The idle time of the baseball offseason was beginning to set in last month, causing Matt Stairs to send a text message to Phillies manager Pete Mackanin.
Stairs had wanted to be a hitting coach since he retired as a player in 2011. And after the Phillies elected to not retain Steve Henderson, Stairs had his chance.
"I said, 'Listen, I'd love to put my name into the hat if it's not too late and if you guys are interested,'" Stairs said. "I waited for about a day and I heard back. He said we would be in touch."
Stairs interviewed with Mackanin and general manager Matt Klentak and was hired Wednesday as the team's hitting coach. Stairs, who became a folk hero in Philly after blasting a pinch-hit homer on the team's way to the 2008 World Series title, will leave his gig as an analyst on the team's television broadcasts. The Canadian has been a high school hockey coach, but this will be his first coaching job in professional baseball.
"Honestly, the last three years, by sitting in that booth, I can tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly of every swing," said Stairs, who batted .262 with 265 homers in 19 big-league seasons. "I was a hitting coach to the fans, now I've become a hitting coach to 25 players. I just love hitting. And I'm not tooting my own horn, but I know hitting. A lot of people might think, 'He was the guy that swung from his heels to try and hit home runs.' That was only later in my career. I can break down a swing."
Stairs, 48, will inherit an offense that ranked last season as one of the worst in baseball. He said he wants to preach to his batters to have patient approaches, a philosophy that jibes with what Mackanin said his lineup lacked at the end of last season. Stairs said one advantage will be that he has been around the team on a daily basis through his broadcasting job. The personable Stairs already has a rapport with almost the entire roster.
"I don't think you can turn it around overnight," Stairs said. "I think you need to sit down with each player and ask them, 'What is your strength? Are you a first-pitch fastball hitter? Are you a very good curveball hitter? What type of hitter do you want to be?' You can break down with all of these guys how many at-bats they gave away throughout the year. It's a process that you start in spring training and just drive it into their mind. Is it going to happen? I hope. Is everyone going to jump aboard and say, 'We believe in that?' I hope. But, it's going to be in some DNAs that they're just aggressive, first-pitch hitters."
The Phillies acquired Stairs near the end of the 2008 season as they took a flier on a veteran player who could perhaps be a solid option off the bench. Two months later, Stairs delivered with a pinch-hit, two-out, two-run homer against Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton to swing the momentum of the National League Championship Series and push the Phillies toward the World Series.
Stairs heard often that he would never pay for another beer in Philadelphia. He played just two seasons with the Phillies, but that homer — the one that Joe Buck simply said went "deep into the night" — made Stairs popular enough that Comcast SportsNet hired him in 2014 an analyst. And now he is the Phillies' hitting coach in a continuation of a journey that starter on an October night in L.A.
"It would be interesting to see what would've happened if I struck out," Stairs said. "Lives were changed because of that home run and so was mine. It helped me out a lot. I'm very grateful for that and grateful for CSN to give me a chance for three years and for the Phillies to show my talent on the field as a hitting coach."