The On Deck Circle

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Archive for the tag “Rusty Staub”

Mediocrity, and a Mets Fan’s Life

Mediocrity is nothing to brag about.  We don’t normally start out as kids seeking the truest, straightest path towards mediocrity.  We are proud and happy when, as my older son just experienced, we come home from school with straight A’s on a report card.  We enjoy it very much when our boss gives us a glowing annual review.  And when our spouse is happy, we understand that it’s a good idea to be happy, too.

Yet, if one was to measure one’s life in retrospect in any objective way, it might become all too apparent to many of us that we’ve lived thoroughly mediocre lives.  Surely, we’ve had our high points.  The birth of our first child.  The one time we dated that really hot girl at work.  (Note that the first example is not often a direct result of the second example.)  The moment when we received our high school, or college diploma.  The time when we didn’t forget our boss’s wife’s name at a dinner party.

The failures are there, too, ready to sabotage our happier moments with their dreadful memories.  Dropping what would have been the winning touchdown pass in a high school football game.  Nervously stuttering through a presentation among colleagues at work.  Drafting Bip Roberts instead of Robin Roberts in your all-time fantasy baseball draft.  Mistaking her harmless friendliness for something more personal and intimate.  I’ve got a truckload of those types of memories.

Which brings me to the Mets.

As far as I can tell, (and I wasted nearly fifteen minutes researching this on, I became a Mets fan on or about August 12, 1974.  Since that date, the Mets have won exactly 3,012 regular season games, and have lost 3,065.  That works out to a .496 win-loss percentage.  That’s just 53 more losses than wins, spread  over 38 seasons.  I will be rooting for the Mets to win their first 53 consecutive games this year just so I can say that they’ve been the most perfectly mediocre team in baseball since I’ve been following the Great Game.

Looking back over the nearly fifty years that I’ve been alive, I can’t help but feel a certain affinity for this extended mediocrity.  What I’ve decided to do is to take a look back at the last 38 years of my life, and compare them to that same year in Met’s history.  I hope you enjoy this casual biography of a man and his baseball team, in four excruciating installments.

Shea Stadium

Shea Stadium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1974:  I am eleven years old, and make a baseball card of myself and my brother.  Apparently I hit .725 that year in sandlot ball.  I sit behind Joanne Beaudry in Math class.  She spends the entire year turning around flirting with me.  Her fingernails are often dirty.  I am terrified of Joanne, and of girls in general.   I’m also terrified of the snarling, frothing dog that is barely contained behind a short metal fence I pass on my way to and from school.  The Mets finish the year with a record of 71-91, in fifth place.  Tom Seaver has a rare off-year, posting a record of 11-11.  John Milner leads the team in runs scored with 70.

1975:  My friends Scott and Johnny have an argument over which member of the Rock band Kiss is the coolest.  Johnny, nearly four years younger than Scott, and a foot shorter, grabs Scott by the mid-section, wrestles him to the ground and pummels him.  Apparently, it turns out that Ace Frehley really was the coolest member of the band.  Tom Seaver rebounds to win his third and final Cy Young award.  The Mets tantalize on a daily basis, finishing the year 82-80, holding out tenuous promise for better things ahead.  Rusty Staub sets a Mets record with 105 RBI, and owns a restaurant in Manhattan.

1976:  My body begins to change in several different embarrassing ways.  I discuss this with no one.  My Catholicism convinces me that everything that I might do, think, or say about this topic would be a mortal sin.  Anna Corrales, three rows and several romantic light-years away from me, never looked so good.  My family and I vacation in Quebec, and I witness an elderly woman getting hit by a car.  Also on that vacation, a small boy at a table next to ours in a restaurant falls and hits his head on the table’s edge, blood all over the place.  Meanwhile, the Mets perform unexpectedly well, posting a record of 86-76.  They wouldn’t have a season that successful again for seven years.  Waive goodbye to Rusty Staub, and hello to 35-year old pitcher Mickey Lolich, who manages to win eight games.

