Matt Stairs recently announced his retirement, which didn’t come as much of a surprise to those who knew he was still playing, but possibly jolted many who figured he left years ago.
He was a late bloomer, not making it to 100 games in a season until he was 29 years old, but then proceeded to play in 100-plus games for 12 straight seasons. He didn’t always start, though. In fact, he appeared as a pinch hitter in 521 of his career 1,895 games played. And he was a pretty good pinch hitter, launching a record 23 pinch-hit home runs.
But that’s not what he’s most famous for. He’s a ridiculously well-traveled player, spending time with 12 different clubs. Or 13, depending on how you count it. He began with the Expos in 1992-93, and ended with that same franchise in 2011, by which time the Expos were the Washington Nationals. Incredibly, that’s the only franchise he ever repeated with, and even then he didn’t repeat the same nickname, town, time zone, or nation. In all, Stairs played for at least one team in all six divisions, and at least two teams in all but the NL West.
That said, if you get a chance, make sure you check out his Baseball-Reference.com page. The highlight isn’t the stats, it’s the row of uniform numbers he had. There are 19 entries, which as far as I know is the most for any player on the site.
But he’s done now. In memory of him, I thought I’d assemble a list of career highlights. These are personal bests, impressive games he played in, and a lot interesting and irregular moments he was personally on hand for.
Here they are in order, presented by team-by-team that he played for:
Stairs and the swing that kept him in the game for years
May 29, 1992: Matt Stairs makes his major league debut. Fittingly enough, he’s a pinch hitter. He fans on four pitches in the 10th inning against Cincinnati Reds hurler Rob Dibble. That’s how long Stairs has been around—he faced Dibble with the Reds.
Red Sox tenure
Oct. 3, 1995: ALDS Game One: Stairs doesn’t have much of a career with the Red Sox. They’re one of the five teams he played fewer than 80 games for. But they do provide him with his first postseason experience. In the top of the ninth of a 3-3 game, they call on him to pinch hit with runners on first and second. He strikes out, in what turns out to be his last at bat with the club.
July 5, 1996: It’s the game that established Matt Stairs as a bona fide major leaguer. The A’s and Angels combine for a record 16 runs in the first inning—13 by Oakland. Stairs is a big part of that explosion, as he blasts the first of 12 career grand slams early in the inning, and then singles in a pair of runs before the frame ends. Six RBI in one inning is safely a personal best. In fact, six RBI in one game is a mark he’ll tie but never top.
This game essentially begins the most productive part of Stairs’ career. Though 28 years old, this is just his 69th game. He’s washed out with two teams, and didn’t play for the A’s at all between Apr. 22 and July 4. After his performance today, he’ll be a regular in the lineup, and remain so for the rest of his five years in Oakland, easily his longest stint with one team.
Sept. 2, 1996: The Yankees’ David Cone returns from a May operation to remove an aneurysm from his pitching arm, and boy, does he ever return. He pitches seven innings without allowing a single hit against the A’s before having to leave in order to avoid straining his still recovering arm. With the no-hitter still going, Stairs appears with two outs in the eighth against uber-closer Mariano Rivera, and pops up. Teammate Jose Herrera singles with one out in the ninth, though.
Sept. 27, 1997: Stairs is on hand for Randy Johnson to join the ranks of 20-game winners for the first time, and does it cheaply. With the Mariners cruising easily, up 7-2 after four innings, Johnson appears in relief for the win. The starter didn’t go five and so gets a no-decision, and Johnson just has to avoid sucking. Stairs gets a pair of singles, one off Johnson.
April 10, 1998: Post-renovation Yankee Stadium hosts a record crowd of 56,717 to see the Bronx Bombers batter the A’s, 17-13. Stairs is 2-for-6 with a double and three RBIs.
May 2, 1998: For the second time, Stairs’ A’s are nearly no-hit, this time by Toronto’s Roger Clemens. Only a Ben Grieve single in the seventh prevents Oakland from suffering a no-hitter. Stairs is 0-for-3 with a strikeout.
