SABR

Doug Bair

This article was written by David MacGregor.

There is no definitive record of precisely when Charles Douglas Bair began playing baseball, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that he was working on his two-seam fastball before he could walk. Simply put, Doug Bair is a baseball man. He always has been, and it’s a good bet that he always will be. Born in Defiance, Ohio, on August 22, 1949, to Charles E. and Roberta (Merritte) Bair, Doug was one of four children. His father worked at the Continental Can Company for 46 years, and with that kind of job security, the family stayed put. Bair went to Defiance High School and then enrolled at Bowling Green State University.

It was there that Bair established himself as one of the best college pitchers in the country. He pitched a no-hitter against Miami (Ohio) on April 24, 1970, and was named to the second team All-Mid-American Conference. In 1971, Bair’s 120 strikeouts set a conference record, and he was named to the first team All-MAC. On June 8, he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the second round of the free agent draft, and signed with the Pirates later that month. Being drafted by Pittsburgh proved to be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it was nice being part of an organization that would go on to win the World Series in 1971, but on the other hand it was harder to ascend to the big-league roster.

And so began Bair’s odyssey through the minor leagues. He was first sent to the Salem Rebels, the Pirates’ Class A affiliate in the Carolina League, and before the season was over he had progressed to the Double-A Waterbury Pirates in the Eastern League. In 1972, he was back at Salem (with the Rebels now known as the Pirates) and, after compiling a 15-7 record with a 2.85 earned-run average, he was promoted to the Pirates’ top farm club, the Charleston Charlies of the Triple-A International League, where he was 0-1. Bair spent the next four seasons, through 1976, at Charleston. In his first full season there,1973, the Charlies won the league’s South Division championship, but lost to Pawtucket in the playoff finals. While in Charleston, Bair played alongside former and future big leaguers Dave Parker, Kent Tekulve, and Tony La Russa. Bair met Charleston native Connie Lea Taylor and married her on October 22, 1977. One oddity of Bair's minor-league career was that he was exclusively a starter through 1975, and then exclusively a reliever from 1976 on -- a trend that continued in the majors until one 1983 start in Detroit.

Bair finally made his big-league debut for the Pirates on September 13, 1976. Brought up at the end of the season, he pitched 6⅓ innings in four games, giving up four hits ands four runs. In his big-league bow, he pitched two perfect innings, the eighth and ninth frames of a 5-0 loss to the New York Mets. Then, just before the 1977 season opener, he was traded. In what is considered by some as one of the more lopsided trades in major-league history, Bair, Mitchell Page, Tony Armas, Rick Langford, Doc Medich, and Dave Giusti were sent to the Oakland A’s for Chris Batton, Tommy Helms, and Phil Garner. (The Pirates won a World Series in 1979 with Garner in the lineup.) Bair pitched four games in April for Oakland, but before the month was out was dispatched to its Triple-A affiliate, the San Jose Missions in the Pacific Coast League. Bair was recalled in midseason to bolster the A’s relief corps. He did a serviceable job, posting a 3.46 ERA with eight saves in 45 games including his April stint, but was traded once again during spring training in 1978.

This time, Bair was sent to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for Dave Revering and a cash. It turned out to be an excellent deal for the Reds, for 1978 turned out to be Bair’s annus mirabilis. Under the eye of manager Sparky Anderson, he relieved in 70 games, accounting for 28 saves and posting a sterling 1.97 ERA, along with seven wins. Despite Bair’s efforts, Cincinnati failed to make the playoffs. But in 1979 Bair got his first taste of postseason action, against his old team, the Pirates, after the Reds won the West Division title, with Bair contributing an 11-7 record, all in relief, and 16 saves. But the Reds were swept in three games in the National League Championship Series, with Bair taking the loss in Game Two by giving up the winning run in the tenth inning.