Tom Seaver

Tom Seaver (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1977:  I graduate second in my class from junior high school, winning numerous academic awards, then receive the first “D” and the first “F” of my life in my first semester of my first year in a Catholic high school.  I tryout for the school baseball team.  My job is to run a mile or two in the cold March mud, then drag a huge duffel bag full of bats down several flights of stairs to the supply room after each practice.  I decide I hate organized baseball, and quit the lousy team after three weeks.  David Johnson, a kid who sits and draws comics almost all day throughout all of his classes, becomes my best friend through high school.  The bottom absolutely drops out at Shea Stadium.  The Mets trade Tom Seaver for a clutch of Romanian strippers, four Mars Bars, and a case of orange Fanta.  The Fanta is flat.  The Mets fall to last place, posting a 64-98 record.  Lenny Randle, who hits .304 and steals 33 bases, is the sole reason to watch this miserable team.

1978:  Almost every kid in my high school is hooked on disco (except for one girl who dresses like David Bowie.)  My mom gets a job downtown as a secretary, and I visit her sometimes on my way home from school, just four blocks away. We have two major snowstorms that year, and miss around two weeks of school, which is fine with me because I’ve come to the conclusion that Catholic school sucks.  Unfortunately, the public high schools in my town are more famous for their crime reports than their academic records, so I keep my mouth shut and tolerate the experience as one would tolerate a novocaine-free root-canal.  The Mets are completely hopeless as well, finishing 30 games under .500 under manager Joe (It’s All About the Eyebrows) Torre.  23-year old center-fielder Lee Mazzilli becomes the heart throb of Queens.

Remington Arms

Remington Arms (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1979:  My dad comes home early one summer day from his job at Remington Arms.  He surprises me by not saying anything at all, going into his room, pulling the shades down, and going to sleep.  It wasn’t until later that I learned that a friend of his had accidentally blown himself in half at Remington Arms where they both worked.  Apparently, some gunpowder had ignited in the heat.  They had given dad a tranquilizer and sent him on his way, half a day off with pay.  See you bright and early tomorrow morning.  I got my first, considerably safer job slinging ice cream at Carvel’s on Park Ave.  At $2.25 an hour, I would now be able to hang out with my friends in style.  The Mets slog through a 63-99-1 season (yes, an official tie, like in hockey.)  Craig Swan is by far and away their best pitcher, going 14-13.  Their roster is littered with the sorry remains of Elliot Maddox, Willie Montanez, Richie Hebner, Kevin Kobel and Dock Ellis.

1980:  I am now straddling the line between my junior and senior years of high school.  A kid named Mike, apparently a refugee from Central High School, introduces me to marijuana in the school bathroom.  Well, it was either that or Ms. Ligouri’s English class.  I also attend my first high school dance, and spend most of the evening discovering that while I like slow-dancing, and the physical sensations it creates,  I generally dislike my dance partner, creating an awkward, alternating series of dance-couplings followed by strict and severe avoidance of said date.  Her dad picks us up from the dance at 10:30, and neither she nor I ever speak of this event again.  The Mets successfully avoid 70 wins for the fourth straight season.  Their starting rotation of Ray Burris, Pat Zachry, Mark Bomback, Pete Falcone and Craig Swan might just be the worst in the history of the franchise.  And with youngsters, Roy Lee Jackson, Juan Berenguer and John Pacella in the ‘pen, help is decidedly not on the way.

And that’s all for this installment.  Join me next time, if you can stand it, when I survive the 1980’s with my dignity mostly intact.

15 Reasons Why (Against All Logic) I’ll Root for the Mets in 2012

Why do we do this to ourselves?

I suppose those of us who are Mets fans often stop to wonder why we continue to support this tragicomedy of a franchise.  I’m guessing that there’s a Charlie Brown masochism to the personality type that chooses to root for the Mets.  Jose Reyes is hurt again?  Rats.  Linus,why do I feel so miserable?  It’s simple Charlie Brown.  You were condemned at birth by the Gods of Baseball.

So here are ten random, pointless reasons why I continue to justify my loyalty to this franchise:

1)  I’m just about as old as the Mets, and, like the Mets, have had a few successes, lots of mediocre years, and a few bad ones.  In fact, with a few exceptions, my best years have generally mirrored the Mets successful years as well.

2)  Piggy-backing on Reason #1, I’ve been a Mets fan now for 37 of their 50 years of existence.  What would be the point of stopping now?  It has always mystified me why couples who have been married for, say, 31 years suddenly decide to get divorced.  What the hell’s the point of that?  You can’t have those lost years back.  Did you think things would be different if only you waited 31 years?

3)  Tom Seaver was a New York Met.  That’s good enough for me.

