Top of the 49th: Have bat, will travel

August 2, 2011, 8:35 PM


Given how many times his career his seemingly risen from the dead, it’s hard to believe this is finally it for Matt Stairs.

But on Monday, shortly after the Washington Nationals released the 43-year-old Canadian slugger, Stairs told Sportsnet he’s finally ready to hang ‘em up after 19 big-league seasons.

“This is probably it,” he said. “I think it’s time to walk away. It’s been a good run and I’ve had a great time.

A good run?

You could say that after 265 career home runs (second most all-time by a Canadian), 23 pinch-hit home runs (an MLB record), and a record 13 different uniforms worn.

Given those numbers, has anyone been as productive for as long and with as many teams as Stairs has, and received so little recognition?

We doubt it, but there’s no question Stairs has left a unique mark on the game– not to mention on some baseballs — over his remarkable career.

Here are just a few of the ways:

As a proud Canadian:

Stairs has played for Team Canada several times internationally including at the first two World Baseball Classics (2006, 2009), as an all-star shortstop (yes, shortstop) at the 1987 World Amateur Championships in Italy and at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

During the 2008 season while playing for the Blue Jays, Stairs took matters into his own hands after being told that Yankees broadcaster Paul O’Neill said it was difficult for Toronto to attract free agents because, “you do have to go through customs.”

“I went up, introduced myself and shook his hand,” Stairs told Sun Media’s Bob Elliott. “I told him that Toronto is a great place to play. I’m not going to let something like that go, not when someone is knocking the city where I play.”

As a could-have-been Hall of Famer:

Sabermetric deity Bill James has long been a fan of Stairs, and wonders if we might be debating his Hall of Fame credentials today had he received more regular playing time early in his career:

“Look at it,” said James. “Somebody decided he was a second baseman, he tears through the minor leagues, gets to Montreal, the Expos take one look at him and say, ‘He’s no second baseman, get real.’ He bounces around, goes to Japan, doesn’t really get to play until he’s almost 30, then hits 38 homers, slips into a part-time role and hits 15-20 homers every year for 10 years in about 250 at-bats a season. … You put him in the right park, right position early in his career … he’s going to hit a LOT of bombs.”

More from James:

“Stairs’s career numbers are essentially the same as Reggie Jackson’s (.262/.356/.490). All of his numbers trump those of Roger Maris. Other players with comparable numbers include Bobby Bonds, Frank Howard, Dwight Evans, Dale Murphy and Greg Luzinski. Nobody confuses those ballplayers with the ordinary.”

PHOTO GALLERY: Stairs through the years

As the pride of Fredericton:

Although he now resides in Bangor, Maine with his wife and three daughters in the off-season, following the 2009 season, signs were erected at Royals Field in Fredericton distinguishing it as “The Home of Matt Stairs” and the road in front of the park has been re-named “Matt Stairs Way.”

As a playoff hero:

The Toronto Blue Jays point to Roberto Alomar’s home run off Dennis Eckersley in Game 4 of the 1992 ALCS as arguably the biggest hit in franchise history.

The Philadelphia Phillies?

Entering the top of the eighth of the Game 4 of the 2008 NLCS trailing the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-3, the Phillies scraped out two runs to tie the game 5-5.

Pinch-hitter Matt Stairs then stepped into the box with a man on and two-outs against L.A. closer Johnathan Broxton, who hadn’t surrendered a home run at Dodger Stadium in two years…

The Phillies would go on to eliminate the Dodgers and later, the Tampa Bay Rays to win the World Series — the one and only championship of Stairs’ career.

As a fan-favourite:

Thanks to his linebacker frame, all-or-nothing swing, lumberjack looks and team-first attitude, Stairs was a popular player and teammate wherever he landed.

“Let’s face it, I’m not 6-foot-2 and trim,” said Stairs. “I’m 5-foot-9 and 2-I-really-don’t-care – I still keep myself in good shape. I don’t want to give the fans an excuse not to like me, but I guess when I hit a big home run they say, ‘Hey, that guy is just like us.’”

But in Philadelphia, the blue-collar Stairs became such a fan favourite thanks to his playoff performance he inspired this T-shirt.

As for post-retirement plans, Stairs said he’s hoping to land a coaching job in the majors for next season — perhaps as a hitting instructor — even as a minor league manager.

Matt Stairs on the move again?

What are the odds…

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