July 22, 1998: Stairs will have only 30 stolen bases in his career, but two come in this game against Baltimore. Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles has had better days.
Aug. 3, 1998: Well, that could’ve gone better. Oakland starting pitcher Mike Oquist has a historically bad outing, posting the worst Game Score by any pitcher since 1936. In five innings, he allows 14 runs (all earned) off 16 hits and three walks while fanning three. Game Score: -21. He allows one in the first, seven in the second, and five in the third, but lasts two more frames anyway. I guess Art Howe was saving his bullpen for a doubleheader the next day.
Stairs hits a solo homer for Oakland’s only score in a 14-1 drubbing by the Yankees. It’s his fifth consecutive game with a home run, the longest such streak of his career.
May 6, 1999: It’s quite a satisfactory victory for Stairs. After falling down 0-2 on two called strikes to Toronto pitcher Chris Carpenter, Stairs works his way to a full count against and then fouls off three in a row. On the 10th pitch, Stairs launches one into the seats, his longest at-bat to ever end in a home run.
July 15, 1999: In an interleague game against the Giants, Stairs is on-hand to see Barry Bonds make history by breaking a career record held by Hank Aaron. No, not that career record. That won’t be for several years still. No, in the sixth inning, the A’s intentionally walk Barry Bonds, his 295th such free pass, one more than previous record-holder Aaron. Incredible: Bonds hasn’t even becoming Barry Freakin’ Bonds yet, and he’s already the IW king. Bonds ends his career with 688 IW, a mere 629 more than Stairs will have.
Aug. 1, 1999: Oakland belts four home runs in one inning, as Miguel Tejada, Eric Chavez, Jason Giambi and John Jaha all go deep. Stairs comes up right after the deluge and walks on five pitches. He goes 1-for-3 with two walks and a pair of RBIs. The A’s top Tampa, 10-6.
May 12, 2000: Stairs belts a three-run walk-off home run against Kazuhiro Sasaki of Seattle for a 9-7 Oakland win. It’s his fifth career walk-off, and though Stairs will belt over 150 more homers (including many pinch-hit shots), this will be his last walk-off.
May 29, 2000: Stairs is in right field when the rarest play in baseball happens: an unassisted triple play. The Yankees have runners on first and second with none out in the sixth, when Shane Spencerlines to second baseman Randy Velarde. He catches it, steps on the bag, and tags the runner from first. That’s all it takes.
Oct. 8, 2000: ALDS: Game Five: The longest tenure of Stairs’ career comes to an end as the Yanks top the A’s, 7-5. Stairs appears as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning and belts a double, but is unable to advance from there.
April 4, 2001: In the bottom of the eighth inning in his second game as a Cub, Matt Stairs lays down a sacrifice bunt. It’s only the fifth one of his career. In his remaining 3,528 plate appearances, he’ll never have No. 6. Yeah, that sounds like a move Cubs manager Don Baylor would call.
May 5, 2001: It’s one of the most one-sided games of Stairs’ career, as he and the Cubs destroy the Dodgers, 20-1. It’s only 4-1 at the seventh inning stretch, but the Cubs score eight in the bottom of the seventh and another eight next inning. Stairs starts, but leaves the game in the seventh inning.
June 13, 2001: For the first, last, and only time in his career, Stairs plays second base. It’s only for one inning, at the conclusion of a 13-3 smack down the Diamondbacks lay on the Cubs.
June 18, 2001: It might be the worst game of his career, as Stairs goes 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. He has one other four-K game, but at least it was over six plate appearances.
Sept. 24, 2001: While Stairs himself will go down in history for his pinch-hit home runs, today he gets to watch someone else do it, as Pittsburgh’s Craig Wilson unleashes his seventh pinch-hit home run of the year. The sixth-inning blast begins a Pirates comeback, as they turn a 5-0 deficit into a 7-6 win.
It also begins another record for Wilson. Between this game and tomorrow ‘s contest (which Stairs also plays in), Wilson gets a hit in six consecutive innings. As for Stairs, he homers in the Sept. 24 game, and has an unsuccessful pinch-hit appearance the next day.
