Paul Blair, the could-have-been Met

In 1961, the newly minted expansion New York Mets started signing eligible players, before the MLB team had ever taken the field. Among the first signees was 18 year old outfielder Paul Blair, signed for a $2000 dollar bonus right out of high school by west coast scout Babe Herman. Herman, by the way, had been a hard-hitting outfielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the ‘20s and ‘30s. Blair would go on to a very successful MLB career… but not for the Mets.

The culprit was an MLB program, the first year draft, that was in effect in one form or another from 1959-1964. It only applied to minor leaguers who had completed their first year in organized baseball. Each team was allowed to protect one first year player. But the rest of the first year players were vulnerable to being claimed in the draft for $8,000.00. Teams could protect other first year players by putting them on the 25 man roster, but they would have to stay there all season, they could not be optioned with the exception, of course, of the one protected man.

The Mets assigned Blair to Santa Barbara of the Class C California League for the last part of the 1961 season. He was overmatched there, producing a slash line of .228/.317/.391. He did go to the Florida Instructional league that fall, and apparently played much better there. He caught the eye of an Oriole scout and they claimed Blair from the Mets.

Blair went on to have a great career, mostly with Baltimore. The speedy center fielder with great instincts and a strong arm went on to win eight gold gloves at that premium position. Note that all Met outfielders combined have won a total of five gold gloves since the team started in 1962.

Blair played for the fine Oriole teams of the mid 60s to the mid 70s, including the World Series winning 1970 team, and the ‘69 team that lost to the Mets. One of his best years was 1967, with a slash line of .293/.353/.446. That line was put up right in the so called modern dead ball era with the enlarged strike zone and elevated mound that reduced offensive numbers across the board.

The first year draft had been implemented by MLB to hold down the big bonuses that were being paid to amateur free agents. If a big budget team signed two players to $100,000 bonuses, they would likely lose the unprotected one or else keep the youngster on the team all year. Some pretty good players were claimed due to the rule, future stars Glenn Beckert, Lou Piniella and Jim Wynn were all claimed in the same year that Blair was.

It seem especially punitive that expansion teams like the Mets were subject to this draft rule. They had started from nothing, and seemingly were penalized for being diligent in scouting and signing players. The owners relented and allowed the four expansion teams, the Mets, Houston, Angels and Senators to protect four first year players. However that rule was enacted in December of 1963, after Blair had been grabbed by the Orioles.

It would have been nice for the Mets to have had an outfield of Blair, flanked by Cleon Jones and Tommie Agee, for many years. If the Mets had managed to keep Blair, there might have been a different outcome to the 1973 World Series. The A’s beat the Mets, four games to three, with two of the Met losses being by one run. Don Hahn played center for the Mets in that series, and it could have been a different outcome with Blair in the outfield.

17 comments for “Paul Blair, the could-have-been Met

  1. TexasGusCC
    November 21, 2017 at 9:16 am

    Nice research John, sad ending.

  2. Chris F
    November 21, 2017 at 9:23 am

    Awesome, but like Gus said, sad outcome.

  3. Steevy
    November 21, 2017 at 9:55 am

    Of course the Mets had Amos Otis in the minors too…

  4. Jimmy P
    November 21, 2017 at 10:14 am

    Of course, if Mets had Blair they would have never traded for Agee.

    When I think of Paul Blair, I remember that he played a very shallow CF. He was always known for that.

    Side note: In Sandy’s time with the Mets, the club has won one Gold Glove.

    • John Fox
      November 21, 2017 at 10:29 am

      Jimmy,

      I think there is a good chance they still trade for Agee, Gil Hodges pushed for the trade, he had seen Agee play when Hodges managed against him in the AL. Agee could easily shift to right field with his good arm.

      • Chris F
        November 21, 2017 at 10:57 am

        of course would we have had Swaboda’s catch then?

        • Jimmy P
          November 21, 2017 at 11:09 am

          It’s why I usually hate time travel in movies and books. It all unravels if you pull on that string too hard.

