Mar 31, 2016

New York Mets Team Hall of Famer: Rusty Staub (The Pre & Post Mets Years)

Daniel Joseph Staub was born on April 1, 1944 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was a star baseball player while attending Jesuit high school in Louisiana making a local name for himself. The left handed hitting Staub, threw right handed and played outfield in his early career. Staub worked hard to develop his skills, believing baseball was part discipline & part sport.

His science of preparing to play was an obsession to him, "Hitting takes concentration," he said, "practice is the most important thing to my game." He was different from the average ball player; he was worldly, studying the history of gourmet cooking, went to the Theater & enjoyed fine cuisine while on the road. "He leads the league in idiosyncrasies," said one Staub team mate.

In 1961 Staub was signed as a “bonus baby” for the expansion Houston Colt 45’s (later becoming the Astros) for $100,000. He was the 1961 Carolina League’s MVP hitting 23 HRs & batting .293. At age 19 he made his MLB debut, on a young Houston Colt 45 team that featured future Met Jerry Grote & Hall of Famer Joe Morgan. Staub made the 1963 Topps All Star Rookie team, hitting .224 with 6 HRs 17 doubles & 45 RBIs in 150 games played. Rusty made baseball history for the first time in his career, as he was only the second teenage since 1900 to play in 150 games.

In 1964 he began the season with Houston but barley stayed around the .200 batting mark & was sent down to AAA Oklahoma City in early July. He tore up the AAAPacific Coast League hitting .313 with 20 HRs posting a .426 on base % getting called back up to Houston in September. The next season he was second on the club to "the toy cannon" Jimmy Wynn in HRs (14) & RBIs (63) as the ninth place Houston right fielder. By 1966 the popular Staub had become an early hero to the Houston fans, he lead the team in RBIs (81) & doubles (28) batting .280 with 13 HRs, earning votes for the MVP award.

In 1967 he made his first All Star appearance, getting an 11th inning base hit off Oakland’s Catfish Hunter in the Mid Summer Classic. Staub led the league in doubles (44) while coming in fifth for the batting title, hitting .333. He had ten HRs, with 74 RBIs 60 walks & a .398 on base percentage. His last year playing in the Astrodome would be 1968, “The Year of the Pitcher”.

Rusty hit .291 (9th in the league) in that tough year of hitting, bashing 37 doubles (4th in the league) with six HRs & 72 RBIs. He made his second straight All Star appearance, going 0-1 off Detroit’s Denny McLain in that 2-1 National League 15 inning win at the All Star Game held in Anaheim California.

In 1969 he was getting promoted as the star of the new MLB franchise located in Montreal, the first team to play outside of the United States. At first there was a problem, when Donn Clendenon, originally drafted by the Expos refused to report to Houston in the exchange for Staub, due to troubles with their management. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn stepped in, and told the two teams to work out a deal, knowing how important Staub was in starting out the Expos new franchise. Montreal convinced Clendenon to sign with them, and then sent pitchers Jack Billingham and Skip Guinn to Houston to complete the deal, just days before the season began.

In Montreal Staub became the Expos first star player, and is still one of the most popular Expo players in their history. The fans loved him, as he attempted to learn their French language & played hard every day. They gave him the nickname “Le Grande Orange” to go along with the name Rusty, due to his red hair. He made three straight All Star teams, one for every season he played in Canada. In Montreal he hit many more HRs than he did in the vast Astrodome, while his doubles totals went down a bit. Staub was one of the games slowest runners even in his early days.

On Opening Day in the Expos first game ever, played at Shea Stadium Staub drove in a run with a single off Tom Seaver early on. He later hit a solo HR off Al Jackson &drew a walk off Ron Taylor in the Expos 11-10 victory. The next day he hit another HR this one off Nolan Ryan in the Mets 9-5 win. In July he drove in 17 runs in the last two weeks of the season, including six in a two game span against the New York Mets. In the 1969 season Rusty hit .302 with a .429 on base % for the newly formed Expos. He hit 29 HRs (8th in the league) he drew 112 walks (2nd in the NL) with 79 RBIs & 26 doubles. In the outfield he led all outfielders with 16 assists with his strong throwing arm.

In 1970 he hit 30 HRs with 94 RBIs, walking the second most times in the NL (112) posting a .394 on base %, batting .274. He was by far the most productive bat in the last place Expo lineup. In 1971 he played in every regular season game, hitting his Montreal career high .311 coming in the top ten in batting. He had 186 hits (7th in the NL) hit 19 HRs with 34 doubles (third in the NL) a .392 on base % & 97 RBIs (7th in the NL). In the outfield he led the league in assists (20) for the third straight year, and was first in errors (18) posting a .945%.

Staub was treated like a celebrity in Montreal, one of the most popular baseball players to ever play there in the hockey town. His #10 jersey was the first number ever retired by the Montreal Expos organization. In four seasons he hit .295 with 531 hits, 81 HRs 86 doubles, 18 triples & 81 RBIs. He posted a .402 on base % & is still the franchise's career leader in that category with more than 2000 plate appearances. He is also second in slugging (.497%) & fourth in batting (.295).

Trivia: Rusty has no Topps baseball card in the 1972 or 1973 baseball card sets. At that time the players had a new contract with Topps through the newly formed Players Union. Rusty was one of the last hold outs to join the Players Union. In 1974 he does have a baseball card as a member of the New York Mets.

After the 1975 season, the Mets management made a horrible decision trading Staub to the American League. In one of the worst trades ever in Mets history, Rusty was sent to Detroit with pitcher Bill Laxton for over the hill, over weight pitcher Mickey Lolich and outfielder Billy Baldwin.

He went to Detroit and loved hitting at Tiger Stadium. In his first season he played in all 161 Tiger games, batting .299 with 176 hits (7th in the league) 19 HRs, 28 doubles & a .433 on base %. His run production continued as he led the team with 96 RBIs (4th best in the AL). Rusty was voted to start the 1976 All-Star Game in the outfield, going 2-for-2 in the National Leagues victory at Philadelphia. The next year (1977) he batted .277 with 22 HRs, 34 doubles & once again drove in over a hundred runs with 101 RBIs (10th best in the league).

In 1978, he became a full time designated hitter, becoming the first player to play in all 162 regular-season games exclusively as a DH. He had the honor of being named the Designated Hitter on The Sporting News 1978 AL All-Star team. That season he drove in a career high 121 runs, finishing second to Boston's league MVP Jim Rice in the AL, in RBIs. He hit 24 HRs with 30 doubles78 walks, a .347 on base % & a .273 batting average.

In his three plus seasons with the Tigers, Staub also had 36 sacrifice flies. Rusty had problems negotiating a contract in Detroit after hsi productive seasons & held out to start the 1979 season. This resulted in his being dealt back to the Montreal Expos in July of that season. His numbers began to decline, as he would hit just .244, with 12 HRs 15 doubles & 54 RBIs, between the two teams.

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