April 24, 2002: It’s one of the toughest losses of Stairs’ career, as the Brewers fall in 15 innings to the Expos, 5-4. As rough as it is to lose in 15, it’s that much worse when the run scores on a walk-off error, but that’s what happens when center fielder Alex Sanchez botches a liner with two outs and a runner on third. Stairs struck out as a pinch hitter in the 11th.
June 29, 2002: It might be the best game of Stairs’ career, as he goes 3-for-4 with a double and two home runs in Milwaukee’s 10-2 pounding of the Twins. He ties personal high for extra base hits, homers and total bases in this game.
Sept. 2, 2002: Matt Stairs gets to see the Cubs’ Kerry Wood make history, fanning four men in the fourth inning. Catcher Todd Hundley was the man responsible, dropping not one but two third strikes in the inning. Yup, not only were there four strikeouts, but Milwaukee had five outs in all that inning. The non-strikeout out? That was Matt Stairs, who led off the frame with a grounder to first.
May 5, 2003: Stairs blasts what’s supposed to be the longest home run in the young history of Houston’s Minute Maid Park, 461 feet. I have no idea if it’s still the record.
July 9, 2003: Stairs doesn’t play in this game, but that’s fine because the real action right where he is: in the visitors’ dugout in Milwaukee’s Miller Park. During the seventh inning stretch, the Brewers run their traditional sausage race. The Pirates’ Randall Simon inserts himself into it, knocking one of the contestants over with his bat.
Aug. 20, 2003: For the second time in his career, Stairs’ team belts four homers in one inning. In the top of the fifth, Jason Kendall, Brian Giles and Reggie Sanders begin the frame with consecutive homers, and later on Sanders goes deep again, making it a 10-run inning. Stairs bats immediately after Sanders both times, and makes two of the team’s three outs: a line out and a ground out.
Aug. 23, 2003: Every batter has that one pitcher who has the whammy on him, and for Stairs that pitcher is Rick Helling. After going 0-for-17 against him, Stairs finally lashes out a base hit. He’ll see Helling only two more times, hitting into a double play and striking out, leaving him 1-for-20 against Helling.
June 2, 2005: How bad were the Royals, circa 1995? This bad: Kansas City’s win today completes its first three-game sweep in 78 series. Hey, at least the Royals swept the Yankees. Stairs belted a solo homer, helping KC win 5-2 in this one.
Aug. 19, 2005: Do you really want to know how bad the Royals were? By losing 4-0 to the A’s on this day, they drop their 19th consecutive contest. Stairs is 0-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout.
Aug. 8, 2006: Stairs lasts only 26 games with the Rangers, but perhaps the most interesting incident occurs in this one, when Oakland catcher Jason Kendall does something very unusual for a catcher: gets an unassisted double play. It’s also a walk-off unassisted double play. The person really responsible for the play is Texas batter Mark DeRosa. He fans for unassisted out No. 1, and then interferes with Kendall when he tries to throw out a base stealer. The stealer is called out, and Kendall gets that out without any assist.
Oh, and Stairs? He’s 1-for-2 with two walks in this game.
Oct. 1, 2006: The Tigers won a world championship in 2006, but Stairs arrived too late to be on the postseason roster. He played in only 14 games for them, his shortest tenure with any team.
This was a memorable one, though. It’s the last day of the season and if the Tigers lose the Minnesota Twins will win the AL Central. Never mind that the Tigers will still be the wild card, manager Jim Leyland wants the division crown. The 100-loss Royals are surprisingly tough, rallying from a 6-0 deficit to take an 8-7 lead in the eighth. A Stairs solo home run ties it, sending it into extra innings. Alas, the Royals win anyway in what proves to be Stairs’ final game as a Tiger.
Blue Jays tenure
April 23, 2008: For the first time in three years, Stairs hits two homers in one game. It’s the 13th and final time he does that.
