Rusty Staub, an original member of the Montreal Expos and one of the team’s first superstars, has died. He was 73.
Nicknamed “Le Grand Orange” by Montreal fans for his shock of red hair — which also earned him the handle Rusty — the right-fielder was traded to the Expos in 1969, before the start of their first season in the majors.
He went on to become one of the club’s most popular players ever, especially for a generation of fans who followed the team from the beginning.
“Rusty Staub was our country’s first major league superstar,” said Scott Crawford, the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s director of operations. “He may have only played 3 1/2 seasons with the Montreal Expos, but he gave his heart and soul to the franchise and to the city of Montreal. He immersed himself in the city’s culture as much as any Expo and the fans loved him for it.”
Staub was enshrined in the Canadian hall six years ago.
“It was evident when he returned to Canada for his induction into our hall of fame in 2012 that part of his heart still belonged to the city of Montreal and its baseball fans.”
Staub was embraced immediately embraced by fans at Parc Jarry who appreciated that he learned French.
He made three straight all-star teams with Montreal and hit a career-high 30 home runs for the last-place Expos in 1970. Despite his short tenure with the Expos, his No. 10 became the first uniform jersey retired by the team in 1993.
He also played for the New York Mets, Houston , Detroit and Texas.
The Mets confirmed Staub’s death in a tweet Thursday morning.
The team said in a statement he died after an illness in a hospital in West Palm Beach, Fla., hours before the start of the baseball season. A team spokesman said the Mets learned of the death from friends of Staub who were with him at the time.
According to the New York Daily News, Staub died of multiple organ failure.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred called Staub “a superb ambassador” for the sport.
“Across his accomplished 23-year major-league career, Rusty Staub earned the respect of fans in Houston, Montreal, New York, Detroit and beyond,” Manfred said in a statement. “Known for his power and patience at the plate, Rusty became an all-star for three different clubs and a fan favourite. He played a memorable role in the early franchise histories of the Astros and the Expos, and he starred for the Mets in the 1973 World Series.”
Born Daniel Joseph Staub in New Orleans, the Montreal baseball icon would have turned 74 on Sunday.
Long after the Expos moved to Washington and were renamed the Nationals before the 2005 season, he remains one of the most beloved players in franchise history.
A six-time all-star, he recorded 2,716 hits with 292 home runs and 1,466 RBIs during his career. He was the only player in major league history to have at least 500 hits with four different teams.
He retired in 1985 at the age of 41.
Off the field, Staub spent decades doing charity work in the New York area.
“There wasn’t a cause he didn’t champion,” the Mets said.
He owned and operated two popular Manhattan restaurants that bore his name, and authored a children’s book titled “Hello, Mr. Met!”
Staub had battled numerous health issues since leaving the game. He nearly died in 2015 when he suffered a heart attack on a plane. He had reportedly been diagnosed with cellulitis in January and complications led to kidney failure.
“Today is a sad day,” said Crawford. “We’ll miss Le Grand Orange, but we’ll never forget him.”
Staub was traded to the Mets in 1972 and one year later helped lead them to a surprising National League pennant. Spurred by a now-famous rallying cry from reliever Tug McGraw — “Ya Gotta Believe!” — the Mets upset heavily favoured Cincinnati, with Staub socking three home runs in the first four games of their best-of-five NL playoff.
Staub separated his right shoulder when he crashed hard into the outfield wall to make a fantastic catch in the 11th inning of Game 4. He sat out Tom Seaver’s decisive win in Game 5 and missed the World Series opener against Oakland, yet returned to the lineup the following game.
Barely able to make weak, underhand throws during the Series, he still batted .423 with a home run, two doubles and six RBIs as New York lost in seven games. In all, