Bumbry on Blair: “I loved to watch him play”

Al Bumbry was named the American League’s Rookie of the Year back in 1973. He played most of his games for the Orioles in left field.

Center field was occupied by a guy who would win eight Gold Gloves, including seven in a row.

Bumbry was teammates with Paul Blair during his first four seasons in the majors, taking over in center field in 1977.

“I learned a lot watching him and talking to him about playing center field,” Bumbry said of Blair, who died tonight of an apparent heart attack at age 69. “I was smart enough to realize the guy won a lot of Gold Gloves. He must know something.”

A friend texted Bumbry tonight with news that Blair had been rushed to the hospital after collapsing in a Pikesville bowling alley.

“As soon as I got the text, I knew he was doing one of the two things he loved most - either golf or bowling,” Bumbry said.

Only Brooks Robinson (16) has more Gold Gloves than Blair among Orioles players.

“I loved watching him play,” Bumbry said. “He was so good at going back on balls. He played shallow and it would piss off Earl (Weaver) when a ball would go over his head, which was rare.

“I think two went over his head in Minnesota and Earl was screaming at Blair after the second one. He told Blair to back up. The next inning, Earl’s on the top step of the dugout, yelling, ‘Back up, back up.’ After that, I think he played on the edge of the warning track to spite Earl. But he was so good.”

Weaver died of a heart attack in January, the morning of the Orioles’ annual FanFest, while on a cruise ship.

Bumbry and Blair became closer friends after retirement.

“Especially the last five or six years,” Bumbry said. “He always played golf and we’d be at a lot of the same events. And we’d visit suites together (at Camden Yards). I really got to know him better.”

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