The elbow injury that ended Stearns's 1982 season ultimately ended his career. In 1983, he was unable to start the season and was put on the disabled list in mid-April. Unable to throw, he played in only four games, all as a pinch-runner. In 1984, he spent some time with AAA Tidewater and logged only one big league game in the first five months. He was finally well enough to play in September but only played sporadically. After the season, Stearns became a free agent and attempted a comeback with the Winter League's Ponce Lions until re-injuring his elbow. Another comeback with the Cincinnati Reds' AAA Denver Zephyrs in 1985 was going well until he was hit by a pitch in mid-May. Unable to return to the majors, John Stearns retired.
. . . Stearns spent 1992 as a Cincinnati Reds scout, and 1993 as an ESPN broadcaster. He returned to the Reds as the manager of their Rookie-level team, the Princeton Reds in 1994 . . .