Friday, August 29, 2008

Matt Stairs: Professional Late-Season Pickup

When you last saw Matt Stairs, it might have been as a late-season pickup for the Tigers back in 2006. I was watching a Friday night game two Septembers ago and suddenly here's Stairs, in a Tigers uniform, pinch-hitting! I didn't even know the Tigers had acquired him earlier that day. It was kind of funny, actually.

Then Stairs hit what COULD have been a big home run in the season finale, tying the game against the Royals in the 9th inning. Had the Tigers won the game, they would have been crowned Central Division champs. But the Royals finished the stunning three-game sweep, and the Tigers settled for the Wild Card. That worked out pretty well, turns out.

If you blinked, you may have missed this: Stairs in a Tigers uniform

On July 31, 2006, Stairs was traded to the Texas Rangers on the deadline day, from Kansas City. Then he went to the Tigers a month-and-a-half later; so he's used to being the last-minute addition.

Stairs was acquired by the Tigers too late to be added to the post-season roster, but he was on the field when the team celebrated a playoff berth in Kansas City. The Tigers neglected to offer him a contract, and Stairs signed with the Toronto Blue Jays in November '06.

Now Stairs is, once again, someone else's late-season pickup -- being traded by the Jays to the Philadelphia Phillies to give the Phils some pennant race help. He's 40 now, and in the National League I imagine he'll primarily be a pinch-hitter; his outfielding skills are waning. With the Jays, Stairs played less than 20 games in the field, functioning mainly as the team's DH. But at this time of the year, you can always use another left-handed bat off the bench.

There was a time, about 10 years ago, when Matt Stairs was one of the most feared lefty sticks in the American League, when he played for Oakland. Now he's one of the most sought after insurance bats, it appears.

I liked Stairs when he was in Detroit for those few weeks. He made his Tigers debut in a romp over the Orioles, and in the clubhouse after the game he sat in his swivel chair in front of his locker and spoke in a relaxed, playful manner to reporters. You could tell he was looking at his stint with the Tigers as a breath of fresh air, in a pennant race once again. I was sad when the Tigers let him walk, but there really wasn't any room for him anyway, I suppose.


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