Baseball’s Best of the Worst: Rusty Staub
This is the third installment of “Baseball’s Best of the Worst,” a series put together by Graham Womack of “Baseball Past and Present,” and myself. Graham will contribute the fourth part of this series next Friday.
Major League baseball came to Montreal in 1969. And just as the expansion Mets of 1962 were an awful team, so, too, were the ’69 Expos.
In fact, the ’69 Expos won just 52 games, only a dozen more than the pathetic ’62 Mets. The Expos 52-110 record in ’69 was tied for the worst in baseball with their expansion twins, the Padres.
In January of 1969, the Expos, in a cunning trade, obtained Rusty Staub from Houston. He quickly became their best player for each of his three seasons in Montreal, 1969-71, inclusive.
Le Grand Orange, as he was quickly dubbed by Expos fans, was born Daniel Joseph Staub on April 1st, 1944 in New Orleans. His nickname, Rusty, refers to his rust-colored hair (thus his French-Canadian nom de guerre.)
Staub quickly became a beloved fan favorite in Montreal. He played with a special flair that delighted the fans, and he was easily the Expos’ best player.
In fact, in 1969, Staub set a career high in Offensive War at 6.7, fifth best in the N.L.
Staub also finished in the top ten in batting average (.302), On-Base percentage (.426), Slugging Percentage (.526), OPS (.952), OPS+ (166), and total bases (289.) He also finished 3rd in the league in Bases on Balls (110.)
Staub led the Expos in virtually every offensive category in 1969, and was rewarded with his third trip to the All-Star game.
The Expos, meanwhile, languished at or near the bottom of the N.L. East during Staub’s tenure with Montreal, never rising above fifth place in that six-team division.
In 1972, Staub moved on to the Mets where, once again, the fans adored him. In 1975, Staub set a team record (subsequently surpassed by others) for RBI in a single-season, driving in 105 runs for the third-place Mets.
Then, inexplicably, the Mets traded Staub to the Tigers the following season for a case of Gatorade. The Tigers also threw in a used up Mickey Lolich.
The Expos, it turned out, were just one of several successful stops along the way during Rusty’s North American Tour, which lasted from 1963 (at age 19) with Houston, until finally ending in 1985 (age 41) with the Mets (for a return engagement). Along the way, he also played in Detroit, Montreal (again) and Texas, appearing in six All Star games in his career.
Staub is just one of three players in baseball history — the others being Ty Cobb and Gary Sheffield — to homer before his 20th and after his 40th birthdays.
A professional chef, (keep in mind his New Orleans roots), Rusty opened “Rusty’s Restaurant” in Manhattan in 1977. The original restaurant on 73rd street closed, as did its eventual successor on Fifth Avenue.
Staub finished his illustrious career with 499 doubles and 292 home runs. He received little support for his Hall of Fame candidacy, though, apparently because the baseball writers to whom the voting privilege is extended prefer nice, round numbers. If Staub had hit 500 doubles and 300 home runs, undoubtedly he would have received more votes.
Yet to Expos fans, Le Grand Orange’s 1969 baseball season will always occupy a heartwarming place in their now frigid, baseball-starved universe.
C’est la vie!
- Will Rusty Staub be elected to the Hall of Fame today? (paulsrandomstuff.wordpress.com)
- Mets Autograph of the Week: Mickey Lolich (randombaseballstuff.com)