June 20, 2008: In this game, Cito Gaston makes his triumphant return to managing. Well, he makes his return at any rate, as Toronto loses 1-0 in 12 innings to the Pirates in that worst of all possible ways: a walk-off error. Stairs singles as a pinch hitter in the 10th and dies on second base.
July 26, 2008: Never mind that he’s 40 years old—Stairs legs out a triple, the 13th one of his career. Naturally, he’ll never have another one.
Oct. 26, 2008: World Series Game Four: Finally, Stairs appears in the World Series. In his only plate appearance of the 2008 Series, Stairs is (naturally) a pinch-hitter, but fans. The Phillies win the Fall Classic anyway, making Stairs a world champion.
Aug. 23, 2009: How many people can say they played in two games featuring an unassisted triple play? Matt Stairs can. In the bottom of the ninth (yes, it’s a walk-off unassisted triple play), the Mets have runners on first and second against the Phillies, when Jeff Francoeur lines to the second baseman. Ball caught, bag stepped on, trailing runner tagged—game over. Stairs isn’t on the field for this one, though. He walked as a pinch hitter in the eighth and scored on two wild pitches (!) and a ground out.
Sept. 9, 2010: Stairs connects for his 12th and final grand slam. For perspective, Barry Bonds has 11 grand slams. Duke Snider and Jeff Bagwell combined have 11. But Stairs has 12 in his 265 homers. This is also his second pinch-hit slam.
Oct. 29, 2009: World Series Game Two: Stairs has a bigger role in this Series than the year before, appearing in five of its six games. In four of them, he’s just a pinch hitter, but in this one, he’s the starting DH. He goes 1-for-4 and drives in Philadelphia’s only run, but the Yankees win, 3-1.
April 5, 2010: Matt Stairs debuts with the Padres, his 12th franchise. That breaks the record by Deacon McGuire for most franchises a position player has been with.
May 22, 2010: Stairs hits his first homer as a Padre, tying the record held by Todd Zeile for most clubs a player has gone deep for.
Aug. 21, 2010: Stairs makes history, blasting his 21st career pinch-hit home run, more than previous record-holder Cliff Johnson hit.
Stairs, after one of his many pinch-hit homers
Sept. 5, 2010: The Padres make history of a sort, as they lose their 10th straight game. Many teams have done that, but the Padres are only the second team in history to end a 10-game losing streak in first place. The 1932 Pirates did it, and now the 2010 Padres. Stairs strikes out looking in a ninth inning plate appearance. He appeared in five of the games, all as a pinch hitter and went 2-for-5.
Sept. 18, 2010: Stairs belts his final pinch-hit homer, No. 23.
Sept. 28, 2010: Stairs plays a full game in the field for the final time. He’ll be an all-game DH a few times next year, but never play nine innings in the field. He’s in left on this day.
July 1, 2011: Stairs gets to enjoy a last bit of glory, connecting for an RBI walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth against the Pirates for a 2-1 Washington win. It’s Stairs’ first walk-off hit of any sort in 11 years.
Teammates celebrate Stairs’ walk-off hit by giving him a face full of shaving cream
July 7, 2011: The Nationals take an early and seemingly insurmountable 8-0 lead over the Cubs, only to see it surmounted. In the ninth inning, now trailing 10-9, the Nationals call on Stairs to pinch-hit with one out and the tying run in scoring position, but he can only pop up against Carlos Marmol.
July 15, 2011: The Braves franchise celebrates its 10,000th win by beating the Nationals 11-1. Don’t blame Stairs, who belted a single in his seventh inning pinch-hit appearance. It’s the 1,366th and final hit of his career.
July 17, 2011: For the 1,895th and final time, Stairs appears in a game. Naturally, it’s as a pinch-hitter. Sadly, but perhaps appropriately for a marginal player at the end of the line, he doesn’t even get to finish his pinch-hit appearance. When Stairs goes to the plate against the Dodgers, they bring in a new pitcher to get the platoon advantage. So Nationals manager Davey Johnson pulls his pinch hitter for another pinch hitter, who walks.
It’s not a storybook ending, but that’s why they’re called storybook endings. They rarely happen in real life.