The most impressive pennant race this season was Oakland’s stunning comeback to win the AL West over Texas. In 1973, the Athletics beat the Mets in the World Series (great segue, right?), but that New York was even in that Fall Classic with an 82-79 record was impressive enough. So today on “Glory Days,” we’ll profile one of the most important men on Yogi Berra’s squad that season. Say hello to Justin Turner’s predecessor, the original Le Grand Orange: Daniel Joseph “Rusty” Staub.
Dateline: July 18, 1973. The 39-50 Mets were at Atlanta Stadium, looking to turn their season around against the 45-52 Braves. Rusty Staub was stationed in right field and hitting from the 3-hole that day, in between Felix Milan at second base and Cleon Jones in left field. Staub’s first at-bat against Atlanta’s Roric Harrison was far from noteworthy: a lineout to left field as part of a scoreless 1st inning.
In the 2nd, the Mets picked up three runs without the benefit of a hit: try three walks, a Bud Harrelson RBI groundout, an error, and a Wayne Garrett sac fly. File that one under “I guess that counts as some sort of Amazin’.” New York scored their first “clean” run in the 3rd when Staub led off with a home run. Now it was 4-0 Mets, and with that offense backing the golden arm of Tom Seaver, it was already in the bag.
But Yogi’s boys’ fun had just begun. Up 4-2 in the 8th, the Mets took out a massive insurance plan. Seaver led off with a single off Jimmy Freeman, then Garrett and Milan each bunted their way on. Staub came up and, as calmly as his flame-headed successor did this April against Miami’s Heath Bell, drew the bases-loaded walk to make it 5-2. Jim Panther was called on to relieve Freeman and forced Cleon Jones to settle for a run-scoring flyout. He didn’t get so lucky with John Milner, though, as New York’s first baseman blasted a three-run homer to make it a 9-2 affair.
As the late Billy Mays would have said on one of his infomercials, “But wait, there’s more!” Garrett and Milan walked and singled to lead off the 9th inning, and ol’ Rusty put the exclamation point on his Glory Day with a 3-run home run. New York was finally done piling on and Seaver put the finishing touches on a 12-2 afternoon in front of a distraught Southern crowd of just 10,548. Staub’s final line on the day: 2-5, 2 HR, 3 R, 5 RBI.
Rusty would finish second on the team in batting average (.279) and third in home runs (15) in 1973. As for the Mets, who were as bad as 58-70 on August 26, they heeded Tug McGraw’s everlasting call of “Ya Gotta Believe!” and finished the year on a 24-9 stretch to steal the NL East from St. Louis After beating Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine in the NLCS, they lost to Reggie Jackson’s Oakland dynasty in seven games. Staub, who came over from Montreal in 1972, called Shea Stadium his home until 1975, and then again from 1981 to the end of his career in 1985. He was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame the very next year.
July 18. A good day for Ty Cobb in 1927 (collected his 4,000th career hit) and Willie Mays in 1970 (collected his 3,000th career hit). Also a good day for Walt Disney in 1955 (Disneyland opens to the public in Anaheim, California). A bad day for Swedish war hawks in 1812 (the Treaty of Orebro is signed, ending the Anglo-Swedish War) and fans of open debate within the Roman Catholic Church in 1870 (First Vatican Council declares papal infallibility). A great day for Rusty Staub in 1973.