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Queens Chronicle

Mets legend Rusty Staub, dead at 73, was about more than baseball

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Posted: Thursday, March 29, 2018 2:10 pm

New York Mets fans’ Opening Day celebrations Thursday were tempered with sorrow upon learning of the death of beloved former outfielder Rusty Staub.

Staub, who served two tours with the Mets, was 73 when he passed away in West Palm Beach, Fla. He had been in failing health for the last few years, most notably when he suffered a heart attack in 2015 on a trans-Atlantic flight from Ireland to New York.

Daniel Staub, a New Orleans native, earned his nickname from his bright shock of red hair. Off the baseball field he was a French-trained chef with a pair of successful New York City restaurants — barbecued ribs were the specialty — and a humanitarian who raised well over $100 million for the families of police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty, never faltering even after more than 400 were killed in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

In his retirement he also quietly and without fanfare fed millions of needy people via food pantries and other services run through Catholic Charities. He also served the Mets as a goodwill ambassador.

The six-time All-Star came to the major leagues as a 19-year-old with the Houston Colt .45s, the team that entered the National League with the Mets the season before.

He was traded to the expansion Montreal Expos before the 1969 season and quickly became a fan favorite, learning French and picking up the nickname “Le Grande Orange” for his now-famous locks.

He was obtained by the Mets before the 1972 season and once gain became an instant fan favorite out in right field.

He was part of the 1973 “You Gotta Believe” National League champions who were in last place in late July and 12 games below .500 before Manager Yogi Berra rallied the troops to take the National League East with only 82 wins.

During a five-game upset of the Cincinnati Reds in the playoffs, Staub separated his throwing shoulder while running into the right field wall making a catch in extra innings of game 4.

Unable to throw overhand because of the injury, he still mauled Oakland Athletics pitching in the World Series at a .423 clip, with a home run and six RBIs against a pitching staff that included future Hall-of-Famers Jim “Catfish” Hunter and Rollie Fingers.

The Mets came close to derailing what would become a three-peat dynasty in Oakland, losing in seven games.

After the 1975 season, when he became the first player in Mets history to drive in 100 runs in a season, he was dealt to the Detroit Tigers in a money-saving move that obtained fading former ace pitcher Mickey Lolich, who went 8-13 in his only season in Flushing.

Staub, on the other hand, became an immediate fan favorite in Detroit, being selected that year as the American League’s starting right fielder in the All-Star Game. He had some of his best statistical seasons with Detroit.

Following a half-season return to Montreal and a season with the Texas Rangers, Staub returned to the Mets in 1981 and finished out his career as a 1st baseman, pinch-hitter deluxe and de facto coach. He also served as a team broadcaster.

He was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame in 1986, and, though he was with the franchise just over three seasons, had his number 10 retired by the Montreal Expos before the franchise moved to Washington, DC.

He is one of four major leaguers, along with Ty Cobb, Gary Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez, to hit home runs in the major leagues both as a teenager and after his 40th birthday.

He had 292 home runs and an even 100 pinch hits in his career, and shares the all-time record with eight consecutive pinch hits in 1983.

His 2,716 career hits are 64th all-time heading into this season, and he is the only player in major league history to have 500 or more hits with four different teams, including the Colt .45s/Astros, Expos, Mets and Tigers. 

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