Doug Bair wore seven uniforms during his 15-year career in the majors, accumulating two World Series rings to his credit.
Bair was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the second round out of Bowling Green State University in 1971. However, he didn’t reach the major leagues until Sept. 13, 1976, when he pitched two innings against the New York Mets.
Bair played the 1977 campaign with Oakland, landing in Cincinnati in 1978. Bair eventually pitched for St. Louis, Detroit, Philadelphia and Toronto, as well. His last pitch came on Oct. 3, 1990.
“The big league experience is not explainable,” Bair said. “You cannot put it in a couple of sentences. It is the ultimate experience.
“I was a fastball, curveball, slider pitcher. I started my career as a starter in the minor leagues. I went to the bullpen my last year in the minor leagues and basically was a relief pitcher throughout my major league career. I was very happy with that. I wouldn’t really say starting or relieving was better than the other. Some like to be starters; some like to be relievers. I don’t regret being a relief pitcher – there was a lot of satisfaction.”
Bair had a 55-43 lifetime record, starting just five games among his 584 major league games. He notched 81 saves in more than 900 innings.
“There are players who play 20 years in the big leagues, but never reach the World Series,” said Bair, born in Defiance, Ohio. “I played 15 years at the major league level, and got into three different World Series.”
Bair secured a World Series ring with the 1982 Cardinals and 1984 Tigers.
“If you ask anyone who has played in a World Series, or for multiple World Series teams, you have different teams, players, stadiums and coaches every year,” Bair said. “But the one constant is, winning teams have guys who know how to play the game, guys who can get a runner over, draw a walk, hit a sacrifice fly, pitch in different situations, get people out, etc. And starting pitchers know how to pitch six or seven innings.”
Bair had his best season in 1979, compiling an 11-7 record for the Reds, along with 6 saves. In 1978, he had a career-best 28 saves.
“The first time I got into the World Series, I just thanked my lucky stars and all-mighty God for giving me the ability to get into that situation,” Bair said. “I was very thankful to the people who helped out me there. It was a dream come true.
“When you’re a little boy, you always dream of playing in the big leagues, let alone the World Series. When you’re a little boy, you emulate different players, such as Al Kaline or Lance Parrish or others. I had made it to the major leagues.”
Bair pitched two innings for the 1982 Cardinals in the World Series, getting a loss in the process. He pitched two-thirds of an inning for the Tigers in the 1984 World Series.
“The one World Series moment I’ll never forget was when I put myself in a difficult situation in the 1982 World Series,” said Bair, referring to being on the mound with the bases loaded, two outs and a 3-2 count on Gorman Thomas, who led the league in home runs that season.
“I still remember turning around behind the mound, looking at the scoreboard at Busch Stadium and thinking, ‘Boy, isn’t this outstanding?’ You always dream of being 3-2, pitching to Mickey Mantle in the World Series. Well, it wasn’t Mickey Mantle, but rather Gorman Thomas, who was the home run champion,” Bair continued.
“I thought to myself, ‘What pitch am I going to throw him?’ and decided to go with a slider. Luckily, I struck him out. In that situation, you’re either a hero or a goat. And that particular time, I was the hero. That was a big moment.”
The first major league game Bair ever appeared in was with Pittsburgh, a memory he’ll never forget.
“I also remember pitching in a playoff game with the Reds, a World Series game with the Cardinals, a World Series series game with the Tigers and playing with a number of Hall of Famers. There were a lot of very good memories,” he said.
“In Cincinnati, we really had some great players. We had Tom Seaver, Johnny Bench, Dan Driessen, Joe Morgan, Dave Concepcion, Pete Rose, George Foster, Cesar Geronimo and Ken Griffey. We had guys who could play.
“It was the same thing in Detroit and St. Louis,” Bair continued. “And that’s what it takes to put together a winning team – you got to have players.”
One player Bair enjoyed playing against was Andre Dawson, one of the toughest hitters he ever had to face.
“Dawson could do it all, not only offensively, but defensively, too,” Bair said. “He was outstanding. If you asked me who I’d rather face with two outs and a runner on second base, be it Gary Carter or Andre Dawson – duh, I’m facing Gary Carter. Andre Dawson could hit, period. He could hit for power and also hit for average. It boggles my mind that he’s not in the Hall of Fame.”
The autograph that got away
Bair is now working for the Reds’ Class-A affiliate in the Midwest League, based in Dayton, Ohio. This follows a coaching career in the high school and college ranks.
“It would be fun to coach at the major league level,” Bair said. “I think every minor league coach wants to do that, but that’s difficult to do sometimes. It depends on where you’re at, what the parent’s teams needs are, timing, etc.”
Bair said he attends several card shows annually, including an appeareance at the Gibraltar Trade Center in Mt. Clemens, Mich.
“It makes me fell good when people now ask for my autograph, especailly since it’s almost 20 years since I retured,” Bair said. “Every time I’ve been to Gibraltar, we’ve always had some real good turnouts.
“Of the seven organizations that I played for, the Detroit Tigers probably have one of the best fan bases in all of baseball. I cannot speak for the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers or Chicago Cubs, but Detroit fans are very good.”
Bair is not a collector, even though he played with and against some of the game’s greatest ever.
“Of all the people I played with and rubbed shoulders with, I had the opportunity to get a lot of autographs, but I didn’t do it,” he said. “You don’t think too much about it when you’re a player, when you’re on the field,” Bair said. “It just never struck me to ask for autographs when I was playing. And that doesn’t upset me now.”
Bair, for instance, met Roberto Clemente.
“I could have gotten a baseball signed by him, but I failed to do so. I kind of regret not getting his autograph.”
Bair’s memorabilia collection includes team-signed baseballs, with signatures that include Seaver, Bench, Lou Whittaker, Ozzie Smith and others.
Bair still received fan mail at home, about 100-200 letters annually. And, yes, he answers it.
Bair said he is not surprised how big the collectibles industry has gotten.
“Americans have always been sports oriented,” he said. “Everyone always wants to be the big-time football player and the big-league baseball player. And it’s always been that way.
“I have most of my old cards. It seems like they always took your picture right after you finished running, thus you were sweaty and your hair was all messed up. It just seems like they took pictures when you weren’t looking your best.”
Ross Forman is a frequent contributor to Sports Collectors Digest and our sister publication, Tuff Stuff’s Sports Collectors Monthly.