Relegated to long relief and mop-up roles with the Reds, Doug Bair got a chance to revive his career with the Cardinals.
Forty years ago, on Sept. 10, 1981, the Cardinals acquired Bair from the Reds for infielder Neil Fiala and pitcher Joe Edelen.
Durable and effective, Bair gained the confidence of manager Whitey Herzog and was a key contributor to the Cardinals’ World Series championship year in 1982.
A right-hander who pitched college baseball at Bowling Green, Bair was picked by the Pirates in the second round of the 1971 amateur draft.
In five seasons as a starting pitcher in the Pirates’ farm system, Bair “spent so much time in buses, he qualified for a Greyhound pension,” Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News noted.
In 1976, his sixth season in the minors, Bair became a reliever and pitched well enough to earn a promotion to the Pirates in September.
After the season, he was traded to Oakland. Bair got into 45 games for the 1977 Athletics and led them in saves (eight), but the team was out of contention by mid-July and finished in last place.
“Things got completely out of hand there,” Bair told the Dayton Daily News. “Some veterans were showing up 10 or 15 minutes before game time.”
The Athletics traded their ace, Vida Blue, to the Reds after the season, but commissioner Bowie Kuhn voided the deal. So the Reds settled for Bair instead.
Bair impressed manager Sparky Anderson, who made him the Reds’ closer in 1978.
“He’s so smooth and easy,” Anderson told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “Just like Don Gullett was. Smooth, easy, then flip. Pfffft. Boom. The fastball is right on top of you. You can’t sit on it or he’ll eat you alive with his breaking pitch.”
Bair was 7-6 with 28 saves and a 1.97 ERA for the 1978 Reds. He remained their closer at the beginning of the 1979 season, but manager John McNamara, who had replaced Anderson, switched to Tom Hume later in the year.
Change of scenery
In December 1980, Whitey Herzog, who had the dual role of Cardinals manager and general manager, was “talking in earnest” to the Reds about a proposed trade, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. The Reds offered a package of pitchers, Bair, Mike LaCoss and Paul Moskau, for catcher Terry Kennedy, but Herzog opted to deal Kennedy to the Padres for reliever Rollie Fingers and others.
With Hume and Joe Price getting most of the meaningful relief work, Bair was moved to the back of the Reds’ bullpen in 1981.
Though Bair had a 5.77 ERA in 24 appearances for the 1981 Reds, Cardinals scout Mo Mozzali highly recommended him, Joe McDonald, executive assistant to Herzog, told the Post-Dispatch.
Seeking a reliable reliever to set up closer Bruce Sutter, the Cardinals took a chance on Bair.
“I know I can perform,” Bair said to the Cincinnati Enquirer. “It’s really a new life for me.”
Back in step
After Bair, 32, reported to the Cardinals, pitching coach Hub Kittle detected a flaw in his delivery and made a fix.
“When I stepped back to get my left leg into rocking position, I was stepping toward first base entirely too much,” Bair told The Sporting News. “Now I step more straight back toward second. I’m lifting my leg more than swinging it. It keeps me more in balance.”
In his first appearance for the Cardinals, Bair pitched a scoreless inning against the Mets and got the win. Boxscore
Bair didn’t allow a run in his first six innings as a Cardinal. In 11 games for them in 1981, he was 2-0 with a save and a 3.45 ERA.
In April 1982, the Cardinals acquired another Reds reliever, Jeff Lahti. He joined, Sutter, Bair and Jim Kaat in giving the Cardinals a dependable bullpen.
Bair got off to a strong start (1-0, 1.04 ERA in April and 2-1, one save, 2.21 ERA in May) and was splendid in the stretch run (1-0, two saves, 1.65 ERA in September).
“He’s just as important to the team as I am,” Sutter said to The Sporting News.
Bair made 63 regular-season appearances for the 1982 Cardinals, and allowed only nine of 38 inherited runners to score. He yielded 69 hits in 91.2 innings.
“He’s worked very, very hard,” Kittle told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “Lots of dedication. Doug Bair is as tough a son of a buck as you’ll ever find. A good man.”
Bair was 5-3 with eight saves and a 2.55 ERA in the regular season in 1982. He was the losing pitcher in Game 4 of the World Series against the Brewers.
In 1983, Bair was 1-1 with a save and a 3.03 ERA in 26 games for the Cardinals when they traded him in June to the Tigers, where he was reunited with manager Sparky Anderson.
Bair helped the Tigers to a World Series championship in 1984.
The Cardinals reacquired him in September 1985 to help in their pennant push. He pitched a total of two scoreless innings. After the season, Bair, 36, became a free agent and signed with the Athletics.
In 15 years in the majors with seven teams, Bair was 55-43 with 81 saves. He was 8-4 with 10 saves and a 2.72 ERA for the Cardinals, and 0-0 with six saves and a 3.86 ERA against the Cardinals.