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Looking back at Matt Stairs

The Wonder Hamster!

Tampa Bay Devil Rays vs Kansas City Royals - May 14, 2005 Photo by G. N. Lowrance/Getty Images

Many of you remember Matt Stairs, who played first base and in the outfield for the Royals from 2004 to 2006. Stairs can best be described as a “professional hitter”. His physique didn’t look like someone the Royals would employ, as they tend towards the leaner, athletic build.

The Royals covet toolsy athletes and Stairs, standing 5’9 and weighing in at 200 pounds (conservatively) doesn’t awe anyone in those categories. But man, could he hit. In 1,224 plate appearances with the Royals, he stroked 39 home runs and drove home 164 on some stinker teams. Those Royal teams went 139-262 when Stairs was on the roster. It wasn’t his fault, as his slash was a respectable .269/.357/.444 with an OPS+ of 109. He was a member of the 2006 team which was a total Gong show and lost a club record 106 games, a mark that will most likely be erased this season.

No, the real reason I’m looking at the career of Matt Stairs is that he was the only player in major league history to play for each of the 1969 expansion teams. This should come as no surprise as Stairs played for 13 different teams (12 franchises when you combine Montreal with Washington). That’s a record for position players, second only to pitcher Edwin Jackson, who played for 14 different franchises.

Stairs, who grew up in Fredericton, Canada, was a high school star in baseball and hockey. He advanced through the Canadian baseball ranks culminating in a 1988 appearance for the Canadian Olympic Team at the Seoul games.

In January of 1989, he signed a free agent contract with the Montreal Expos. He made a rapid climb through the Expos minor league system and made his Major League debut with them on May 29, 1992. He collected his first hit on May 31 with a second inning RBI single off the Reds Jose Rijo.

Stairs hit 265 home runs over his 19-year career, but his first didn’t come until July 5, 1995, when he hit a seventh inning solo shot off the Royals Tom Gordon in a game at Kauffman. Stairs was a member of the Boston Red Sox at that time.

His best years were spent in Oakland between 1996 and 2000. He hit more than 25 home runs three seasons in a row and exceeded 100 RBI twice during his Oakland tenure.

He landed in Milwaukee in 2002, the second expansion team, where he hit 16 home runs in only 315 plate appearances.

The Royals were his third stop in his Expansion tour, where Stairs became a bit of a fan favorite. He also sported one of the all-time great baseball nicknames: Wonder Hamster. Besides his body, which can best be described as Molson muscle, he also sported a world class mullet of curly hair in his younger days. Groovy, eh?

The Royals traded Stairs to the Rangers in July of 2006 for a pitcher named Jose Diaz, who appeared in exactly four games for the Royals. Diaz gave up 10 hits and 8 runs in just 6.2 innings before catching the bus back to Omaha.

In the meantime, Stairs just kept hitting. He went from Texas to Detroit to Toronto to Philadelphia, where he hit a huge home run in the 2008 National League Championship Series off the Dodgers Jonathon Broxton. He landed in San Diego for the 2010 season, which completed his circle of expansion teams. By this time, he was 42 years old and didn’t have much left in the tank. He hit a few home runs and was a valued mentor to younger players. He came full circle in 2011, signing with the Washington Nationals and appearing in 56 more games, with 74 more plate appearances, back with the franchise where it all began.

When he closed the books on his career, he was arguably the third best Canadian hitter of all-time, exceeded only by the fabulous duo of Larry Walker and Joey Votto. Stairs ended his career with a major league record 23 pinch hit home runs.

He was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015 and in retirement coaches high school hockey for his hometown Fredericton High, in what he calls his dream job.