On this day in Mets history, Rusty Staub was traded to New York
By Alan Karmin
On this date, April 5, 1972, four days after the start of the very first player's strike in Major League Baseball history, and a mere three days after the sudden passing of manager Gil Hodges, the New York Mets announced a blockbuster trade to acquire all-star right fielder Rusty Staub from the Montreal Expos.
Before he passed away, Hodges had been begging Mets management to bring in a big bat. The Mets had a strong, deep pitching staff, with more arms on the way. But they lacked the big power bat to compete with teams like the Pittsburgh Lumber Company and the Big Red Machine.
The Mets hierarchy responded to Hodges wishes, first by dipping into their wealth of pitching depth by trading Nolan Ryan to the California Angels in exchange for former All-Star shortstop Jim Fregosi. The idea was for Fregosi to be a strong right handed bat to man third base. And Ryan became expendable with Jon Matlack ready to take a spot in the rotation.
The second, and more compelling move, was to get Staub, the lefty hitting All-Star slugger from the Expos. To get Staub, the Mets sent three players – switch-hitting outfielder Ken Singleton, lefty hitting first baseman/outfielder Mike Jorgensen, and shortstop Tim Foli - north of the border.
Many people would get irate for saying “obtaining” Rusty was not a good trade. Now, I loved Rusty Staub. I liked him before he came to the Mets when he was with the Expos. And I was glad that they were getting him. Except for the fact that a part of that trade was Singleton, who was quickly becoming my favorite Met – a local guy who was ambidextrous, like me, able to throw and hit from both sides.
But perhaps if the Staub trade or, rather, trade(S), are examined, the April 5, 1972 acquisition may be viewed with a much different perspective.
Rusty Staub had already established himself as reliable middle of the lineup bat before he got to the New York Mets.
Staub was already in his 10th season in his first as a Met. He burst upon the scene at the age of 19 years old with the Houston Colt 45’s in 1963. He literally grew up in the six years he spent in the organization and accumulated over 500 base hits – 792 actually – while with the Houston club. But I’ll get back to that later.
Staub was sent to the expansion Montreal Expos to begin their inaugural season in 1969. He became an instant hit – both on and off the field – and the fans loved him…dubbing him “Le Grand Orange.” He spent three seasons taking swings in the awful Jarry Park.
In his first season he hit .302 with 29 homers and 79 RBI. He also walked 110 times, while only striking out 61 times, for an OBP of .426. In his three seasons as an Expo, he hit for an average of .295 with a .402 OBP, averaging 26 homers and 90 RBI – again accumulating 500 hits (508). Seemingly just what the Mets needed.
Staub came out of the gate strong, hitting .293 with 9 HR with 38 RBI in 66 games. But that’s all he would play in 1972. He suffered a fractured wrist on June 3, and wouldn’t return until late in September. He rebounded to play 152, 151, and 155 games in 1973, 1974, and 1975 respectively. He would average 17 HR and 86 RBI, and a .273 batting average. His best season was 1975, when he hit .282, with 19 HR and a then team-record of 105 RBI, when he was joined by Dave Kingman in the lineup hitting behind him.
Again, for now the third time, Staub would accumulate over 500 (540) base hits with one team.
New York Mets prospects Mike Jorgensen (1B), Tim Foli (SS), and Ken Singleton (RF) would all immediately become valuable starters for the Expos.
Jorgensen was a slick-fielding first baseman who would average about .254, 9 HR, and 40 RBI in his six seasons in Montreal. Foli would spend the same six seasons as an Expo, hitting .246. Both would end up back in a Mets uniform some years later on a return engagement as, of course, would Staub.
Singleton was the prize of the group. He only spent three years in Montreal, and his best season was 1973 when he hit .302 with 23 HR and 103 RBI. His 123 walks would help produce a league-leading .425 OBP.
The Expos made a bad trade, themselves, by acquiring a washed-up Dave McNally from the Baltimore Orioles before the 1975 season. And it was as an Oriole that Singleton would be a dominant hitter and run-producer. In 10 seasons as an Oriole, he averaged .284, with 18+ HR and 80+ RBI. Four seasons he had an OBP of over .400, a fifth year at .397, and had a career OBP of .388.
Singleton would inevitably be a big-time hitter for the Expos and then the Orioles for many years. A switch-hitting power and RBI bat that the Mets coveted, and, ironically, continue to covet so many years later.
Wait…there’s more. There was another side of that Staub trade for the New York Mets.
When Staub began openly advocating for his teammates, M. Donald Grant, as he would do with so many others he believed to be malcontents, insisted Staub be sent packing. And so management decided that rookie Mike Vail could supplant Staub in right field. And so he was traded to the Detroit Tigers for former All-Star southpaw pitcher Mickey Lolich, and a lefty swinging outfielder named Billy Baldwin.
Lolich was a World Series hero for the Tigers in 1968 when he won three games against the Cardinals to capture the championship. He established himself as a standout ace winning 19 games in ’69 with an ERA of 3.14 and 271 strikeouts. And although he pitched fairly well to a 3.80 ERA in 1970, he lost a league-leading 19 games. But then Lolich bounced back to lead the league in wins with 25, and completed a league-leading 29 games while striking out 308 batters.
In the five seasons from 1970 through 1974, Lolich started 39, 45, 41, 42, and 41 games and averaged 315 innings. By 1974, he again led the league in losses, this time with 21 and pitched to an ERA of 4.15. He then made “only” 32 starts in ’75 and lost another 18 games.
The Tigers were going through a rebuilding process and Lolich became expendable and they were looking to unload him. But when he was traded to the Mets, he didn’t want to go. So the Mets had to throw a lot of money at him to get him to approve the move. But by the time he did, he was vastly over the weight of 170 pounds listed for him, and he was virtually done. He made 30 starts for the 1976 Mets, a bad team that still had Seaver, Koosman, and Matlack. Lolich contributed a record of 8-13 with an ERA of 3.22 as the fourth starter in the rotation. And that was it.
Billy Baldwin? He played a mere 9 games for the Mets in September of 1976, and hit 1 HR, never to be heard from again.
The Mets did not get the best Rusty Staub, even though he amassed 500 hits as a member of the club during his years with them. His best years were actually with the Astros, Expos, and Tigers, where he amassed 500 hits with each of those clubs as well – the only player to have 500 hits with four different teams.
In essence, the April 5, 1972 trade could be strictly viewed as Ken Singleton for Rusty Staub, and soon, Ken Singleton for Mickey Lolich. The Mets did not get the best of Rusty Staub and got the worst of Mickey Lolich. All the while Singleton becomes one of the top hitters in Major League Baseball. The few years that Staub gave the Mets - in his first tour of duty with the club after that trade - was not worth the cost of Singleton. And, certainly, Lolich wasn’t worth the cost.
You be the judge.