects of the beaning.

[RELATED: Paul Blair dies at 69]

“What hurt me more was when the Orioles traded Frank Robinson in 1971,” he told The Sun in 2010. “I’d batted second, and Frank hit third. With him in there, all I saw was fastballs, because who would walk me to get to Frank? But with [Robinson] gone, I started getting sliders and change-ups, which were harder to hit. And I didn’t have the discipline, at the plate, that I had in the field.”

Though Blair never came close again to the 26 home runs he hit in 1969, his batting average didn’t go into steep decline until 1975, when he hit .218. After a .197 season in 1976, he was traded to the Yankees. He finished his career as a .250 hitter over 17 years.

But there was always the stellar defense in center field.

“I worked hard at being a good outfielder, too,” he told The Sun. “That was my way of getting to play every day. I figured that even if I was in a [batting] slump, the pitchers still wanted me out there to offset the mistakes they made.”