4)  Mike Piazza’s dramatic home run, just ten days after 9/11, giving the city of New York a huge emotional lift.

5)  Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, one of the greatest moments of my life.

6)  The back of George Theodore’s 1974 Topps baseball card #8 reads, “George loves strawberry milkshakes.”  ‘Nuff said.

7)  Rusty Staub was not only a very good ballplayer, he was an actual chef.  I visited Rusty’s Restaurant in 1976, but Rusty had already been traded to Detroit for Mickey (Fucking) Lolich.  Still, as I sat at a table eating something or other with my parents and my little brother, I scanned the restaurant in vain for any sign of Rusty.

8)  Lindsey Nelson’s sports jackets.  If you know what I mean, you are probably also a Mets fan.

9)  Dave Kingman’s epic home runs, and his even more epic strikeouts.

10)  Ike Davis, Lucas Duda, and David Wright will provide more offense this year than most people will expect.

11)  They’re not the Pirates.  Or the Cubs.  Or the goddamned Yankees.

12)  October 8, 1973, Game 3 of the N.L.C.S.  Bud Harrelson punches Pete Rose at second base after a typically hard, bush-league slide.  This launches a bench-clearing brawl that goes on for several minutes.  The Mets eliminate the Reds in five games.  Take that, ya bastards!

13)  Dwight Gooden’s superhuman 1985 season, the best year I ever witnessed by a pitcher:  24-4, 276 innings, 16 complete games, 8 shutouts, 1.53 ERA, 268 K’s, 0.965 WHIP, 229 ERA+, 11.7 WAR.

14)  My step-grandfather, Joe Iritsky, a Navy veteran of WWII, and a war hero, took me to my first game at Shea Stadium in August, 1974.

15)  Jon Matlack was a better pitcher than Jack Morris.  (Yes, he was.)

Baseball’s Best of the Worst: Rusty Staub

Rusty Staub le grand orange mai1969 stade Jarry

Image by Le présent du passé Montréal. via FlickrMajor League baseball came to Montreal in 1969, the same year that a previous expansion team, the Mets, improbably won the World Series.

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!

Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: The Montreal Expos

I always felt that Les’ Expos deserved better.

Lots of teams have fans that complain about the historic hard-luck of their favorite franchise.  The Expos hardly had any fans to do the complaining for them.  And even if they did, they might have complained in French, so few of us here in the U.S.A. would have understood them anyway.

Although I wasn’t a fan, I always had a soft spot for this team.  When I opened my very first pack of baseball cards in 1972, the first player I pulled out of the pack was Expos outfielder Clyde Mashore.  Clyde hit .227 that year, and retired the next season at the age of 28, having hit eight home runs in his short career.

Strangely, Mashore and I share a birthday, May 29th.

The next season, my dad took us on a trip to Canada, where we spent one night in Montreal.  That afternoon, I turned on the black and white T.V. in the hotel room, and lo and behold, there was an Expos game live from Jarry Park.  The broadcast was in French, the reception was poor, and after ten minutes my dad made me turn it off.

Jarry Park was the Expos home stadium from 1969-76.  It seated barely 30,000 people, had a swimming pool beyond the outfield wall, and was the place where Willie Mays played his final regular season baseball game with the Mets in 1973.  Today, the restructured edifice that was once Jarry Park is now called Stade Uniprix (Uniprix Stadium), and it is the main court of the Canada Masters Tennis Tournament.

It is also where Le Grande Orange once played baseball.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

If you were to put together an All-Time Expos squad, you would have yourself one pretty impressive roster.  Here are just some of the names that come to mind:

1B  A. Galarraga / A. Oliver

2B  D. Deshields

SS  W. Cordero

3B  T. Wallach

C.  G. Carter

OF  A. Dawson

OF  L. Walker

OF  M. Grissom

OF  V. Guerrerro

OF  T. Raines

OF  M. Alou

PH  R. Staub

SP  P. Martinez

SP  D. Martinez

SP  S. Rogers

SP  R. Grimsley

RP  J. Wetteland

RP  J. Reardon

Two of these players, Carter and Dawson, are in the Hall of Fame.  Two others, Guerrerro and Martinez (Pedro) will be.  And in my opinion, still two more, Walker and Raines, deserve to be.  Walker will be eligible next year, I believe.

