Dennis Blair

June 12, 2007

What if I were to tell you that I have been haunted by Dennis Blair for most of my life?

I imagine your first reaction might be to ask “Who is Dennis Blair?”

Well, in a certain sense Dennis Blair was a tall, rail-thin pitcher who won 11 major league games at the age of 20, then lost 15 major league games at the age of 21, then appeared in only 5 major league games at the age of 22, then did not surface again in the major leagues until age 26, when he concluded his major league career by going 0 and 1 with a 6.43 ERA for Oblivion’s Vestibule, otherwise known as the 1980 San Diego Padres.

That version of Dennis Blair and the version of Dennis Blair that only I know about intersect in this 1975 baseball card. On the back of the card are the details of his career to date, including his height (6’5″), his weight (185), his rapid 2½-year rise through the minors, which climaxed in a brilliant 1974 half-season at Memphis in which he went 5 and 0 with a 1.84 ERA and earned his mid-season callup to the Expos. The line below his Memphis line plainly sets out his promising rookie season, and the text below the statistics further fills in his story:

Called up to the Expos during 1974, Dennis entered the starting rotation and hurled 4 Complete Games with a Shutout. He’s possessed with fine control.

The construction of that last sentence intrigues me. I would think the more common vernacular, at least currently, would have that sentence being uttered more succinctly and in an active rather than passive voice, as follows: “He possesses fine control.” But maybe the Topps scribe knew what he or she was doing when discussing the concept of Dennis Blair’s control as if that control was not something he possessed but rather something which took possession of him, like a spirit of some sort, and in turn could just as easily leave Dennis Blair, which in fact it seems to have done: the following year he was not possessed with fine control, surrendering 106 walks in 163 innings, and the year after that it got even worse as he walked 11 guys in 15 and 2/3 innings.

Perhaps he spent the next few years before his final go-round with the Padres arduously venturing to various remotely situated shamans and medicine men around the globe in hopes that they could help him once again become possessed with fine control. I picture his skinny frame wasting away even more than it already had as he suffered the intense heat of sweatlodges and fasted in skeleton-littered deserts and licked hallucinogenic toads, all in hopes that he could once again coax the illusive Spirit of Fine Control out from the shadowlands beyond the sky. It’s possible that he was successful in his quest, though it seems to have exacted a toll that nullified any benefits of his fairly admirable final season tally of 3 walks in 14 innings. Perhaps he contracted a rare tropical disease. Perhaps he injured himself embracing a cactus he thought was the Navajo sun god Johona’ai. Perhaps he became possessed not only with the Spirit of Fine Control but also the Spirit of Surrendering Tape Measure Home Runs.

I don’t know. I just know that from time to time in my life a thin seam in the world seems to open. I can’t actually see it, not exactly, but I can feel it. This “seeing feeling” of the seam opening up in the world comes to me in the dark, mostly, late at night, the world gone quiet. It may be more accurate to say that nothing is visible in that seam, but nothing is just a word, too, a collection of symbols to stand in the place of something that is unsayable. So let me instead say that the seam is just tall and thin enough to allow a brief and unsettling glimpse of Dennis Blair. To be more accurate still, it is not a glimpse of Dennis Blair that I get but a glimpse of where Dennis Blair has just been. I see him as you might see the visual echo of a bright light on the inside of your eyelid after looking straight into the light. Then the visual echo fades and the seam closes up again, and I’m left once again to this world, this convincing illusion.

It has been this way for a long time. I can’t place the exact time when I first caught a glimpse of the seam, but if I had to guess I’d say it occurred during the years directly following the year this card came out. I got the card in 1975, when I was seven, and though I can’t remember my thoughts upon first looking at it I can guess that I may have been impressed by the status of Dennis Blair as a promising rookie. Here is a guy who will be around for a long time. Then when he didn’t show up in the baseball card sets of subsequent years my growing sense from many directions in my life that nothing lasts forever may have begun to coalesce around the ghost of the 1975 image of Dennis Blair. Tall, thin, sepulchral, vanishing. Even his uniform is of a team that no longer exists.


  1. 1.  As soon as I saw the headline, I knew what the card would be. The image of Blair has stuck with me for a long time.

  2. 2.  I forget that Expos no longer exist. When I read your last sentence, I had to scroll back up to see what uniform he was wearing.

    Blair resembles a young James Coburn.

  3. 3.  Bob Timmermann owns Expo athletic wear, mainly an Expo hat.

  4. 4.  What if I were to tell you that I have been haunted by Dennis Blair for most of my life?

    I would say I don’t blame you in the slightest. That card scared the bejeesus out of me as kid.

  5. 5.  Last loss ever notched at old Jarry Park: Dennis Blair. I miss the Expos. Selig and MLB simply ass-rammed Montreal . . . without lubricant.

