In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade's sports section. Blade sports columnist John Harris spoke with Doug Bair, a Defiance native who attended Bowling Green State University and pitched in the major leagues.
It's as if he never left the mound. Doug Bair is still very much involved with baseball, the game he learned as a kid and played into his 40s.
Instead of actually pitching, as he did for 15 years as a middle reliever with seven major league teams - including the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers - Bair, who also played a season with the Mud Hens, now teachers others how to pitch. He's the new pitching coach for the Reds' rookie league team in Billings, Mont., doing what he loves, what he knows best.
Looking back on his playing career, Bair never saw himself as a relief pitcher who recorded 81 saves and made only five starts in 584 games. A hard-throwing right-hander, he had always been a starter and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the second round of the 1971 draft with that in mind.
Then again, Bair never figured on making it big in the big leagues. He said his small-town upbringing taught him to dream but to also keep life in perspective. It's why he may have approached college with more seriousness than other baseball players who took a major league career for granted. Bair never did. He graduated from BGSU in four years with a degree in education. If baseball didn't work out, he planned to teach. Imagine his surprise at his high draft selection, which pushed his teaching career to the background.
Bair didn't reach the majors until he was 27. Once there, he received a quick dose of
reality when he was moved to the bullpen against his will. He was not happy with the switch, but, once again, his ability to adapt may have saved him. Whether he liked it or not, he understood that if he was going to make it in baseball, he would have to make a drastic change, and learn to like it.
Bair played his entire major league career as a middle reliever, pitching an inning or two before turning things over to the closer.
Traded three times in a hectic three-year period, he found a home in Cincinnati, where he had his best individual season in 1978 with 28 saves and a 1.98 ERA in 70 appearances.
Bair was traded from Cincinnati to St. Louis, where he was a member of the Cardinals' 1982 World Series championship team under manager Whitey Herzog. Bair was a setup man for Hall of Fame closer Bruce Sutter.
From St. Louis, Bair joined Detroit under manager Sparky Anderson just in time for the Tigers' 1984 World Series run. Anderson, who had Bair in Cincinnati, made him the set-up man for Aurelio Lopez and Willie Hernandez.
From Detroit, Bair spent a season each in Oakland, Philadelphia and Toronto before returning to Pittsburgh, where it all started, and played his final two seasons with the Pirates before retiring in 1990.
Upon completion of his playing career, Bair was a mortgage loan banker for 14 years. He coached the Wilmington College baseball team for two years and also returned to his roots in education, where he was a high school baseball coach and a substitute teacher.
Bair, who turns 57 next month, accepted the Reds' offer to be the pitching coach for their rookie league team in April. He still resides in Cincinnati and has a 23-year-old daughter, Heather, a professional dancer who has performed on Broadway.
"I GREW UP in northwest Ohio, in a town called Melrose, which is about 12-15 miles south of Defiance. I attended Bowling Green and graduated in four years with a degree in education. Coming out of a small community, I wasn't really thinking about playing pro ball. I was fortunate that I had a coach [at BGSU], Dick Young, who stressed the importance of academics. He made sure I was taking enough hours in the right courses so I could graduate.
"It was a big surprise when I was drafted. I was kind of clueless about, No. 1, who might draft me, and what round I would be taken in. I was kind of dumbfounded. The Pirates flew me to Pittsburgh and we talked about a contract. It didn't take long, about 15-20 minutes."
"I WAS A fastball, curveball pitcher. I had been a starter my entire career. I was a minor league pitcher of the year in 1972. My Triple-A team won a championship. But in 1976, the organization decided to take me out of the starting rotation and put me in the bullpen. I wasn't real happy, not at all. It was hard to adjust. It was a totally different situation. I came to the ballpark as an everyday player, as opposed to pitching every fifth day. It took a couple of months to get my feet on the ground. I had to adapt to it, so I did. The rest is history, I guess."
"I WOULD DESCRIBE my career as opportunistic. Getting the opportunity to play, and taking advantage of it.
"Playing for Sparky Anderson, you recognized the fact he was always pulling his pitchers. That's why they called him Captain Hook. I had some of my best seasons playing for Sparky.
"I played for a lot of teams. Pittsburgh, Oakland, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Detroit, back to Oakland, then to Philadelphia and Toronto and back to Pittsburgh. I think I got the most out of my time. I was very fortunate to play on two championship ballclubs and play for three different clubs that were very successful. They all took care of their players, for the most part. I was very happy with my career."
"I NEVER GAVE much thought to coaching in the majors. I played professionally for 21 years. After my playing days were over, I actually taught school for a year. But opportunity knocked at my door. I was surprised, yeah, just by the timing. It came at the end of spring training, when most of the jobs are already filled.
"We have some new draft picks, some college players and a few players who have been with other teams. We play a 70-plus-game schedule for about 2 1/2 months. We have four off-days a week with about two days spent for traveling.
"These guys are a little bit more than elementary pitchers. Just teaching them the basics of pitching. Throw fastballs and curveballs, and throw them in the strike zone as much as possible. Simply showing them what it's all about.
"You have to be able to teach, be able to relate to the players. For the last 10 years I've been working with young men in college and high school in the Cincinnati area. This is kind of a classroom situation, and I think that helps me.''
Contact Blade columnist John Harris at: email@example.com or 419-724-6354.