The Major League Baseball record holder for the most career pinch hit home runs, Matt Stairs, at 42 years of age has signed a Minor League contract with the Washington Nationals for the coming season, and will get a crack at making the Major League roster out of Spring Training.
More than twenty years ago, Stairs signed a contract with the Montreal Expos as an amateur free agent. Two years after that, he appeared in his first game, fittingly as a pinch hitter. He struck out swinging.
You know how there’s almost always a player on your local ball team that makes you think that if he only received a few more opportunities he’d blossom into a star player? Matt Stairs is the very epitome of that guy.
I’ll let Bill James and Joe Posnanski explain from a conversation they had about players that might have made the Hall of Fame under different circumstances.
Look at it. 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.
What can you say? It’s all there. Stairs did not get 500 at-bats until he was 30 — he had a .370 OBP that year, hit 26 homers, drove in 106. The next year, he had the 38-homer season. His average dropped the next season, and he never got 500 at-bats in a season after that.
While any Hall of Fame ambitions that Stairs has will most likely go unfulfilled, he can take solace in having his 23 career pinch hit home runs inspire one of the funnier baseball related t-shirt slogans of all time. Of course I’m writing about the infamous: “Use Stairs in case of emergency.”