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Matt Stairs

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Matthew Wade Stairs

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Contents

[edit] Introduction

Matt Stairs played 19 seasons in the major leagues, hitting 265 home runs. He is the only major league player born in Saint John, New Brunswick during the 20th century, although there were several players born there in the 19th century.

[edit] Amateur career

Matt Stairs played hockey, rugby and baseball as a youngster but a knee injury in 1986 ended his hockey dreams. He played for Canada in the 1987 Junior World Championships and the team won the Bronze. He was on the senior Canadian squad in the 1987 Intercontinental Cup. The next year, he was on the Canadian Olympic team and also was MVP of Haarlem Baseball Week. In the 1988 Baseball World Cup, he hit .362/.367/.511 and was named the top shortstop in the tournament, the only All-Star from a team that didn't make the final four. He was then signed by scout Bill MacKenzie of the Montreal Expos as an undrafted free agent and eventually became a good Major League hitter (with rather high on-base percentage) despite his deceivingly short, squat, chunky frame and tendency to strike out quite frequently. His build was deemed by Bill James to be an ideal one for a hitter, giving a small strike zone but lots of power, the optimal mix of talents - James calls it the Yogi Berra or Kirby Puckett body style.

[edit] The minors

Stairs made three minor league stops in his first year as a professional, batting .256/~.304/.349 for the Jamestown Expos (14 games), .284/~.353/.418 as the third baseman of the Rockford Expos (44 games) and .189/~.261/.250 for the West Palm Beach Expos (36 outings). In 1990, Stairs hit .339/~.472/.470 for West Palm Beach, stealing 15 in 17 tries but fielding just .899 as a 3B-SS. Moving up to the Jacksonville Expos, he batted .254/~.315/.346 and fielded .885.

In 1990-91, Stairs won the Mexican Pacific League batting title with a .330/~.396/.507 batting line as the third baseman for the Mayos de Navojoa. Matt was also a force to be reckoned with in the USA in 1991. He batted .333/~.410/.509 for the Harrisburg Senators, reached double digits in all three extra-base hit categories and stole 23 bases. He was voted the MVP of the Eastern League and led the league in slugging, hits (168), total bases (257) and average. He hit for the cycle on August 23 and helped power Harrisburg to the best record. Baseball America named him the 9th-best prospect in the EL and the best second baseman in AA and he made the EL All-Star team as a utility infielder.

[edit] 1992-96: the major/minor shuffle

In 1992, Matt hit .267/~.347/.426 for the Indianapolis Indians, moving to the outfield due to his poor infield glove. He only stole 11 in 22 tries and never exhibited stolen base success in the majors as he had in his early career. He saw his first major league playing time; he hit .167/.333/.233 in 13 games for the Expos. In 1993, the Canadian was 3 for 8 for the Expos, then .280/~.338/.416 in 34 games with the Ottawa Lynx. Matt was then sold to the Chunichi Dragons in mid-season, where he batted .250/.289/.432. Had he produced more or felt more at home, he might have developed a long career in NPB like so many others rejected by MLB after a short glance. But he was not performing enough for a gaijin and returned to the USA, where he continued to battle for playing time.

In 1994, Stairs was back in AA with the New Britain Red Sox and hit .309/.407/.486 in 93 outings. He came close to the EL OBP lead had he played enough to qualify and raised his OBP 8 points. He hit .284/~.353/.491 for the 1995 Pawtucket Red Sox and then batted .261/.298/.388 as a bench man for the 1995 Red Sox. Boston let him go and he caught on with the Oakland A's chain. In 1996, Stairs clubbed a .344/~.372/.578 line in 51 games for the Edmonton Trappers and .277/.367/.547 for the A's, finally getting an extended look in the majors and showing what he could do.

[edit] Oakland

Stairs blossomed with the A's. He hit over 20 homers for four straight years, drove in 100 runs twice, had an OPS+ from 127-151 the first three years, slugged .500 three times and was 8th in the 1999 AL in home runs with 38. His best year was with the 1997 A's when he hit .298/.386/.582. When Oakland returned to prominence in 1999, Stairs was the top home run threat on a team that included Eric Chavez, Jason Giambi, John Jaha, Miguel Tejada and Ben Grieve. After the 2000 season, he was dealt to the Chicago Cubs for Eric Ireland after a .227 year with a 98 OPS+.

[edit] Three years in the NL

Stairs hit .250/.358/.462 for the 2001 Cubs, then moved to the Milwaukee Brewers as a free agent in 2002, batting .244/.349/.478. A free agent once more, the hired gun hit .292/.389/.561 with 20 homers for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2003, one of the rare good pickups by Pittsburgh during that time. Stairs asked to return to Pittsburgh for a minimal salary, but Dave Littlefield refused to bring him back, instead signing washed-up Raul Mondesi to play right field.

