Former Oriole Blefary dead

Rookie of Year in '65, traded in '68, he dies of pancreatitis at 57

January 30, 2001|By FROM STAFF REPORTS

Back in the heyday of the Orioles, when pennants and World Series appearances were commonplace, a sign was stuck up over the locker of the late, great shortstop Mark Belanger. It said, "There is no greater burden than potential."

That identical sign could have hung over the locker of teammate Curt Blefary, who died Sunday night of chronic pancreatitis and other related ailments at his home in Pompano Beach, Fla. He was 57.

"It's good that his suffering is over now," Lana Blefary said of her husband, who had been ill for a decade.

Blefary burst onto the Baltimore scene in 1965, less than two years after the Orioles had plucked him off the roster of the New York Yankees. As a rookie, he led the team in home runs (22) and walks, was second in runs scored and third in RBIs (70). It earned him American League Rookie of the Year honors.

Blefary could run, hit and hit with power, ingredients for a long career. So sure were the Orioles of his ability that, when general manager Harry Dalton swung the deal with Cincinnati for Frank Robinson in December 1965, he described the Orioles' attack as "cannons at the corners," putting left fielder Blefary up there with Robinson in right, Brooks Robinson at third base and Boog Powell at first base.

Blefary followed with solid years in 1966, when the Orioles swept the Los Angeles Dodgers, and in 1967, just about matching the power figures of his rookie season. Then, seemingly overnight, his skills diminished.

He had a bad year in 1968, the team going so far as to try him at catcher. In only his second game ever behind the plate, he caught Tom Phoebus' no-hitter against the Boston Red Sox on April 27.

"It was easy," he said that day. "I just kept calling for the curveball because they couldn't hit it."

That winter, the Orioles traded Blefary to the Houston Astros for pitcher Mike Cuellar in a five-player deal. While Cuellar went on to post 143 victories over eight seasons with the Orioles, Blefary became a journeyman utility player.

After Houston, Blefary played for the Yankees, Oakland Athletics and San Diego Padres between 1970 and 1972 and, when he was dropped by Atlanta during spring training in 1973, he was out of baseball before his 30th birthday.

"Curt was a genuine person and a really hard competitor," said former teammate, center fielder Paul Blair. "What struck you most about him is he worked hard and made use of everything he had."

An All-State player in football and baseball in high school in Mahwah, N.J., Blefary signed with the Yankees upon graduation. The team could not protect him on its major-league roster under the rules at the time, and the Orioles claimed him on irrevocable waivers.

After leading the Orioles' minor-league system in home runs two seasons, the second at Triple-A Rochester, Blefary made the varsity in '65.

"The next year [1966], Baltimore [won] the pennant, and he got his [World Series] ring," his wife recalled. "He loved it. He gloated about it for the rest of his life. He loved Baltimore and the fans there."

Since moving to Florida several years ago, Blefary did some special-assignment scouting for a few teams, was a volunteer coach at a Fort Lauderdale high school and worked in the circulation department of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Blefary is survived by his wife, daughters Tracey Servideo of Jupiter, Fla., and Tammy Moffett of Rhode Island, son Vincent Blefary of Boca Raton, Fla., and by three grandchildren.

Details of a memorial service were incomplete yesterday.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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