The Day Negro League Star Bill Blair Was Drafted By the Astros

Southpaw pitcher Bill Blair also played with Satchel Paige and was happy to tell the stories on the day the Houston Astros drafted the 86-year-old on August 11, 2008.

If you’re trying to wrap your head around the built-in anachronism of the above statement, here’s clarity: The Astros selected Blair, who, at the time, lived in Dallas with his wife of more than six decades, Mozelle, in the June 5 draft of 2008, according to this MLB article by Krysten Oliphant. This was an honorary gesture by MLB, intended as a tip of the cap to surviving Negro League players who never had a chance to play in the Major Leagues.

Without an actual spot on the 25-man roster, of course, Blair was given an honorary locker and an Astros uniform, with #23, a number abandoned months before by pitcher Jason Jennings, and a month before being adopted by newly-promoted SS Edwin Maysonet.

After dressing at his locker, located right next to pitcher Roy Oswalt‘s, Blair took to the field and joined the Astros for batting practice. The day concluded with a private reception attended by family, friends, community leaders, and Astros personnel. The special day was capped by an on-field ceremony that included a first pitch by Blair.

Born on October 17, 1921, Blair passed away at 92 on April 20, 2014, in tiny Campbell, TX, a map dot in far northeast Texas, topping out at about 700 residents. Following his Negro League days, Blair turned newspaper publisher and positioned himself as the voice of the Dallas-Ft. Worth community for over forty years with what was known as The Elite News.

Blair attended Booker T. Washington High School and Prairie View A&M University. After six months at Prairie View A&M, Blair enlisted in the US Army and became the youngest African-American to serve as first sergeant in the Army during World War II.

Blair pitched from 1946 to 1951 for teams including the Indianapolis ClownsCincinnati Crescents, and was a player-manager for the Dallas Black Giants. He played against players such as Hall-of-Famers Cool Papa Bell and Hilton Smith, and of course, Paige. Of Paige, Bell once famously said, “He made his living by throwing the ball to a spot over the plate the size of a matchbook.”

Paige, of course, was also the author of his own spectacular baseball bons mots, predating the classic malapropisms of Yogi Berra; Paige favorites for many include “Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” “Don’t look back; something might be gaining on you.” And one that the current Astros would do well to hang in the clubhouse, as well as the bullpen:

“Just take the ball and throw it where you want to. Throw strikes. Home plate don’t move.”

Credit: The Runner Sports

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