My mind works in strange ways… or as some would say, not at all. Tomato, tomahto.
I was thinking about Raul Ibanez a while back and marveling at his late-career surge. On a totally unrelated note, I noticed the other day that Gary Sheffield is putting up some nice numbers (.283/.427/.505) for the Mets this season. That’s pretty good for a 40-year-old, and I speak from experience, being one myself.
A 40-year-old, that is; not a good hitter. Just to be crystal clear.
Then I got to wondering about other guys in their forties this year. Jamie Moyer just notched his 250th career win, while Randy Johnson is knocking on the door of #300.
Great stories, both, but not what caught my eye. I’m more interested in Matt Stairs. Have you seen what he’s doing for the Phillies? It’s a microscopic sample size, but the guy is hitting .281/.465/.594.
Look, anything can happen in 43 plate appearances, but here’s the thing. Stairs has been a good hitter for a very long time. He owns a career .266/.359/.484 line, with 257 home runs.
Stairs didn’t see material playing time at the big-league level until he was 29. That year he hit .298/.386/.582, with 27 homers in 410 trips to the plate. This was the first of three straight productive seasons for Stairs:
He tailed off a bit after that and saw his plaing time reduced… and then settled in as a solid part-time player for several years. Stairs never saw 500 plate appearances after his age 32 season, but neither did he dip below 315 until… well, presumably he won’t reach that in ‘09.
Just two years ago, Stairs hit .289/.368/.549 in 405 plate appearances for Toronto. That’s not shabby for a 39-year-old. Or for a hitter of any age.
Why do I care about any of this? Two reasons. First, I get a kick out of players whose careers defy expectation — like an Ibanez or a Stairs (or a Moyer, for that matter).
Second, Stairs is the kind of player who will be forgotten in 20 years but shouldn’t be. He’ll be like, I don’t know, George Hendrick. That’s not a great example because Stairs and Hendrick had different skill sets, but I’m looking for guys who weren’t stars but who played good baseball for an extended period of time before fading into relative obscurity.
If you’re my age or older, there’s a good chance you remember Hendrick. If you have even a passing interest in the history of baseball, you may know who he is. But a lot of people have no idea who Hendrick was or that he was a pretty good hitter.
Stairs could end up in that same category, which would be a shame. So we talk about him now and hope that people appreciate what he’s done (and what he’s still doing).
Then maybe one day you’ll be watching a game with your kids and see someone come to the plate who has put together a quietly productive career. And maybe you’ll say to them, “You know, this guy is a pretty good hitter. Kind of like Matt Stairs.” And maybe they’ll ask you who Matt Stairs was. And maybe you’ll tell them.