After pitching for a third season for the Reds in 1980, going 3-6 with six saves, Bair could be forgiven if he thought he might not be such a travelin’ man. But as the 1981 season wound down, Bair found himself on the move once again, this time being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals on September 10 for Joe Edelen and Neil Fiala. Both the Cardinals and the Reds were excellent teams that year, with the Reds finishing with the best record in the West Division and the Cardinals compiling the best record in the East. However, neither the Reds nor the Cardinals qualified for postseason play because this was the strike-shortened 1981 season, and Major League Baseball resorted to a split-season format to determine which teams made the playoffs. So it was that Bair (4-2 overall), Edelen, and Fiala came to share the dubious distinction of playing for the teams with the two best records in the National League but not making the playoffs.

That changed change for Bair in 1982, as the Cardinals again compiled the best record in the NL East. In the NL Championship Series, the Cardinals swept the Atlanta Braves in three games. Bair’s only appearance came in Game Two as he relieved starter John Stuper before giving way to Bruce Sutter, who collected the win as the Cardinals came from behind. In the World Series, the Cardinals faced the Milwaukee Brewers in a seesaw battle that went the limit, with the Cardinals finally triumphing, 6-3, in Game Seven at Busch Stadium. Bair took the loss in Game Four, giving up a walk and a single to the only two batters he faced as the Brewers won the game with a six-run seventh inning. He pitched two scoreless innings in Game Two and walked the only batter he faced in Game Three. Manager Whitey Herzog kept him on the bench for the remainder of the Series.

Halfway through the 1983 season, Bair found himself back in the American League, as the Cardinals traded him to the Tigers for a player to be named later, pitcher Dave Rucker. Bair may have had reason to complain about the manner in which he kept getting bounced from team to team, but he certainly couldn’t complain about the quality of the teams he was sent to. After being drafted by the 1971 Pirates, he played on the Reds of the late 1970s, the Cardinals of the early 1980s, and finally the Tigers of the mid-1980s. For the '83 season, he was 1-1 with one save in 26 games for the Cards, but an impressive 7-3 with four saves in 27 appearances for Detroit.

Reunited with manager Sparky Anderson, Bair found himself once again on a powerhouse team, this time a club that rocketed off to a 35-5 start to begin the 1984 season -- a good thing since, as a free agent, he had chosen to re-sign with Detroit for 1984. Throughout the year, much was made of the relative youth of the Tigers, and in his diary from that year, Bless You Boys, Anderson repeatedly refers to his players as “our kids.” At the age of 34, Bair was one of the veterans on the club, and he held the distinction of being the only player on the team who could slip on a World Series ring for special occasions. Milt Wilcox, Dave Bergman, and Willie Hernandez were the only other Tigers players to make it to the 1984 playoffs who had seen postseason action, but none of them had played on a World Series winner as Bair had.

For his part, Anderson was delighted to have Bair on his squad, saying on April 13, “Doug is throwing just like when I first got him at Cincinnati back in 1978. His confidence is back and he has a better slider. He will be very important in long relief to help us get to Lopez and Hernandez later in the game.” In his own diary of the 1984 season, Inside Pitch, pitching coach Roger Craig echoed this sentiment, calling Bair “the unsung hero of my staff” and adding, “I have the best relief staff of any club with Hernandez, Lopez, Bair, and Rozema.” The statistics bear out Bair’s effectiveness early in the season. After Detroit's first 70 games, Bair was 4-0 with three saves and a 3.14 ERA.

After a fine half-season, however, Bair’s performance fell off. To rest his starters, Anderson gave Bair, with a 2.63 ERA at the time, his only start of the season on July 8, the day before the All-Star break. Bair responded by giving up six runs in 2⅔ innings, and never quite recaptured his early-season form. As Craig lamented in August, “He has fallen into a bad habit of failing to use the fastball -- his best pitch -- to put away batters. Doug often gets ahead in the count and then tries to finesse batters instead of going after them aggressively.” Anderson echoed this sentiment, saying, “Doug Bair is having a tough time.” Bair pulled a muscle in his right side in September and missed nine days, but came back and got the victory against the Yankees in New York, the Tigers’ 103rd win of the season, which tied the club record for victories in a season.

