Rusty Staub sprouted from New Orleans roots to enjoy successful MLB career
Former major-league ballplayer and New Orleans native Daniel Joseph “Rusty” Staub died on Thursday at age 73, just a few days shy of his birthday.
Born on April 1, 1944, Staub was no April Fool’s Day joke when it came to hitting baseballs. The red-headed Staub came from a family steeped in baseball, and the sport became ingrained in him at a very young age. From the New Orleans sandlots, he went on to become one of the most prolific hitters in Major League Baseball, coming close to the majors’ magical 3,000-hit club with over 2,700 career hits.
Staub essentially inherited his love of baseball from his father, Ray, who took a shot at professional baseball after college. But after two years in the low minors he had to quit when he suffered an injury to his hand that doctors said would never fully heal. Raising a family on a teaching salary in the 1940s and 1950s meant he children weren’t afforded too many luxuries. However, Ray worked extra jobs to make ends meet, and he always made time for his sons Rusty and Chuck, whom he introduced to baseball at very young ages.
“He (Ray), didn’t push us into sports,” Chuck later recalled in the book Rusty Staub of the Expos. “It was just there, and we loved it. But I’m sure if Rusty or myself wanted to play the violin, Dad would have bust a gut swinging a deal for the best violin money could buy.” Ray not only taught them the fundamentals of baseball, but also instilled in them the meaning of teamwork and the realization that the fun of winning wasn’t in defeating someone else but in bring out the best in them.”
Staub set hitting records while at Jesuit High School in New Orleans, and got on the national map as a prospective major leaguer when his Jesuit-based American League team, Tulane Shirts (which also included his brother Chuck), won the state title and advanced to the Legion Little World Series in Hastings, Nebraska, in 1960. The event, attended by all the top major-league scouts, became a showcase for Staub, as his team defeated Billings, Montana, for the championship.
After graduating from Jesuit in 1961, Staub had to decide between attending college and entering professional baseball. He had received several college scholarship offers for both baseball and basketball. But also tugging at him were numerous major-league scout vying for his services.
The Boston Red Sox sent legendary hitter Ted Williams to New Orleans to take a look at Staub in a game. Staub didn’t disappoint Williams, as he hit a 400-foot grand slam. Williams visited the Staub household after the game and signed his high school yearbook, “To a future major leaguer if I ever saw one.”
But Staub ultimately picked the new National League franchise Houston Colt .45s (now the Astros) as his team over all the other suitors, signing for a bonus over $100,000 in September 1961.
At age 19, he made his major-league debut with the Colts on April 9, 1963. He went on to play six seasons with Houston, eventually earning National League all-star honors in 1967 and 1968. Staub showed his development as a major-league hitter when he finished fifth in the league with a .333 batting average in 1967.
Staub was traded to the Montreal Expos, another new National League franchise, for the 1969 season. He was immensely popular there, acquiring the nickname ‘Le Grand Orange” for his red hair. He continued to excel as a high-average and high on-base-percentage hitter. And he managed to throw in his share of home runs, too. He was selected to three more all-star teams with the Expos.
In 1972, the 32-year-old Staub began the first of two stints with the New York Mets. He helped the Mets to their second National League pennant in 1973 before losing to the Oakland A’s seven games of the World Series. However the Mets’ defeat was no fault of Staub, as he banged out 11 hits, a home run, and 6 RBI during the Series.
Staub moved to the American League with the Detroit Tigers in 1976, when he became their primary designated hitter. After a year with the Texas Rangers in 1980, the popular Staub returned to the Mets to finish out his career. In his latter seasons, he was often used off the bench as a pinch-hitter. He retired as a player in 1985 and later took a job as a commentator for Mets broadcasts.
Staub and Bud Harrelson were the first players inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame in 1986.
Staub was probably pretty happy he didn’t choose the violin over a bat. He played a total of 23 seasons in the majors. He accumulated 2,716 hits, 292 home runs and 1,466 RBI. He managed to collect over 500 hits with each of the four clubs he primarily played for. He ranks among the top three major league hitters from the New Orleans area, along with Hall of Famer Mel Ott and Will Clark.
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New Orleans baseball historian
Richard Cuicchi, Founder of the Metro New Orleans Area Baseball Player Database and a New Orleans area baseball historian, maintains TheTenthInning.com website. He also authored the book, Family Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives. He has contributed to numerous SABR-sponsored Bio Project and Games Project books.