Matt Stairs announced his retirement from baseball yesterday at 43. No, his time in a Nationals uniform wasn't a career highlight, but he walked away knowing he still had the respect of the pitchers in the National League.
They rarely threw him a fastball.
When you talk with baseball professionals about the surest sign that a hitter is about done, you usually get the same answer from everyone: "When he sees mostly fastballs, pitchers know he's lost his bat speed." One of the better examples of that is Dale Murphy, a two-time NL Most Valuable Player. When Murphy reached his early 30s, his production declined precipitously. Yes, injuries played a role in that, but NL pitchers didn't fear throwing him fastballs anymore, knowing he couldn't turn on them the way he had in his 20s.
Stairs had a solid career, playing all or part of 19 seasons for 13 teams (yes, I'm counting the Expos and Nats separately), hitting .262 with 265 home runs and 899 RBIs. He got a ring with the 2008 Phillies and made somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million over his career. His career stats are similar to some better-known players, such as Roger Maris and Eric Davis, and while it's safe to say he'll never be at the podium in Cooperstown, the Fredericton, N.B., native is a lock for the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame some day.
Stairs was an important part of the Nationals clubhouse this year, and that presence will be missed. Retirement means he's getting a head start on his new career as hockey coach at Bangor High School in Bangor, Maine, where his daughters are students.