The New York Mets’ 57th Opening Day game in franchise history will be played under a more somber note. The former All-Star outfielder Daniel Joseph “Rusty” Staub passed away at 12:30 AM at a hospital in West Palm Beach, Fla. He had been dealing with kidney failure, but after some improvement, it seemed like things were on the upward swing. On Wednesday, March 29, Staub died at age 73 of multiple organ failure.
Rusty Staub was a member of the Houston Colt .45s, signing in 1961. He made his MLB debut in 1963 at the age of 19. In his first season, Staub spent time at both first base and right field, hitting .224 / .309 / .308 in 150 games for the Colt .45s. He regressed in 1964, only hitting .216 / .272 / .346. However, he flipped a switch in 1965, when the team because the Astros. Staub began to become an on-base machine, tying his power together and becoming an All-Star for five straight seasons. In 1967, he led Major League Baseball in doubles with 44, getting his first All-Star appearance.
On January 22, 1969, Staub was traded at age 25 to the Montreal Expos for Jesus Alou and Donn Clendenon. Despite the trade, Clendenno refused to report to the Astros. Instead, they sent Jack Billingham, Skip Guinn and $100,000 to the Astros. In three seasons with Montreal, Staub hit .296 / .404 / .501 with a 151 OPS+. He hit 78 home runs on 508 hits in 480 games. There, he was given the nickname Le Grande Orange (The Great Orange), and it stuck with him the rest of his life. On April 5, 1972, the Expos traded Staub to the New York Mets for Mike Jorgenson, Kenny Singleton and Tim Foli.
Despite an injury riddled 1972 season, the trade for Staub worked out for the Mets. In 1973, the year New York lost manager Gil Hodges to a heart attack, Staub led the Mets to a World Series appearance against the Oakland Athletics. That season he hit .279 / .361 / .421 with 15 home runs and 163 hits. Purely a right fielder now, he continued similar numbers with the Mets, but took a step back in 1974. Staub returned to 1973 numbers in 1975, when he hit .282 / .371 / .448. After the 1975 season, the Mets traded Staub along with Bill Laxton to the Detroit Tigers for Mickey Lolich and Billy Baldwin.
Staub had four seasons in Detroit, and made an All-Star appearance in 1976. That season he became a right fielder and designated hitter, batting .299 / .386 / .433. Staub finished fifth in MVP voting in 1978, batting .273 / .347 / .435 with 24 home runs in an offensively depressed era of baseball. During the 1979 season, the Tigers traded Staub back to the Expos for a player to be named later and cash. (That ended up being Randall Schafer, a minor league player.) He finished the 1979 season in Montreal before being traded in 1980 to the Texas Rangers for Chris Smith and LaRue Washington.
However, Staub hit free agency in 1980. From there he signed a 3 year, $1 million deal with the New York Mets to come back to the city. From that point, he never left. He stayed with the Mets throught the rest of his career, which ended in 1985. The next season, without Staub, the Mets won the World Series. However, his imprint was left on the franchise after all the time he spent there. In retirement Staub became a Mets announcer on television, opened two restaurants in Manhattan and was an avid philanthropist.
In 1986 Staub introduced the Rusty Staub Foundation to help young people get educational scholarships and fight hunger. More importantly, that same year, he founded the New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children Benefit Fund. The charity helps those lost in the line of duty as firefighters and policemen. Since the attacks on September 11, the organization raised over $110 million for the widows of those who died on that tragic day.
New York put Le Grange Orange in the Mets Hall of Fame in 1986, and he has served the franchise as a good representative for the last 32 years. While his body is no longer here, his spirit will live in Queens forever. Everything Staub did, both on and off the field, will exist forever. He embraced the job of a role model in society and helped everyone he could. So while the Mets will have to play today, Staub’s impact will be in everyone’s heart. Qu’il repose en paix et merci pour tout, Le Grande Orange.