Ron Fairly, an outfielder and first baseman who in a career of nearly half a century played on three World Series championship teams with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1960s and later moved to the broadcast booth, died on Wednesday in Indian Wells, Calif. He was 81.
The Seattle Mariners, for whom Fairly was a longtime broadcaster, said the cause was cancer.
Playing for 21 major league seasons, Fairly was a two-time All-Star. A left-handed batter with a compact swing, he had a .266 career batting average with 1,913 hits, 1,044 runs batted in and 215 home runs. He hit a career high .322 with the 1961 Dodgers.
“He had a nearly perfect batting system,” Tommy Lasorda, the Hall of Fame manager who was a scout and minor league manager for the Dodgers during Fairly’s time with Los Angeles, wrote in his foreword to “Fairly at Bat: My 50 Years in Baseball, From the Batter’s Box to the Broadcast Booth” (2018), a memoir Fairly wrote with Steve Springer. “You might get him out, but you wouldn’t embarrass him. Swing. Balance. Timing. All perfect.”
Fairly played on the Dodger teams that won the World Series in 1959, when they defeated the Chicago White Sox in six games; in 1963, when they swept the Yankees; and in 1965, when he hit two home runs and three doubles, drove in six runs and batted .379 as the Dodgers bested the Minnesota Twins in seven games behind the pitching of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. His last World Series appearance was in 1966, when the Dodgers were swept by the Baltimore Orioles.
After Fairly’s production at the plate tailed off, the Dodgers traded him in June 1969 to the Montreal Expos (now the Washington Nationals), who were in their first season as a National League expansion team.
“I remember thinking, ‘I’m coming from the beaches and warm weather and a team expected to win 100 games, and I’m going to cold weather and a team expected to lose 100 games,’” Fairly told The New York Times in 2019. “They got rid of me, so they might as well send me to Siberia.”
But Fairly was named an All-Star while playing for the Expos in 1973, when he hit .298 with 17 home runs. Playing for another expansion team, the Toronto Blue Jays of the American League, in 1977, he hit a career-high 19 home runs and was an All-Star again.
He retired following the 1978 season after playing for the California Angels, his sixth team.
Fairly was a TV and radio broadcaster for the Angels from 1980 to 1986, for the San Francisco Giants from 1987 to 1992 and finally for the Mariners. He was a full-time member of the Seattle broadcast team from 1993 to 2006 and filled in on some games afterward.
Ronald Ray Fairly was born on July 12, 1938, in Macon, Ga., when his father, Carl, was playing for the minor league Macon Peaches. The family settled in Southern California after that season, and he became an outstanding high school outfielder and basketball player in Long Beach.
Fairly was a star center fielder for the University of Southern California baseball team that won the 1958 College World Series, then signed with the Dodgers for a reported $75,000 bonus (the equivalent of about $673,000 today). He made his debut with the Dodgers in September 1958, when they were concluding their first season in Los Angeles after leaving Brooklyn.
“I got the chance to room with Snider for a few years, and he taught me a lot,” Fairly told The Press-Telegram of Long Beach in 1963. “I got close to Furillo in 1959, and he helped teach me how to handle the ball off the wall.”
Fairly received permission from Furillo to wear his uniform number, No. 6, after Furillo retired in 1960.
The Mariners said Fairly’s survivors include three sons, Mike, Steve and Patrick, and grandchildren. His wife, Mary, died before him.
Fairly was regarded as a knowledgeable broadcast analyst with a folksy style. He often told tales from his playing days.
But at times he was tripped up by verbal missteps, most notably his oft-quoted reference to one of the National League’s leading relief pitchers, when he was broadcasting for the Giants:
“Bruce Sutter has been around for a while, and he’s pretty old. He is 35 years old — that will give you an idea how old he is.”
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