Next week, the Baltimore City Council will declare Sept. 12, 2014 "Paul Blair Day" in Baltimore.
It will be a day of big emotion for Blair's widow, longtime Baltimore County special education teacher Gloria Blair, who grew up in the 500 block of North Calhoun Street and is expected to be in Council chambers when the proclamation is read.
And it's the big stuff from childhood that ignited fans to bring this day about, memories of glorious Baltimore baseball from long-gone youth bringing everyday Baltimoreans together to honor the Orioles’ great centerfielder a year after his death.
At the double header that Friday against the pin-striped brutes from Gotham, my buddy (and fellow CP contributor) Charlie Vascellaro and I are asking all Orioles fans to come to the Yard with homemade signs that say: "WE LOVE PAUL BLAIR!"
The celebration marks the 50th anniversary of Blair's major league debut on Sept. 9, 1964.
To quote Blair's widow, Gloria: "It sounds like a lovely idea."
I was a terrible baseball player. Not the most awful on my Little League team, but close to it and, even worse, afraid of the ball.
But I loved the game the way a schoolboy loves his pie, and if you happened to be a Baltimore kid who lived for baseball in the late 1960s and early 1970s, you could believe that the home team went to the World Series just about every year. It was a Crabtown birthright, like talking funny.
At the height of the Earl Weaver dynasty, before the Opening Day 1971, Baltimore native Frank Deford declared in Sports Illustrated that the Orioles were "The Best Damn Team in Baseball."
In 1969, I attended the only World Series game the Orioles won against the ridiculously Amazin' Mets (it was the opener, Mike Cuellar on the mound) and the following year I was again at Memorial Stadium when Dave McNally hit the only grand slam by a pitcher in a World Series.
I knew I had no chance to be another Frank Robinson—F. Robby wasn't afraid of a Buick, much less a fastball. Boog Powell was twice the size of any relative on either side of my family. And on the mound—not that I ever pitched in a real game—I was more like Keith Moon than Jim Palmer: WILD!
But maybe, just maybe, because I was fast and moved well, perhaps I could become Paul Blair, the greatest centerfielder in the history of the modern-day Orioles: thin and fleet and graceful and cool, the winner of eight Gold Gloves for defense—seven of them in a row from 1969 through 1975—and an all-around good guy who always had time for an autograph.
When I played catch on vacation in Ocean City with my good friend Gregory Lukowkski—now a Chesapeake Bay pilot, the son of Jerome, my father’s best friend from the Thames Street tugboats—Greg would throw the ball high in the air. I'd circle beneath it while mimicking Chuck Thompson doing the play-by-play: "Blair gets under the high fly, waits . . . and that’s the final out of the game!" As it was in 1966, when Paul caught the last out of the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers after contributing two home runs in the Birds' four games-to-zero sweep.
Beyond debate, Paul Blair is one of the most beloved Orioles of the last 60 years, an anniversary that team ownership is rightfully making a big deal out of this year as the O's grind toward a spot in the playoffs.
Curiously honored this year, in a patch on the uniform sleeves, is Tom Clancy. Until his death last year, two months before Blair's fatal heart attack, the commercially successful writer held a minority interest in the team along with about a dozen others below owner Peter Angelos.
But nothing for Blair, demanding the likes of Vascellaro and myself to ask: "How many games did Tom Clancy play?"
Local business owners, including Andy Farantos of G&A Coney Island Hot Dogs of Highlandtown (a supporter of the recent "Pennies for Poe" campaign) are considering making T-shirts in memory of Blair.
Profits from the shirts, bearing Blair’s No. 6, will go to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a charity was designated by the Blair family.
So get out the poster board and markers and let the national media attending Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter's final visit to Camden Yards the weekend of Sept. 12 know that WE LOVE PAUL BLAIR!