“Not that there’s anything wrong with that…” – Jerry Seinfeld
If you’ve never been a fantasy baseball participant, this won’t make sense to you at all. In fact, most of this blog makes very little sense to most people, so you are far from alone. However, if you’ve known the joys of fantasy baseball draft day, and the near-suicidal despair of watching your first-round draft pick Ken Griffey, Jr. snap a hamstring in a spring game literally three hours after you drafted him, then you understand the concept of the Man-Crush.
Simply defined, the Man-Crush is all about being “in love” with a particular player. Just like love, sometimes you don’t know why you love them; you just do. You’ll do anything to get them on your team, and it will crush you when your love goes unrequited; your dreams unrealized.
My first fantasy baseball “man-crush” was Matt Stairs. I choke up a little bit just typing his name; given the fact the reason I’m writing this today – this is the day Stairs was designated for assignment by the Washington Nationals. Stairs is a unique guy who has had a unique career up to this point.
I can’t even bring myself to think this might be the end for Stairs; after all, he is 43 years old. I hold out hope that some other team, one whose uniform he has not yet worn, will see fit to give the professional pinch-hitter another shot. See, Stairs has played for damn near everybody.
- 1992-1993: Montreal Expos
- 1995: Boston Red Sox
- 1996-2000: Oakland A’s
- 2001: Chicago Cubs
- 2002: Milwaukee Brewers
- 2003: Pittsburgh Pirates
- 2004 – 2005: Kansas City Royals
- 2006: Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers
- 2007: Toronto Blue Jays
- 2008 – 2009: Philadelphia Phillies
- 2010: San Diego Padres
- 2011 (up to now): Washington Nationals
Stairs has worn 13 major-league uniforms, more than anybody in baseball history. Let’s be honest, guys that change addresses that often are either complete headcases or “Have Fastball, Will Travel”-type bullpen guys. The reason Stairs has been on so many rosters is he became a slugging pinch-hitter extraordinaire. Nobody has more career home runs coming off the bench than Stairs. Any team out there needing some thunder from the bench? Just call Matt Stairs.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone Stairs climbed his way into my heart with power. It all started back in 1996, and the first time I saw him as a young outfielder with the Oakland A’s. Specifically, it was the day in Minnesota I saw him hit two moon-shots off whatever slagheaps the Twins were offering as pitchers in those dark days of Dome-ball. Both of those shots arced majestically into the upper deck in right field and right into my heart. I was hooked.
He had a short, quick swing, forearms like Popeye the Sailor, and he was left-handed. Anybody who knows me knows I’ve always has a weakness for leftie Canadian sluggers. Corey Koskie, Justin Morneau…I even sneaked peeks at Larry Walker even though he belonged to another.
I saw all I needed to see that afternoon in the Metrodome. Stairs had He had all the hallmarks of a 30-homer, 100-RBI guy. But he didn’t look like your classic leftie slugger. He was only 5’9” and stocky, and he didn’t have that beautiful, smooth stroke most good left-handed hitters have. I didn’t care. His upper-cut swing was a thing of beauty to me.
But I wasn’t the only fantasy suitor whose eye he caught. Sadly, Matt would not be mine. Instead, I had to watch him blossom into that productive player while he belonged to another. Finally, in 2000, I landed Matt. He was coming off his career year, slugging 38 dingers and driving in 102.
That April was the sweetest month. Matt was off to a hot start, and things started to seem as though he was going to be the piece that was missing, finally elevating me out of the fantasy baseball doldrums.
But the honeymoon didn’t last.
Matt’s production tailed off; he never again would hit 30 homers, nor drive in 100 runs. But I clung to the hope that the salad days would return. My friends tried to tell me that the relationship was bad for me and I should end it, but just couldn’t do it. I didn’t see the pudgy, slowing outfielder they saw; all I saw was Matt.
It took three more years before I finally had to face the ugly truth; Matt was never going to be the light of my fantasy baseball life. Ending the relationship was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but ultimately, I was better off for doing it.
A lot of years have gone by since it’s been over, but I still have feelings for Matt. Who ever really forgets their first? Up until today, I would see him around every once in a while; it always did my heart good to see him doing well wherever he was. To this day, that bomb he hit against the Dodgers in the 2008 NLCS will always be a special moment; that rarest of highs when the addict finally catches the dragon he’s been chasing. But as the saying goes, eventually, all good things come to an end, and this is no different. Even though we’ll never be together again, it will be a strange day for me when Matt is eventually out of the league.
That’s the danger in fantasy baseball. It’s always fun until somebody gets hurt.