The 65th Greatest Royal was our favorite Canadian, Matt Stairs
Matt Stairs was a professional hitter, eh? What's that aboot?
Matt Stairs was a portly first baseman and outfielder who spent nearly three seasons with the Royals. Matt, who had the physique and athletic tools of a beer league softball player, was considered a "professional hitter" and enjoyed a much better career after the age of thirty than he had as a younger man.
Matt hailed from New Brunswick, Canada where he was a standout in high school. As a youth, he participated in the National Baseball Institute in Vancouver for one year. He was also a member of the Canadian National Baseball Team at the 1988 Summer Olympic Games.
Stairs signed as an undrafted free agent in 1989 with the Montreal Expos as a spry middle-infielder. He hit well in the minors, but was not much of a power hitter. In 1991 he hit .372 with a career high thirteen home runs and was named MVP of the Eastern League. His numbers leveled off in AAA Indianapolis the next season when he moved to the outfield, but he did make his Major League debut with the Expos with a cup of coffee.
Canadian-Born Kansas City Royals
Terry Puhl, 1991 - Melville, Saskatchewan
Andy Stewart, 1997 - Oshawa, Ontario
Aaron Guiel, 2002-2006 - Vancouver, British Columbia
Matt Stairs, 2004-2006 - St. John's, New Brunswick
Ryan Braun, 2006-2007 - Kitchener, Ontario
In 1993, the twenty-five year old Stairs was enjoying a mediocre season at AAA when in June the Expos presented him with the opportunity to play in Japan. Stairs saw it as an opportunity to make some more money, and show off his skills.
"I'm excited, but I'm getting a little nervous about it," said Stairs, who views the opportunity as "a chance to get more experience and get back in shape."
Living on a diet of raw fish and rice, Stairs flopped in Japan. He hit just .250 with six home runs in sixty games and was relegated to pinch-hitting duties late in the year. He returned to beef-eating North America and signed with the Boston Red Sox, spending two seasons in the organization, with a handful of Major League games.
By 1996, the twenty-eight year old Stairs was seemingly washed up and was signed by the Oakland Athletics to serve as organizational filler at their top affiliate in Edmonton. He made the big league club when first baseman Mark McGwire began the year on the disabled list. Stairs went an unimpressive 3-15 with a home run before being demoted when McGwire returned. Stairs went on a tear in AAA, hitting .344 with eight home runs in fifty-one games. Oakland needed an extra bat in July and recalled Stairs to provide some punch.
In his second game back against the Angels, Stairs hit a grand slam in the first inning and added a two run single in the same inning, tying an American League record with six RBI in one inning.
"I was thrilled that someone like me, who has spent most of his career in the minors, can share a major league record like this."
Stairs would homer again in his next game, and would add another home run a week later. By the end of July he was hitting .306 with a .565 slugging percentage. Stairs would be part of a rotation of outfielders for Oakland the rest of the year, finishing with a .277 average and ten home runs in just fifty one games.
"When I was a bench player, I loved it....Now I don't want to do that again. And I think I'm making a good statement: Listen, next year Matt Stairs wants to start in right field."
Stairs would still have to split time in right field with a host of marginal players in 1997, but he had the best numbers with a .298 average, twenty-seven home runs in just 352 at-bats and a career high .582 slugging percentage. In 1998, the A's finally got rid of Jose Canseco and gave the full-time designated hitter role to Stairs. He responded with another great season, hitting .294 with twenty-six home runs and his first 100 RBI season.
Like a fine wine or Canadian bacon, Matt seemed to get better with age. In 1999 at age 31, he hit just .258 but smacked a team high thirty-eight home runs with his second 100 RBI season and a career high 89 walks. For his efforts, he finished seventeenth in MVP balloting as the once-dormant Athletics sprung to 87 wins with a team full of sluggers.
"He's just a dirtbag, anyway...He might have come out of a cave in Newfoundland."
-Friend and fellow Canadian Paul Quantrill
Stairs took a dip in 2000, with his average plummeting to .227, but he still hit twenty-one home runs and drew seventy-eight walks. The A's sent Stairs to the Cubs for a minor leaguer that winter. As a first baseman, Stairs finished second on the Cubs in home runs with seventeen and second on the team in walks with fifty-two. Late in the year the Cubs acquired Fred McGriff, so Stairs was allowed to sign with the Milwaukee Brewers that winter.
Stairs played sparingly in Milwaukee, collecting just 315 plate appearances, but still managing to finish third on the team in home runs with sixteen. He continued his odyssey with NL Central ballclubs by playing with Pittsburgh in 2003 where he surged to hit .292 with twenty home runs.
In the winter of 2003, Royals General Manager Allard Baird was seeking to build off the surprising success of his ballclub that summer by adding cheap, quality veterans to his ballclub. He added catcher Benito Santiago, infielder Tony Graffanino, reliever Scott Sullivan, and signed professional hitter Matt Stairs to provide punch off the bench. Later he would also add slugger Juan Gonzalez, giving Royals fans hope of contending for a pennant in 2004.
Stairs was supposed to be a part-time player, but when Gonzalez went down in May with injury (shocking!), he was pretty much an every-day player either in right field or at first base for the injured Ken Harvey. Although most of the other free agents Baird had brought in turned out to be busts, Stairs hit .266 with eighteen home runs and 66 RBI, both second on the team. His 49 walks led the ballclub that ended up losing 104 games that year.
Royals Leaders in Walks 2004-2006
Matt Stairs 140
David DeJesus 118
Emil Brown 107
Mike Sweeney 94
Mark Teahen 80
Royals Leaders in Home Runs 2004-2006
Mike Sweeney 51
Matt Stairs 39
John Buck 35
Emil Brown 32
Angel Berroa 28
Stairs was again supposed to be a part-time player for the Royals in 2005 as they decided to go with a more youthful roster. In May, manager Tony Pena quit, and the Royals look destined for another 100 loss season. Stairs filled in part-time in right field and as designated hitter, but when Mike Sweeney went down with injury in August (shocking!), Stairs became the everyday first baseman. His power went down, as he hit just thirteen home runs, but he still hit .275 with a team high sixty walks.
"It's tough for a veteran to go through a rebuilding process, but he's been really helpful to me -- especially this last month with the tough times we had."
-New manager Buddy Bell
Stairs really did spend 2006 as a part-time player, filling in at DH when Sweeney was hurt. In July, he was dealt to the Texas Rangers for minor league pitcher Joselo Diaz. In September, he was placed on waivers and claimed by the Detroit Tigers.
Last season Stairs spent another fine season, at age thirty-nine, with the Toronto Blue Jays, smacking twenty-one home runs and hitting .289. He has hit 241 home runs in his career, 203 of which came after his thirtieth birthday. In MLB history, he is 63rd in home runs after the age of thirty, more than George Brett, Mel Ott or Mickey Mantle. Stairs summed up his hitting philosophy very simply:
"When you swing hard and make contact, good things happen,"