One would have to look far and wide to find a player who is more popular in more baseball cities than Rusty Staub. The sweet-swinging outfielder played in the majors for 23 seasons for 5 different organizations and made quite a mark wherever he went. Daniel Joseph Staub was known as ‘Rusty’ for his red hair and broke into the big leagues in 1963 with the Houston Colt 45s as a 19-year-old. Staub struggled his first two seasons before hitting .256 with 14 homers in 1965 for the re-named Astros, then improved to .280 with 13 home runs and 81 RBI in 1966. 1967 was Staub’s breakout year; he hit a career high .333 with a league-leading 44 doubles, and made his first All-Star team.
In 1969 Rusty was traded to the expansion Montreal Expos and hit an impressive .302 with 29 homers, and set career highs in slugging % (.526) and on-base % (.426). Staub followed that up in 1970 with a career-best 30 home runs along with 112 walks. He drove in 94 runs and even stole 12 bases. In 1971 Staub hit .311 and knocked in 97 while playing in all 162 games, but at season’s end the Expos dealt Staub, coming off his 5th straight All-Star selection, to the New York Mets for Mike Jorgensen, Tim Foli, and Ken Singleton. In his time with Montreal Rusty learned French and became a fan favorite as French-Canadian fans nicknamed him ‘Le Grand Orange’.
New York embraced Staub quickly and in 1973 Rusty got his first (and only) taste of the post-season as the Mets (82-79) rolled to an unlikely National League East title by winning 20 of their last 28 games. Playing in a pitcher’s park at Shea Stadium, Staub hit a solid .279 with 36 doubles and 15 home runs during the regular season. In the NLCS, heavily favored Cincinnati took the first game at Riverfront Stadium. In Game 2, Staub, batting 3rd and playing right field, broke a scoreless tie with a home run and the Mets went on to a 5-0 victory. Then in Game 3 Staub homered in his first two at-bats as the Mets coasted to a 9-2 win in a contest that became famous for the 5th inning fight between the Red’s left fielder Pete Rose and Met’s shortstop Bud Harrelson. In Game 4 Staub made the defensive play of the game in a losing cause, robbing Dan Driessen of a double in the right center field gap in the 11th inning. Staub injured his left shoulder on the play and missed the Mets clincher in Game 5 and most of Game 1 of the World Series against Oakland.
Staub’s injured left arm forced him to throw underhanded and made it difficult to pull the ball with any authority. Undaunted, he led all players in the 1973 World Series with 11 hits and a .423 batting average, including a 4-hit performance at Shea Stadium in Game 4 that featured an opposite field, 3-run, 1st inning homer. The Mets took the defending champs to 7 games before falling just short.
Staub set a Mets record with 105 RBI in 1975, then was traded to Detroit before the 1976 season. There Staub enjoyed the best run-producing span of his career, driving in 318 in his first three seasons for the Tigers and appearing in his final All-Star game as the starting right fielder for the American League in 1976. Staub registered a personal best 121 RBI in 1978 as primarily a Designated Hitter – it would be his last season as a regular. After holding out to start the 1979 season, Staub was traded back to Montreal in mid-season, then played 1980 in Texas before returning to New York. For the next four seasons he played some outfield and first base, but carved out a niche as the club’s top pinch-hitter. In 1983 he tied an NL record with 8 straight pinch-hits and the MLB record with 25 RBIs as a pinch-hitter.
Staub retired in 1985 at age 41, and is one of only 3 players in major league history to homer as a teenager and as a 40-year old.
Rusty was undoubtably one of the 1970’s most consistent players, hitting .280 and ranking in the decade’s Top 20 with 860 RBI (6th), 1,487 hits (15th), 475 extra-base hits (16th), 732 runs (15th), 263 doubles (12th), and 184 home runs (20th). He was a 6-time All-Star, including 3 selections during the 70s.
Staub was inducted into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2012. New York considers him one of their own; Staub has owned 2 restaurants in Manhattan, had a TV broadcasting stint for the Mets, and established a foundation to benefit the families of NYC police officers and fire fighters killed in the line of duty.
Joe Gersbeck is a baseball historian and lifetime fan/student of the game who lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons. His website is http://www.1970sBaseball.com and his book, 1970s Baseball: A History and Analysis of the Decade’s Best Seasons, Teams, and Players is available on Amazon, B&N, and iBooks: