Three beer cans and a florescent green softball. That's the welcome Matt Stairs received on the chair in front of his locker in September of 2006 according to a Jason Beck article at MLB.com. Tigers 3B Brandon Inge was happy to have Stairs aboard for the final stretch of the surprising Tigers renaissance season.
Given Stairs' rotund appearance, it seemed like a fun "welcome aboard". Stairs may have appeared like a beer league softballer looking for the keg at second base, however he had a sweet left-handed swing that kept him employed in MLB for a long time. We'll come back to Stairs' truncated stint in Detroit.
Honored in Canada
On Wednesday the announcement went public that Stairs will be part of the 2015 induction class into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. The New Brunswick native gets the honor after a 19-season career in MLB that was known for a few accomplishments. Stairs set the record for most teams by a position player with 12 and, more famously, established the MLB record of 23 pinch-hit homers.
Surfacing initially with the Montreal Expos, Stairs would establish himself with a highly successful five year run with the Oakland Athletics from 1996 to 2000. Stairs would get a few MVP votes after his 38 homer, 102 RBI season in 1999.
Stairs then bounced around as a "have bat, will travel" presence in MLB for clubs who needed some left-handed pop, typically in a reserve role. Stairs retired after spending part of the 2011 season with the Washington Nationals. He faded into the sunset with 265 career homers and he earned a World Series ring as a part of the Philadelphia Phillies' run to a title in 2008.
Joining Stairs, according to the CBC News, at the June 13th induction ceremony will be Felipe Alou, Corey Koskie, Carlos Delgado, and columnist Bob Elliott.
Welcome to Motown
If some Tigers fans don't recall the "Stairs Era" in Detroit, they can be forgiven. It was two-week stint that culminated in an ugly disappointment only to have the stench swiped away by a run to the World Series without Stairs.
Stairs was put on waivers by the Texas Rangers in September of 2006. The Tigers were working hard to avoid swooning out of the playoffs as they were wrapping up a 19-31 stretch to end the season after a torrid 76-36 start. The Tigers needed an offensive boost for the final two weeks and took a flyer on Stairs even though he would not be playoff eligible should the Tigers get in.
Stairs DH'd and pinch hit for the Tigers. He appeared in 14 games overall with a slash-line of .244/.295/.463 in 44 plate appearances. Stairs had three doubles, cracked two homers and knocked in eight runs as a Tiger.
The most memorable moment for Stairs would actually come on a very depressing day for the Tigers. In Game 162 the Tigers were desperately trying to hold off the hard surging Minnesota Twins to win their first AL Central crown. However the Kansas City Royals were playing out the string to a lost season with particular moxie and were looking to sweep the Tigers and break their hearts by relegating the Tigers to a wildcard slot. This would mean an ALDS matchup with the dreaded (at the time) New York Yankees.
The Tigers would roar out to a 6-0 lead after Inge homered in the 3rd inning on that Sunday afternoon and looked to be cruising. That was not to be the case. The Royals chipped away all day and then catapulted into an 8-7 lead with a four run 8th inning explosion off of Fernando Rodney and Todd Jones. Inge's inexplicable throwing error opened the floodgates on the inning. You could hear a pin drop at Comerica Park.
Up stepped Stairs to lead off the bottom of the 8th pinch-hitting for Omar Infante. Stairs had started the season with the Royals and had been a thorn in the side of the Tigers. Now was his chance to save them. Facing Scott Dohmann, Stairs fell behind 1-2 but suddenly lofted a high arching no-doubter into the right-field bleachers to tie the game. It was a thrilling moment to be sure...but it was a short-lived one with more agony looming.
As we know, the Tigers would go on to lose that day in 12-innings, 10-8, after Kenny Rogers couldn't hold the Royals down any longer. The Twins had won earlier and suddenly the Tigers were in second place and a wildcard team.
The Tigers would regroup the following week however. They knocked out the Yankees in surprising fashion and then captured the AL pennant with a sweep of the A's. Winning those two series took some of the sting away from losing a division crown that appeared all but locked up at several point over the long summer of winning baseball before the autumn light faded on their regular season.
We won't talk about the World Series loss to St. Louis.
Matt Stairs is now a mere footnote in Tigers history. However he will now get his rightful place in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame as a north-of-the-border immortal.