  6. 6.  This commentary has all the elements of a rambling Jim Morrison- on the American Prayer album!

    The end scene of this Blair installment is eerily reminsent of Morrison describing his family(supposedly) driving, and coming upon a overturned bus of Indians(real ones-at least in his mind of the time) bleeding on the highway- then segued into the song, I believe Peace Frog.

    Okay, maybe that is a stretch, but it reminded me of that, and well, this is a hell of a site for mind stretching!

  7. 7.  3
    I don’t have a tricolor Expos cap though. I have a later model, solid blue cap.

  8. 8.  Seeing the words possessed and Blair together referencing the 1970’s made me think of the Exorcist.

  9. 9.  Dennis Blair’s middle name was/is Herman, as in Herman Munster, to whom he bears a striking resemblance in this photo.

  10. 10.  I remember listening to this Dodgers-Expos game that Blair started against the Dodgers in 1975.

    The Dodgers won 3-0 and didn’t get a hit until the 8th.

    And the hits didn’t lead to any runs.

  11. 11.  Dennis Blair could not have gotten Herman Munster out.

  12. 12.  Of the Toasters, you are the mostest. You are the buttery goodness that is toast. This is a site for the heavens I say! Can you do a post on that Clemente card where he’s holding that bat all askance? I’ll need to check my decks to find the year.
    God bless ‘Cardboard Gods’.
    And God bless the Grateful Dead!

  13. 13.  Check out Blair’s 1977 card . . .


    The scary piercing stare is still there. The length of the dude’s neck and head seem to go on forever!

  14. 14.  12: Unfortunately, since he was gone before I started collecting, I don’t have any Clementes in my collection. I wonder who replaced him in right. Richie Zisk? Maybe at some point I can try to work in a Richie Zisk post comparing the death of Clemente to the death of original Dead keyboardist Ron Pigpen McKernan. (Which I guess would make Richie Zisk Keith and Donna Godcheaux.)

    13 Thanks for hunting a shot of that ’77 card down. As Suzyn Waldmyn might say, Oh my goodness gracious, that’s a long neck!

  15. 15.  7 I discovered baseball late in the 1968 season, but really became a fan in ’69. Since that coincided with expansion, I was intrigued by the new teams and, while I had a plastic-replica Dodgers helmet from the giveaway day (is it still a weekend now? do they even give away plastic helmets anymore?), the first cap I ever owned was an original-style, tri-color Expos cap, probably because it was (or seemed to be) new, cool and different.

  16. 16.  13

    looks like he gained a few pounds in his ’77 card.

  17. 17.  15: “do they even give away plastic helmets anymore?”

    I don’t know about the Dodgers, but according to a nice story a couple weeks ago on The Griddle, the Cubs still hand ’em out:


  18. 18.  17
    And they come with stickers!

  19. 19.  I’d never even seen that card before.
    Damn — that guy looks like the Reaper’s scythe incarnate.
    The sentence in question is missing a comma: “He’s possessed, with fine control.”

    (How long will it take for one of Dennis Blair’s co-workers at the West Memphis tire warehouse to write in and defend him against all us wise-asses?)

  20. 20.  This is only the 2nd most famous Dennis Blair. Put in the name and this is what will pop up most often on google. http://www.dennisblair.com/

    This particular dennis blair is a standup comic who has opened for george carlin for a couple of decades. Now here is an interesting fact. On the dennis blair site there are references to the talent of Blair. One is from Tony LaRussa. I doubt that the former pitcher would get as good of a tout from Tony as the comic does.

  21. 21.  12 Good call on the post! But remember, Tom Constanten did a brief stint as the band’s keyboardist between Pigpen and Keith.
    You are an institution! And thank God we’re not IN the institution.
    Keep writing, Hammer!
    God bless ya, and God Bless the Grateful Dead.

  22. 22.  21: I’m pretty sure Constanten actually played alongside Pigpen for a couple years, rather than being his replacement. Constanten and Bruce Hornsby are the only guys to escape the dreaded curse of the Grateful Dead keyboardists, which claimed the lives of Pigpen, Keith Godcheaux, Brent Mydland (a personal favorite), and, most recently, poor Vince Welnick. I once saw Constanten play with a multipiece big band called Illuminati at the now gone Wetlands in downtown NYC. They performed Blues for Allah in its entirety, and along with many horns and drums and guitars and Constanten on keyboards they had some dude making eerie sounds by rubbing a miked balloon. Maybe it was Constantine, I can’t remember. We got so high that, standing at the back of a packed house, we weren’t sure for a while if the band had started playing or not.

  23. 23.  Doesn’t he look a lot like a young Ricky Nelson?

