Outfielder Matt Stairs has a chance to set a Major League Baseball record in 2011, we think. No, it isn't most well-groomed goatee or greatest T-shirt one-liner (“In case of emergency, use Stairs”) Stairs, who signed a minor league contract with the Washington Nationals on Dec. 14, can set the all-time record for playing for more teams than any other player in history. In more than 100 years of baseball, no player has played for more than 12 teams. If Stairs makes the Nationals roster, even for just one plate appearance, he will play for his 13th different team, sort of. It is unclear at the moment whether Major League Baseball will recognize it as the record. Because the pinch-hitter extraordinaire played for the Expos early in his career, we do not know whether Washington will be counted as a seperate team played for.
Stairs is tied with Mike Morgan and Ron Villone for most unpacked apartments. Royce Clayton, Kenny Lofton, Terry Mulholland, Julian Tavarez, Rick White and Todd Zeile all played for 11 different teams.
The 5-foot-9, 200-plus outfielder's possible accomplishment speaks to a few things: longevity for one, but he also represents the specialization of Major League Baseball over the last 20 years. Not only do pitchers not go seven innings, but soft-hitting, solid-fielding shortstops will almost always be lifted for a hefty power hitter in the late innings. In 2009, Stairs played in 99 games and stepped to the plate only 129 times.
Stairs' story began in 1992, when the 24-year-old made 38 plate appearances for the Montreal Expos hitting .167 with zero home runs and five runs batted in. Then things got interesting; you see, Stairs has actually already played for 13 professional teams already, in 1993 he was sold to the Chunichi Dragons in the Japanese league. He was signed back by the Expos six months later, then sold again to the Boston Red Sox three months and three days after that.
At the end of 1995, Stairs became a free agent, signing with the Oakland A's. The most incredible part about a guy who has played 18 seasons for 12 different teams might be that he spent five years with the Oakland A's amidst his odyssey, which means that he played for an average of nearly one team per year for 13 years outside of his time with Oakland.
Stairs stopped off in Chicago, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Kansas City from 2001-2005, before a wild 2006. He began the season playing 77 games with the Kansas City Royals, then was traded to the Texas Rangers who, after 88 trips to the plate, released Stairs. He then signed with the Detroit Tigers for 14 games. Had the Tigers defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2006 World Series, he would have gotten a ring after being let go by two non-playoff teams.
Stairs eventually got his ring and created a never-to-be-forgotten moment in the 2008 National League Championship when he hit a pinch hit home run against Dodgers' closer Jonathan Broxton to help seal the Phillies' trip to the World Series.
During his 18 years in Major League Baseball, the lefty power hitter's contracts have ranged from $110,000 with the Expos to $3.2 million with Oakland. He's been the league's best steal (had a .950 OPS in 121 games for Pittsburgh for $900,000) and biggest disappointment (was paid $3.2 million to hit .227 for the Cubs in 2001). The outfielder has made $18.8 million over his 18-year career.
Stairs has accomplished some unique feats, among them include playing in 45 different stadiums, facing pitcher Geoff Geary three times hitting three home runs, playing one inning at second base for the Cubs in '01, hitting home runs off 205 different pitchers and wearing 11 different jersey numbers.
There are a few players who could contend for Stairs' crown, Octavio Dotel will play for his 11th team in 13 years as he joins the Blue Jays for 2011, Dennys Reyes signed with the Red Sox as a free agent, that will be his his 11th team. Milton Bradley is a long shot playing for eight teams in his first 10 years in the league.
Villone, Morgan, Dotel and Reyes bounced around because they were inconsistent and for the most part replaceable pitchers. Teams said, “we need one more guy in the bullpen” and signed them. Bradley moves from team to team because he has outstanding talent, but injury and personal problems that always lead to teams losing patience. The precedent makes it all the more unique that Stairs is the player who has played for the most teams. He averages 23 home runs per 162 games and has a career OPS+ of 118. He's blasted as many as 38 home runs and once walked 89 times in a season. It is striking that a team wouldn't try harder to hold on to such a hitter. Even at age 39, Stairs had a .917 OPS playing consistent DH for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Consider his similarity scores on Baseball-Reference which link him to Danny Tartabull, Pat Burrell, Cliff Floyd and Roger Maris – all players who, for the most part, had long stays as starters for one or two teams.
Assuming Stairs makes one plate appearance, his could-be record for most teams played for will probably end up no more than a trivia question, but it is part of what makes baseball. Consider the reserve catcher who plays in a different city each year or utility infielder who adds depth to a contender; each has their role. Matt Stairs just happened to have a role on 13 different Major League Baseball teams.... or is it 12?
Matthew Coller is a senior staff member of the Business of Sports Network, and is a freelance writer. He can be followed on Twitter
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