In seven cities where he played Major League Baseball over 23 seasons, Rusty Staub always made an impact on his team, the fans, and the media. Detroit fans will remember Staub as the player that the Tigers received in a trade for Mickey Lolich. Staub passed away at the age of 73 on Thursday, the day when Lolich was scheduled to throw out the first pitch for opening day.
Born Daniel Joseph Staub in New Orleans, Rusty began his career with the expansion Houston Colt 45’s, who would become the Houston Astros, after signing for a bonus of $100,000 at the age of 18. It took a while, but he steadily improved, being selected to the National League’s All-Star teams in 1967 and 1968.
Staub was traded to the expansion Montreal Expos before their inaugural 1969 season, and he immediately became the face of the franchise. “Le Grande Orange,” he was called as he toured Canada to promote the game of baseball all over the country. French-Canadians loved him as he took the time to learn French so that he would better relate with fans of his new team.
He was Player of the Year for Montreal and represented them in the All-Star Game in each of his three seasons with the Expos. His number 10 was retired by the franchise despite his relatively short but illustrious tenure where he hit .295 with over 500 hits, a .402 on-base percentage and an .899 OPS.
Prior to the start of the 1972 season, Staub was dealt to the New York Mets for three players, including Ken Singleton. He would spend three seasons with the Mets in his first tour of New York. While he didn’t make the All-Star team, each season brought notoriety.
Staub hit three home runs in the 1973 postseason to lead the Mets past the favored Cincinnati Reds, and batted .423 against the Oakland A’s in the World Series. The following season, he led the Mets in runs, hits and RBI. In 1975, he became the first player in Mets history to drive in over 100 runs, with 105 RBI.
After 17 seasons in Detroit, it seemed unfathomable that the Tigers would trade Lolich, their ace pitcher and World Series hero who ranked third all time in franchise history with over 200 victories. Lolich initially vetoed the trade as a 10-year veteran. Finally, the Mets ponied up a salary of $125,000, which was more than Lolich had ever received, and Rusty Staub became a Tiger.
The Tigers got the better end of the trade, as Staub hit .277 with 70 home runs and 358 RBI over three seasons. He was one of three Tigers to start the All-Star Game in 1976, along with Ron LeFlore and Mark Fidrych. Staub found his niche playing almost exclusively as a designated hitter with Detroit and became the first player ever to DH all 162 games in a season in 1978. That year, he knocked in 121 runs and finished fifth in the American league’s voting for Most Valuable Player.
The Tigers traded Staub to Montreal in 1979, and he went on to play with the Texas Rangers and finished his career with a second stint with the Mets. He retired in 1985 with a career total of 11,229 plate appearances, 292 home runs, 1466 RBI, and 2,716 hits over 23 major league seasons, nine of which were spent with the Mets. He was a six-time All-Star and the only player in MLB history to have at least 500 hits with four different teams.
Staub was also a gourmet cook, and he owned two restaurants in Manhattan. He was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame after he retired. His foundation has raised over $120 million for various charities, mainly for families of police, firefighters, and first responders who are killed or injured in the line of duty.