Ya Gotta Believe 40th Anniversary Player Profile: Rusty Staub

By Will DeBoer

This week’s tribute to the 1973 Mets profiles right fielder and fan-favorite Rusty Staub. Amongst the 23 seasons he played in the big leagues, “Le Grande Orange” played for the orange and blue for nine years in two separate stints. Over those 23 years, Staub amassed 2716 hits, 499 doubles, 292 home runs, and 1466 RBIs, good for a .279 batting average and .793 OPS.

Apr 1, 2013; Queens, NY, USA; New York Mets catcher Anthony Recker (20) shakes the hand of Mets legend Rusty Staub after he throws out the first pitch before the opening day game against the San Diego Padres at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports

Daniel Joseph Staub of New Orleans first signed with the expansion Houston Colt .45s in late 1961, making his team debut in 1963 as a 19-year-old regular. While he started to show some consistency for the “other” National League expansion franchise in 1966, his breakout season came in 1967 when he hit .333 and led the NL in doubles (44). That season he made his All-Star debut, the first of five consecutive appearances in the Midsummer Classic (and six overall). Two years later, Rusty was traded to another new franchise, the Montreal Expos, where he spent three of his most productive years in the majors and endeared himself so much to the city that the team retired his #10 in 1993.

Staub’s career North of the Border ended abruptly just before the start of the 1972 season when the Mets parted with Tim Foli, Mike Jorgensen, and Ken Singleton all at once to bring him to New York. After an injury-shortened ’72 season, Rusty turned in a signature campaign in the year of our spotlight, 1973. Arguably New York’s best position player in ’73, he hit his eventual career average, .279, in 152 games, raking in 36 doubles, 15 home runs, 76 RBIs, and a .781 OPS. But it was in the postseason that Le Grande Orange became a Met legend: he slugged three home runs in the NLCS against the Reds and saved a home run off Dan Driessen’s bat in the 11th inning of Game 4, smashing his shoulder into the Shea Stadium wall in the process. Playing through the pain, Staub turned in a World Series for the ages, batting .423 with a home run and six RBIs. Had the Mets won the Series, he undoubtedly would have been its MVP.

After two more full years in Flushing, including his first 100+ RBI season (105 in ’75), Staub was traded to the Tigers in time for the 1976 season. He would spend three and a half productive seasons in Detroit, averaging 106 RBIs from ’76 to ’78. In mid-1979 he was traded back to Montreal for the rest of the year. Rusty then went down to Texas for a successful 1980 campaign with the Rangers, in which he hit .300 in 109 games as a 36-year-old. Staub then returned to New York and spent his twilight years with the Mets, finally retiring after the 1985 season at the ripe, old age of 41.

The accolades came immediately for Le Grande Orange, as the Mets inducted him (and his hair) into the team’s Hall of Fame in 1986. He never got support for a Cooperstown induction, though, falling off the ballot after his seventh year in 1997. But with all the other accolades he has since received (humanitarian, restaurateur, children’s author, honorary doctorate, namesake of his own award on his high school’s team, Canadian Baseball Hall-of-Famer), he’s probably not dwelling on that snub terribly often.

With his keen eye, true grit, and winning personality, Rusty Staub remains one of the Mets’ most popular players ever. For his key contributions to the pennant winners of 1973, Le Grande Orange earns himself this week’s Rising Apple tip of the cap.

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