I can recall this clear as day. It’s October 3, 1970 and my friend Dennis’ dad is hovering around his television set in Sarasota, Florida. Game two of the AL Championship series had just concluded. That’s the game in which Mike Cuellar jogged lazily to first base as his fly ball to right field looked to go foul. And then he sped up a little when the ball blew fair for a grand slam homer. The O’s had a seven-run fourth inning and blasted the Minnesota Twins 10-6 to take a commanding 2-0 lead in a five-game series.
Lost in this game was a seventh-inning line drive off the bat of Minnesota’s Brant Alyea. I watched on the Metzger’s television as the world’s best center fielder Paul Blair tried to run Alyea’s ball down. Amazingly, he caught up with it but only flicked the ball with his glove. And then wonder of wonders he grabbed it with his bare hand. What a great catch.
I think NBC with Curt Gowdy announcing was so amazed that they waited until the end of the game and then came back to this stunning play. And just when the world would witness this play again, Mr. Metzger turned the TV off. He did it on purpose knowing that I was a Orioles nut. What was I going to say, touch that television set and you are dead man?
Blair is there. Winner of eight Gold Gloves in center field, he was the premier defensive outfielder in the business.
I am still a little mad about what happened to the magical Blair. It’s May 31, 1970. It’s the sixth inning in Anaheim and the Angels have chased Dave McNally. The Birds were down 6-0. But Boog Powell opens the sixth with his 15th homer and Blair follows with a single. Pitcher Ken Tatum relieves and fires a wild pitch sending Blair to second. The rally died there.
The next time Powell batted, Tatum hit him with a pitch. Blair was up next. And Tatum hit Blair as well. Blair did not get up.
He had sustained a broken orbital bone, fractured nose and sustained double vision. This was devastating. Blair was fresh off his best season (1969) when he bashed 26 homers. And in 70, he was off to another fine start.
I was mad as heck. How dare someone throw at Blair. I can still recall my late Aunt Lillian (life-long Red Sox fan) complaining about Tatum as well. Her Sox got two Tatums in the same deal in 1970. That was Tatum and outfielder Jarvis Tatum (no relation) as well. Tony Conigliaro (another beaning victim) went to California.
“We got two Tatums,” my Aunt said. “And they both stunk.”
She even laughed at her own line.
Ken Tatum didn’t kill Blair that day but I do think it slowed down Blair’s progress at the plate.
In better news, Blair’s post-season career in Baltimore was impressive. He won game three of the 1966 World Series with a fifth-inning homer off Dodgers lefty Claude Osteen. He went 3-for-3 in game three of the 70 World Series. He had three more hits in the World Series’ clinching fifth game.
Even though he went off to the hated Yankees, Blair managed to get 66 World Series at-bats and hit .288 in those six World Series.