Rusty Staub, a red-headed outfielder who was a darling of the city of Montreal, a hero, humanitarian and fine chef in the city of New York, and a star in the early days of Houston baseball, died Thursday morning in West Palm Beach, Fla. He was three days shy of his 74th birthday.
"Across his accomplished 23-year Major League career, Rusty Staub earned the respect of fans in Houston, Montreal, New York, Detroit and beyond," Commissioner Rob Manfred said. "Known for his power and patience at the plate, Rusty became an All-Star for three different clubs and a fan favorite. He played a memorable role in the early-franchise histories of the Astros and the Expos, and he starred for the Mets in the 1973 World Series.
"Rusty was a superb ambassador for our sport and a generous individual known for community efforts, particularly for the New York City Police and Fire Departments. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to Rusty's family and friends, Mets fans and his many other admirers in the United States and Canada."
Staub, who experienced several years of failing health, including an episode in which he was resuscitated after having a heart attack on a trans-Atlantic flight in 2015, played in the Major Leagues for 23 seasons. He recorded 2,716 hits and was a six-time All-Star, though none of those All-Star seasons occurred when he was with the Mets, with whom he made the most lasting impressions during his long career.
"The Mets family suffered another loss earlier today when Daniel "Rusty" Staub passed away in a West Palm Beach hospital after an illness," the Mets said in statement. "He was almost as well known for his philanthropic work as he was for his career as a baseball player, which spanned 23 seasons. There wasn't a cause he didn't champion. Rusty helped children, the poor, the elderly and then there was his pride and joy, The New York Police and Fire Widows' and Children's Benefit Fund.
"A six-time All-Star, he is the only player in Major League history to have collected as least 500 hits with four different teams. The entire Mets organization sends its deepest sympathy to his brother, Chuck, and sisters Sue Tully and Sally Johnson. He will be missed by everyone."
But there was Staub's time in Montreal, too, where he truly became a star and helped sell the game of baseball to an entire nation.
"When they do the autopsy on me, they're going find a lot of New York," Staub once said. "But they'll find 'MTL' on a little part of my heart. What I've had in Montreal, in Canada, has been a spectacular part of my life."
Staub's big league career began with the Colt .45s in 1963. The New Orleans native made his debut just eight days past his 19th birthday, batting fourth in Houston's Opening Day game. He batted .273 with 57 home runs and 370 RBIs in six seasons with the Colt .45s and Astros, an expansion team that began play in 1962.
"We send our heartfelt condolences to the family, friends, former teammates and many fans of Rusty Staub, who sadly passed away this morning," the Astros said. "As a member of Colt .45s and Astros from 1963-68, Rusty was one of the first stars in the club's history and played a significant role in establishing the franchise in its early years. An extremely popular player in Houston, Rusty earned All-Star honors in both 1967-68. His contributions to the Astros organization and to Major League Baseball overall will always be remembered."
A left-handed hitter with a sweet stroke who didn't strike out often, Staub landed with the Expos, another expansion team, in a 1969 trade. The people of the French-Canadian city of Montreal took him into their hearts and called him "Le Grand Orange," owing to the color of his hair and the fact that he was the Expos' biggest star, one who embraced the language, learning to speak fluent French while hitting .296 with a .404 on-base percentage and 78 home runs from 1969-71.
"I played very well. ... [I did] the things I did to let the community know that I was part of their existence," Staub once said. "Charity things were done. I think all of that stuff influences people as far as how they look at you."
Traded to the Mets in a deal that sent future star Ken Singleton to Montreal, Staub was a catalyst who helped lead New York to an unlikely National League pennant in 1973, when they came back from last place to win the NL East. He hit three home runs in the NL Championship Series against the vaunted Reds, but in Game 4 of that series, he crashed into a wall making a catch to rob Dan Driessen of an extra-base hit and separated his right shoulder.
Nonetheless, Staub hit .423 in the Mets' seven-game loss to Oakland in the World Series, all the while throwing underhand on any ball hit to right field. His five RBIs in the Mets' 6-1 win in Game 4 remains a club record for a postseason game. He was now the darling of two cities.
The Mets traded Staub to Detroit after the 1975 season, after he'd driven in 105 runs -- the first of his three 100-RBI seasons -- and he continued to hit, making the American League All-Star team in '76 and becoming the first to appear in all 162 games as a designated hitter in '78, when he drove in a career-high 121 runs. He had 101 RBIs exclusively as a DH the previous season, too.
It set Staub up well for his next endeavor as a pinch-hitter extraordinaire. After brief stints with Montreal and Texas, he ended up back with the Mets. Almost always off the bench, Staub hit 13 homers and 31 doubles and drove in 102 runs from 1981-85. He tied an NL record with eight straight pinch-hits and also tied the Major League record with 25 RBIs by a pinch-hitter in '83. Staub was 41 years old when his playing career ended, one year shy of the Mets' World Series championship in 1986.
"The thing you have to understand is that when you play in different cities -- and whatever degree of success there is -- there are times where another club wants you so [badly]," Staub said. "The Mets wanted me to come from the Expos and [New York] made an incredible offer to the Expos, so they can have me play right field. ...
"I was very fortunate. When you see [players] like [Carl] Yastrzemski, Cal Ripken Jr., [playing for one team], that all sounds good, but that dog doesn't hunt much anymore. It's not something that you see. It's very rare. It's usually about money."
"Rusty was an excellent hitter and an excellent ballplayer overall," said Jimmy Wynn, a teammate with the Astros. "He signed at a very young age, but knew the game very well. He was quiet when he played with us, but was a super person and a great teammate. We both made the All-Star team in 1967 and traveled to Anaheim together. That was very special. It is very sad that he has passed."
A food connoisseur, Staub opened two restaurants in Manhattan, one of them specializing in ribs.
"You know how they say, 'He could flat-out hit'?" Mets pitcher Ron Darling said. "With Rusty, you can say, "He can flat-out cook, too.'"
Staub founded the New York Police and Fire Widows' and Children's Benefit Fund before the September 2001 attacks. It has raised more than $100 million.