Staub’s On Base Talents Unappreciated By Baseball Historians

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Le Grand Orange

By John Ventola

Rusty Staub, a native of New Orleans who went on to an outstanding 23-year major league career, died Thursday in West Palm Beach just three days short of his 74th birthday.

I first saw Daniel “Rusty” Staub as a 17-year-old first baseman for Jesuit High School

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Name Of The Game–Get On Base. Staub Did It With Hits And Walks

when the Blue Jays faced off against Istrouma High for the 1961 baseball state championship at old Pete Goldsby Park in Baton Rouge. Staub, the star of Jesuit’s national champion American Legion team in the summer of 1960, was scouted thoroughly by professional baseball scouts, and many were in attendance that May afternoon to see a state title determined, and two of Louisiana’s top hitters, Staub and Istrouma’s Dalton Jones.

Ted Williams, one of the best pure hitters in baseball history, was there that day to evaluate both Staub and Jones for the Boston Red Sox. Williams afterwards signed something for Staub, inscribing—-and I paraphrase, forgetting the exact words —-“to a future major league hitter, if I ever saw one” Coming from Williams, no small endorsement.

The expansion Houston Colt ‘45s drafted Staub with an early pick while the Red Sox drafted Jones. He would join the Red Sox as a 20-year-old in 1964 and be a member of Boston’s 1967 American League pennant winner but was a utility infielder for most of his nine-year career.

My dad and I traveled twice to Houston see the Colt ‘45s, including a 19-year-old Staub, in the summer of 1963. He struggled that year, but Houston management was smart enough to not force things, shipping him to minor league affiliate Oklahoma City a few

JV Sports Newsletter

Staub Was Bonus Baby With Colt ’45s Out of Jesuit

times to let Staub relax and work on his swing. The patience paid off with a distinguished career.

Staub, meanwhile, went on to become one of the game’s most consistent hitters, a six-time All Star. He became the only player to garner 500 hits for four different teams, performing the feat for Houston (had All Star years in 1967 and 1968), the Montreal Expos (All Star, 69-71), the New York Mets, and the Detroit Tigers (All Star 1976). Staub also returned to Montreal briefly before playing one season for the Texas Rangers.

After the 1980 season, Staub signed as a free agent with the Mets, retiring after the 1985 season. During that second stint with the Mets, he was the calm, professional clubhouse presence for the young stars (Daryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Keith Hernandez) that went on to win the 1986 World Championship a year after his retirement. In 1983, he had eight straight hits as a pinch-hitter. In that final ’85 campaign, he homered as a 41-year-old, making him one of only four major leaguers to ever homer before he was 20 years old and after he was 40 years old. Ty Cobb, Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, are the others.

Possessing a key eye at the plate, Staub was one of the most unappreciated hitters

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Staub Had 500 Base Hits With Four Different Teams

ever to play the game. Not only did he hit .279 lifetime, with 2,716 base hits and 1,466 RBI’s, Staub walked an unbelievable 4,050 times in his career, 1,000 more times than Joe DiMaggio. Let that fact sink in.

Adequate in the field as a first baseman and rightfielder, but not swift afoot, his skill set was perfect for the designated hitter’s role. In fact, in 1978 he became the first player to participate in all 162 games as a designated hitter for Detroit. Astonishingly, he was fifth in the American League’s Most Valuable Player voting that year.

A fan favorite everywhere, he was particularly adored in Montreal and New York. The Expos fanbase honored the red-haired Staub with the moniker, “Le Grand Orange”. While he may have missed out on major league baseball’s Hall of Fame (receiving less than 10% of the vote in his years of eligibility on the ballot), Staub was honored by Montreal in its Hall. Staub owned two top New York restaurants, since closed, and was active in many charitable organizations and foundations since his retirement, most notably a Police and Fireman’s Widow Fund started while with the Mets. That fund has provided millions for families who suffered loss of loved ones in the Twin Towers.

His high school alma mater, Jesuit of New Orleans, presents the Rusty Staub Award to the “leader” of each season’s team.

Ted Williams was right that May afternoon in 1961. The man could hit!

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