Bair did not appear in the American League Championship Series, in which the Tigers handily swept the Kansas City Royals in three games. He pitched pitch in only one game of the World Series, Game Two in San Diego. With starter Dan Petry unable to hold the 3-0 lead he was staked to in the first inning, Bair was one of several relievers brought in to hold the Padres at bay. With San Diego ahead 5-3 in the seventh inning, Bair relieved Bill Scherrer with one out and Kurt Bevacqua on first. Bair struck out the only batter he faced, Carmelo Martinez, and Bevacqua was thrown out trying to steal second to end the inning. San Diego wore down the rest of the bullpen in that game, and the Tigers suffered their only loss in the World Series.

Despite picking up his second World Series ring, Bair was soon on the move again. Released by the Tigers on August 22, 1985, Bair was picked up by one of his old teams, the Cardinals, but pitched just two innings for them the rest of the year. Granted free agency after the season, Bair began the 1986 season pitching for the Tacoma Tigers, the Triple-A affiliate of another of his old teams, Oakland, and eventually worked his way back to the big league club, where he was 2-3 with four saves. This became the pattern in his career over the next few years.

Bair began 1987 pitching for the Triple-A Maine Guides of the International League before being called up by the Philadelphia Phillies. In 1988 he started in Triple A with the Syracuse Chiefs before being called up to the Toronto Blue Jays. In 1989 he began again with the Chiefs before being sold to yet another of his old teams, the Pirates, for whom he pitched from mid-June to the end of the campaign (2-3, one save) and again at the start of the 1990 season before being demoted to the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons. Bair was called up to the Pirates in mid-August for what turned out to be his last stint in the major leagues. Having begun his major-league pitching career with the Pirates, he had come full circle to end it with them as well, appearing in his last major-league game on October 3, 1990, the last day of the regular season. But this didn’t mean Doug Bair was done pitching. In 1991 he pitched for Triple-A clubs in the Tigers and Blue Jays organizations, and in 1992 he started six games for the Edmonton Trappers of the Pacific Coast League, the Triple-A affiliate of the California Angels. Those six starts were more than he had compiled in his 15-year major-league career. And was Doug Bair, now 42 years old, finally done pitching? Well, no.

After a childhood, college career, and adulthood spent throwing a ball, Bair was in no mood to stop now. There was still the Men’s Senior Baseball League (otherwise known as the Roy Hobbs League) in Ohio. Anyone who has played professionally has to wait a year before joining the league, but once he was eligible, Bair signed up to play in the replica of Crosley Field that was built in Blue Ash, Ohio. Later, Bair returned to organized baseball as a pitching coach. In 2006 he was the pitching coach for the Billings Mustangs, the Rookie-level minor league affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. In 2007 and 2008 he was with the Dayton Dragons, the Reds’ low-A affiliate in the Midwest League.

At 6 feet tall and listed at weighing between 170 and 180 pounds, Bair was never an especially intimidating presence on the mound, but he was a hard-throwing right-hander whose best pitch was his fastball. When given a choice, he favored the uniform number 40. He played on some of the best teams of his era and for some of the game’s most legendary managers as well (Whitey Herzog, Sparky Anderson, and Tony La Russa). Despite his 15 seasons in the major leagues (and 14 seasons in the minor leagues) and two World Series titles, it’s unlikely Bair will ever receive a call from Cooperstown. His stellar 1978 season aside, Bair was essentially a journeyman middle reliever who twice was on the right team at the right time. Still, his résumé lists two halls of fame: He was inducted into the Bowling Green State University Hall of Fame in 1978 and the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Fame in 2008. As Sparky Anderson enthused, “There’ll never be another bullpen like that of the Tigers of 1984. Never. There couldn’t be.” Doug Bair was an integral part of that bullpen. And many others.

 

Sources

Anderson, Sparky. Bless You Boys. Chicago: Contemporary Books. 1984.

Craig, Roger. Inside Pitch. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1984.

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