[edit] Years on the Move

Stairs finally found a second long-time home with the Kansas City Royals, joining them in 2004 and batting .267/.345/.451 his first year, then .275/.373/.444 as a solid offensive threat for the club. He represented Canada in the 2006 World Baseball Classic and went 2 for 9 with a double, 4 walks and 4 RBI. He tied for the club lead in walks with Corey Koskie and was second to Adam Stern in RBI.

Stairs hit .261/.352/.429 for the Royals at age 38 in 2006, then was dealt to the Texas Rangers for Joselo Diaz. After a month and a half with Texas (hitting .210/.273/.370), he was waived and picked up by the Detroit Tigers for the late stretch. He batted .244/.295/.463 in 14 games for the 2006 Tigers as they clinched a playoff spot.

Stairs moved to the Toronto Blue Jays in 2007 and saw expanded playing time when 1B Lyle Overbay was injured. He hit .289/.368/.549 for a 138 OPS+, one of his best career marks, and smacked 21 homers, third on the team behind Frank Thomas and Alexis Rios.

The veteran slumped to .250/.342/.394 for the 2008 Blue Jays. In late August, he was sent to the Philadelphia Phillies for a player to be named later (Fabio Castro) for some bench help down the stretch. He did his job, going 5 for 17 with a walk, double, 2 homers and 5 RBI. In the 2008 Postseason, he was 1 for 4. His only postseason hit was a two-run home run in Game 4 of the 2008 NLCS off Los Angeles Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton. Pinch-hitting with two outs and Carlos Ruiz on first base, Stairs worked the count to 3-1, then blasted a fastball from Broxton to deep right field. His home run put the Phillies ahead 7-5 in the 8th inning, which proved to be pivotal to Philadelphia capturing its first pennant since 1993. He was 0 for 1 in the 2008 World Series, his first World Series appearance of a long career; Philadelphia won the title.

Stairs was then with Canada for the 2009 World Baseball Classic, starting in the outfield alongside Jason Bay and Nick Weglarz. He fell to .194/.357/.379 as a bench player for the 2009 Phillies and again played in the World Series, going 1 for 8 and starting Game 2 as the DH, logging his only hit and RBI. He signed with the San Diego Padres for 2010. When he made his first appearance with the club, it became his 12th different MLB team. This broke Deacon McGuire's 98-year-old record for position players. When he homered for San Diego on May 22nd, he became the second major leaguer to go yard for 11 different clubs, tying Todd Zeile. On July 7th, he hit a pinch home run against Matt Capps of the Washington Nationals; it was the 20th pinch homer of his career, tying him with Cliff Johnson for the all-time record. He set a new record on August 21st with a two-run shot off Kameron Loe in a 6-5 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Stairs was back with yet another team in 2011, the Washington Nationals (although he had started his career with that team's ancestor in Montreal back in 1992). He started the season with an 0 for 13 slump before collecting his first hit, the 100th of his career as a pinch-hitter, off the Phillies' Danys Baez in the 9th inning of a 7-4 loss on May 4th. However, in spite of being given plenty of at-bats as a pinch-hitter, he failed to produce much, only going 10 for 65 with 9 walks and only one extra-base hit - a double. He was designated for assignment after playing his final game on July 22nd and decided to retire.

[edit] End of the Line

Stairs appeared in 1,895 games, with a .262 avg with 265 home runs and 899 RBIs.

Stairs left the sport in the #2 spot on the list of Canadian home run hitters. Among fellow Canadians, only Larry Walker hit more home runs than Stairs. Walker hit 383 in 17 seasons. Depending on whether the Montreal Expos and Washington Nationals are counted as separate teams, he was either the third player to play for 12 teams (with Deacon McGuire and Mike Morgan) or the first to play for 13. Octavio Dotel became the first to play for 13 teams with no "asterisk" in 2012, a year after Stairs retired. If you count the Expos and Nationals as separate entities, Stairs played for 26 professional teams in his career between the Majors, Minors, Japan and Mexico.

In 2014, Stairs joined the Philadelphia Phillies television broadcast team.

[edit] Notable Achievements

[edit] Records Held

  • Home runs, as pinch hitter, career, 21
  • Most teams played for, career, 13 (tied)

[edit] Primary Sources

1989-2006 Baseball Almanacs, 1990 and 1995 Baseball Guides, Japanbaseballdaily.com by Gary Garland and "Baseball a Royal treat for Stairs" by Andrew Neff in the Bangor Daily News of July 29, 2006

[edit] Further Reading

  • Danny Gallagher: "Stairs climbed to solid career", in Remembering the Montreal Expos, Scoop Press, Toronto, ON, 2005, pp. 165-168.

[edit] Related Sites

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