  24. 24.  Dennis Blair looks like a younger version of the evil professor guy whose reanimated body walked around holding its severed head in the film Reanimator. Speaking of which, and this really is odd, I was reminded of Paul Blair, the Baltimore outfielder who was possessed with getting beaned, which in turn left him possessed with timid legs in the batter’s box.

  25. 25.  22 You could be right! And Brent is a personal fave of mine, too, ‘cuz that’s when I was most heavy into seeing the band. God bless, Brent. “I Will Take You Home”. I think he was a fave of jerry’s too. Just a hunch.

  26. You guys need to put your hands where you can see them (above your bloated, beer swollen bellies). It is really sad when a bunch of middle age, IQ deficient, wannabe’s can’t pull themselves away from the computer long enough to do anything productive. You live vicariously through the careers of those who made it. You must feel like you had what it took. Get over it! You don’t have anything but a sweaty palm. Dennis has more character and personality in his little finger than you will ever have in your entire body. Josh you are a frustrated nobody and will never be anybody. If this is your idea of a career, I can only be sad for you. The outhouse dumper has less crap than you spew.

  27. Let go of your anger. It’s not necessary here. Overprotectiveness is a plank that covers your eyes, blinds you to joy, robs you of humor, twists praise into insults, and renders you unable to see a beautiful, sublime work of art when it is right in front of your faces.

    Yes, we’re losers. EVERYONE on the planet earth is a loser in one way or another. Some of us humans are fabulously successful in our careers and our family life and are blessed with an abundance of character and personality. But that doesn’t mean that even such brilliant and talented men don’t sometimes fall victim to, say, a bad photograph. Life is hard that way.

    Kurt Vonnegut once said, “Jesus is particularly stimulating to me, since he noticed what I can’t help noticing, that life is so hard most people are losers or feel like losers, so that a skill essential to most of us, if we are to retain some shred of dignity, is to show grace in defeat. That to me is the lesson he taught while up on the cross, whether he was God or not.”

    Grace in defeat. That to me is also the point of this site: it takes the age-old dilemmas of the human spirit and makes those conflicts young and fresh again using the modern mythology of our age: the athlete. The athletes who fail. The athletes who fail but somehow try to maintain their dignity in the face of these defeats.

    If you get so angry about an honest discussion of defeats, that you miss noticing the grace expressed within that defeat, you miss out on something not just productive, but vital to the human soul. And that is the worst kind of defeat of all.

  28. “Most people live lives of quiet desperation”- I’m not sure where this quote is from but it illustrates a point about another commenter. Why is someone who obviously does not get the genius of this site wasting their time looking at it and trying to spoil the fun for the rest of us. Misery truly does love company. Josh, please keep spewing your beautiful crap for the rest of us “nobodies”.

  29. Did they read a different entry? I read it three times. There’s no ‘outhouse dumper’ here… though I do like the phrase ‘outhouse dumper’. I’d describe my own writing as that. haha. This is Great ‘crap’!

  30. I am amused that some ex-jocks think the site is really about baseball cards. Like the athletic careers of mid-level ballplayers from thirty years ago is what brings us here to read this site.

    I am completely perplexed how any of the subjects could be offended by the content on this site.

  31. Wow – looks like someone finally got a computer and discovered what “google” is…..

  32. I bet Dennis Blair has a very long little finger, so really he can store more character and personality than the vast majority of us. So, it’s not fair really.

  33. Catfish326, Dennis has moved on. Thank you for your kind words. He reached his career goal at 19. Where do you go from there? I wasn’t around for the celebrations, but I have lived with the pitfalls that plague quite a few former athletes. Josh needs to move on. This sight is about Josh’s broken dreams, but he needs to take his venom out on someone he has met, like his parents upstairs.

  34. Dennis Blair is a very dear friend of mine. Ive had the pleasure of spending alot of time with him and his family. He only left baseball because they did not have the Tommy Johns surgery at that time. He is still haunted by not being able to return to the game he loved so much. He moved on and became a high school math teacher in mesquite,Tx. Which he is now retired from. He is a great person and a man a great character but he is also funny as hell. I love my dear friend and admire him very much. I wish everyone knew the man I know. I have his 1974 baltimore orioles card number 466 signed by him. I also have a baseball glove signed by him as well. Not sure how many people can say that. But if your wondering he is still alive and well today. Sad his baseball career ended so soon as he was destined to be one of the greats which he is to me and his stats are proof as well till the dreaded pitchers arm got him. We still sit and talk about his mlb career. I bet you guys didnt know that they werent paid lavishly like players today. They made around 17 to 20k a year give or take. So you that says he haunted you most of your childhood your parents shouldve raised you better. And taught you to never judge a book by its cover. Dennis Blair is a fine man and one with character and class with a little bit of a funny man on the side. I like to say he is a car. A man with a great sense of humor.

  35. “Oblivion’s vestibule”. Yer killin me. 😀

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