Doug Bair faced one batter in the 1984 World Series. He came into Game Two in San Diego with a runner on first and one out in the bottom of the seventh inning. He threw seven pitches to Carmelo Martinez. On the seventh, the Padres’ left fielder swung and missed to strikeout as Kurt Bevacqua made a break for second base. Lance Parrish pounced from behind the plate and fired a strike to Sweet Lou Whitaker who slapped the tag on the Padre runner to complete the double play. End of inning and end of Bair’s work in the Fall Classic.
Four days later, the Tigers defeated the Padres at home at Tiger Stadium and completed their magical season as world champions. Six months later, Bair received his World Series ring with his teammates as the ’85 season began. It was the pinnacle of the pitcher’s career in the big leagues, a career that brought the mild-mannered blonde to seven cities in a 15-year major league career and started 19 years before he was drafted.
Left-handed relief pitchers are notorious for being valuable, and they can often parlay their wrong-handedness into long careers on the mound. Bair wasn’t left-handed, but he could have been one. He was crafty, efficient, durable, and a bit peculiar. He was a northpaw that seemed like a southpaw.
The first time Bair was noticed for throwing a baseball it was as a lean teenager in Defiance, Ohio, on his high school team. Bair fired a no-hitter as a junior and nearly duplicated the feat in his senior year. Even as a young hurler he had a tightly wound curve and a low fastball that he could put at the knees of the opposing batter. Bowling Green University gave him a partial scholarship, the only school that went that far, and Doug became a Falcon. In his junior year Bair threw another no-hitter and his 120 strikeouts set a Mid American Conference record in his senior year. He was rated one of the best college pitchers in the nation and the Pirates selected him in the second round in the 1971 MLB Draft.
As a minor leaguer, Bair got to know Charleston, West Virginia. The right-hander spent four full seasons in Charleston, and part of another, stuck in the Pirates organization one step below the majors. The biggest knock on Bair was his arm strength. At that time, teams wanted starting pitchers who could finish games. Bair would start the season strong, but tired as it went along. In his final season with Charleston in 1976, the Bucs made Bair a relief pitcher and it paid off for the Ohioan. After 45 games out of the bullpen, Bair was summoned to the Steel City for a cup of coffee in September. He made his debut on the 13th, tossing two perfect innings of relief against the Mets. He liked the way the big leagues felt, and he thought at the age of 26 he might finally be there to stay, but next spring brought more uncertainty.
The official baseball register lists more than twenty transaction entries for Doug Bair. The first trade came in March of ’77 at spring training when the Pirates bundled Bair in a huge nine-player deal with the A’s. The Pirates got Phil Garner from Oakland, while Bair, fellow pitcher Rick Langford, and outfielders Tony Armas and Mitchell Page proved to be the key players headed west to the A’s. Oakland was trying to restock their team after losing marquee players via trades and free agency from their 1972-74 championship teams. On a rebuilding team, Bair was welcomed to a role in the bullpen.
Bair was uneven in his one season with Oakland, allowing a few too many walks early in the year and surrendering 11 home runs in just over 83 innings. The A’s flipped him to Cincinnati in the off-season when the Reds expressed interest in plugging holes in their pen. In Cincy, Bair had his best seasons under Sparky Anderson, who was known as “Captain Hook” because of his willingness to go to the bullpen. With Rawley Eastwick gone via free agency, Bair was inserted as Sparky’s primary closing reliever or what they called a “fireman” in those days. Bair pitched in 70 games and racked up 100 innings, saving 28 games for the Reds. His ERA was only 1.97 and he reduced his walk rate from 6.2 to 3.4 per nine innings.
Bair spent parts of four seasons and pitched 220 games for the Reds, by far his longest stint. In 1981 he was dealt to the Cardinals and began his stretch of stints as a mid-season pennant-race acquisition. With St. Louis, Bair was an important arm out of the bullpen, and in 1982 he was rewarded with a World Series ring when the Redbirds defeated the Brewers in seven games in the Fall Classic. The righty appeared in three games. His celebration in the Arch City was short: during the 1983 season he was acquired by Detroit, reuniting him with Sparky.
With the Tigers, Bair was not the first option in the bullpen for a crisis. Teammates Aurelio Lopez and Willie Hernandez had that job. With those two studs in front of him, Bair was free to serve as a sixth or seventh inning setup man. He was even brought in as early as the fourth or fifth inning on several occasions as the need arose. He racked up only eight saves for the Tigers in three seasons. The ’84 season was the highlight of course, as he and the rest of the Tigers enjoyed a 35-5 start and a near-perfect post-season on their way to the title.
Bair was a different sight out of Sparky’s pen. Where Lopez and Hernandez threw mostly fastballs and screwballs and had flashy personas, Bair looked like a school teacher with blonde hair. He relied on breaking pitches and a high-80s fastball by that part of his career, keeping the ball low to induce ground balls.
Bair returned in ’85 for Detroit, but by this time he was getting a little long in the tooth. The Tigers released him August, and though he latched on with five teams in the ensuing five years, he was inconsistent. The high point late in his career was in 1989 when the 39-year old veteran returned to the team that drafted him. With the Pirates, now with greying hair, Bair had a 2.27 ERA in 44 games and struck out nearly eight batters per nine innings. He finished up his career in 1990 for Pittsburgh.
In all, Bair made 579 relief appearances in the major leagues, saving 81 games and finishing 299. He made only five starts in his career, all of them coming in a Detroit uniform. His most important was on July 8, 1984, when he took the mound for the final game of the first half of the season before the All-Star break. Spark’y staff was exhausted and fourth starter Juan Berenguar had been suffering from a sore elbow. Bair spelled the staff and tossed a few innings, though he was hit pretty hard.
Doug Bair was never a superstar, he was never even an All-Star. He was a journeyman relief pitcher, one that rarely got to be in the game to finish off a win, and one who didn’t amaze fans with a 100-mile-per-hour fastball. He wasn’t a fist-pumping, flashy performer. He was a relatively quiet man who looked like he should have been a school teacher or maybe an accountant. But he was a two-time World Champion and only a few dozen pitchers appeared in more games in big league history. He pitched on some of the best teams of his era and he was a popular teammate. He turns 69 on August 22.