In my opinion, Larry Walker is one of the most underrated players in baseball history.

I think you would be hard-pressed to find more than a couple of other teams in baseball history to have produced so many excellent outfielders in such a short period of time (about thirty years.)

But since I have limited myself, for the purposes of this series, to choosing just two players from each franchise, let it be Daniel Joseph (Rusty) Staub, and his former teammate, Steve Rogers.

Let’s take the pitcher first.

Even taking into account Pedro Martinez’s short but fantastic tenure with the Expos, Steve Rogers is the best starting pitcher the Expos ever had.  Drafted in the first round (4th pick overall) of the 1971 Amateur Draft, Rogers was the ace of the Expos staff from 1975 through 1983.  During those nine seasons, his highest ERA was 3.42 in the strike-shortened 1981 season.

A constant victim of poor run support, and almost always matching up against the other team’s staff ace, he managed to post an overall win-loss record above .500 seven times in those nine seasons, while the Expos as a whole finished above .500 in just four of those seasons.

Rogers best season was in 1982, when, at the age of 32, he finished second in the Cy Young voting.  His record that year was 19-8, and he led the N.L. with a 2.40 ERA, and in ERA+ at 152.  He pitched 14 complete games, hurled four shut-outs, and posted a WHIP of 1.119.

Rogers spent his entire 13 year career in Montreal, finishing with a career record of just 158-152.  In various seasons, he led his league in complete games, shut-outs, ERA, ERA+…and losses.  He was a five time all-star selection, and he had an excellent career ERA of 3.17.

Steve Rogers just might have been the finest .500 pitcher in baseball history.

Going back a little further in Expos history, back to the days of Jarry Park, a young man with orange hair (thus, Le Grande Orange), smoked line-drives around the frigid little ballpark.

Rusty Staub et un autre joueur des Expos, 8 av...

Rusty Staub et un autre joueur des Expos, 8 avril 1970 (Photo credit: Archives de la Ville de Montréal)

Born in New Orleans on April Fool’s Day, 1944, he was signed by the Houston Colt .45’s (later, the Astros) in 1961.  After six productive seasons in Houston, including the 1967 season in which he batted .333 at the age of 23, Staub came to Montreal just in time for their initial campaign in 1969.

Although he played only three seasons in Montreal, it was arguably the finest three-year stretch of his career.  His OPS+ in those three seasons were: 166, 139 and 147.  It’s extremely difficult to choose just one of those seasons as his best because in each one of them, he enjoyed a personal high in either runs scored, RBI’s, batting average, home runs, games played, doubles and on-base percentage.

But ultimately I believe Rusty Staub’s finest forgotten season while playing with Montreal was 1971. He played in all 162 games that year, led all outfielders with 20 assists, had a career high 186 hits, scored 94 runs and drove in 97, batted .311, and was sixth in the league with an OPS of .874.  He also tied his career high with 289 total bases that season.

It occurred to me while researching this blog-post that Rusty Staub might have the best forgotten seasons of any Astro, Expo, or Tiger of all time.  But I suppose it would be cheating to come back to him again and again, however tempting.

Growing up a Mets fan, it was strange as a young boy to learn that one of my favorite players, Rusty Staub, had actually played for any other team, let alone two other teams.  It was also shocking to me when I learned just before the 1976 season began that Staub had been traded to Detroit for… Mickey Lolich! (?)  At age 31, Staub had just set a Mets single-season record in 1975 with 105 RBI’s.

That summer, my dad took my family to Rusty Staub’s restaurant (he was a chef as well as a ball-player) in New York City.  I spent the entire meal looking around the dining room to see if Rusty would make a grand entrance, but I was afraid that he might do it in a Tiger’s uniform.  I couldn’t figure out if I would be exhilarated or horrified if Staub were to show up.  Luckily, he never did.

After having returned to the Mets in 1981, Staub played parts of five more years for them before retiring in 1985 at the age of 41.

Staub is one of just three players in baseball history to hit a home run before his twentieth birthday, and then again after his fortieth.  The other two players are Gary Sheffield and Ty Cobb.

But while the Georgia Peach’s reputation has steadily eroded over the years to the point where he can accurately be called a rather infamous figure in baseball history, Le Grande Orange will always be fondly remembered by the fans in several baseball towns across North America, at least by those of us who care to reflect upon his Best Forgotten Seasons.

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