  5. November 21, 2017 at 12:22 pm

    The real culprit in the 1973 loss was Yogi Berra starting Tom Seaver on three days rest bypassing George (12-3) Stone. Seaver, Matlack and Koosman all could have been available for the Game 7, had it gone there.

  6. Jimmy P
    November 21, 2017 at 1:19 pm

    Speaking of Don Hahn!

    Came across his name last night in Jonah Keri’s book on the Expos, “Up, Up, & Away.” Hahn played for Expos in 1969, starting their first game ever in CF. In 1971, he was traded to Mets for Ron Swaboda.

    But the other ex-Met who got my attention in that book was Doug Flynn, who put up these extraordinary numbers for the Expos:

    1982: .244/.256/.295
    1983: .237/.267/.294
    1984: .243/.267/.281

    He sure was consistent! Zero power and he never walked. Somehow he got 4,085 PAs (more than 1/2 with the Mets) across 11 seasons with a career OPS of .560. 151 walks in his entire career! The glove was good, but it wasn’t *that* good!

    • TexasGusCC
      November 21, 2017 at 2:33 pm

      Yikes!

  7. Steevy
    November 21, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    Amos Otis was way better than Paul Blair and the Mets traded him for nothing.

    https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/o/otisam01.shtml

  8. Pete from NJ
    November 21, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    My first reaction was Paul Blair=Juan Lagares. The Orioles used Don Buford in center on occasions because it was percieved thst Blair was a weak hitter. Maybe Juan is a deja vu.

    • John Fox
      November 21, 2017 at 4:04 pm

      Blair was tremendous on defense, as to his offense, his batting stats suffered a bit from 1970-1972, he was hit by a fastball in the face during the 1970 season. He was then a bit gunshy at the plate hurting his production, then after seeing a hypnotist his numbers improved again starting in 1973, then as he aged his numbers fell off again.

    • Name
      November 21, 2017 at 6:33 pm

      I don’t know who this Blair guy is, but my first comparison when i looked at his stats was a poor man’s Andruw Jones.

      Both came up young, Jones first season at 20, Blair at 21. Both had a mysteriously bad aged 24 season offensively. Both lost their peak at 31/32 and ended their careers a few years later at 35/36 as a Yankee. Both won 8 Gold gloves in 9 years.

    • Chris F
      November 21, 2017 at 6:40 pm

      Count those gloves made of gold for Blair. If Lagares could do that, and I mean get 8 gold gloves…we could swallow the bat.

      • Jimmy P
        November 22, 2017 at 11:06 am

        Again, my feeling with this Mets team is that there’s a valid argument for standing pat at every position. Lagares in CF because of the glove. d’Arnaud and Plawecki at C because of the lack of options. Cabrera at 3B because his OPS and salary and so on. Rosario at SS needs to play everyday. Dom Smith at 1B because it’s a lost season anyway — the evaluators on the team have to make a decision here — and you never know. And on and on.

        But in *sum”, when you add it all up, there’s too much mediocrity out on the field. You can’t make that type of decision at 4-5 different spots on the field.

        Serious question: Granderson’s 4/$60 contract lapsed. For inflation, let’s make it 4/$70. Who gets that contract this winter?

        The 2011 team was much more interesting, but Sandy had no interest in competing at that time (which I found frustrating).

        But they still could qualify for the WC2. It doesn’t take much. And besides, in 2018 we’re going to make Yoenis drink water!

  9. Vince PMA
    December 3, 2017 at 9:08 am

    The whole losing Paul Blair thing would have been irrelevant had the Mets drafted Jimmy Wynn. The Mets passed on Wynn three times before he was taken by the Colt .45s with the last pick in the draft. Jimmy Wynn had a better career than Otis or Blair.
    Could be Mets include Reggie Jackson, Ron Cey, Richie Allen, Ted Simmons, Jim Rice, George Brett, Mike Schmidt and Thurman Munson. All of those players were available to the Mets and they passed.

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