A native of Mount Vernon, Illinois, Blades was first scouted as a baseball player as a teenager in 1913. Branch Rickey, then the manager of the St. Louis Browns, spotted Blades during a sandlot game for the St. Louis city championship. Seven years would pass, however, before Rickey would sign Blades to a contract; by that time, 1920, however, Rickey was working for the Browns’ NL rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals.
After apprenticing in the minor leagues, Blades reached the Cardinals in 1922. Hampered by a severe knee injury, he appeared in over 100 games only three times – from 1924-26 – but he hung on as a spare outfielder for ten major league seasons (1922-28; 1930-32), all with the Cardinals, and batted .301 lifetime. In his finest season, 1925, he hit .342 in 462 at-bats. He threw and batted righthanded and appeared in three World Series (1928, 1930 and 1931).
Blades was known as a ferocious competitor with a terrible temper, and he carried that reputation with him as a manager in the Cardinals’ farm system. He managed at the top level of the St. Louis organization with the Rochester Red Wings and Columbus Red Birds from 1933-38 and was named skipper of the Cardinals in 1939.
Upon his appointment, he prohibited alcohol drinking among his players. In his first season, the Cards responded to Blades’s tough regimen, winning 92 games and improving from sixth to second place in the National League. But the Cardinals slumped in the early weeks of 1940, winning only 14 of their first 38 games and plunging back into sixth place. On June 7, Blades was fired and ultimately replaced by Billy Southworth.
He then coached in the National League for the Cincinnati Reds, Brooklyn Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and the Cardinals. Blades never managed again fulltime in the big leagues, although during his tenure with Brooklyn he and a fellow coach, Clyde Sukeforth, famously turned down the job as acting manager of the 1947 Dodgers after the suspension of Leo Durocher for the season. Rickey, by then president of the Dodgers, ultimately turned to scout Burt Shotton, and Brooklyn won the ’47 NL pennant. During the following year, , Blades served as interim Dodger pilot for a single game in July, when Durocher left Brooklyn for the New York Giants job, and Shotton succeeded him a second time. Blades’ final record as a manager was 107-85 (.557).
Ray Blades died in Lincoln, Illinois at the age of 82 in 1979.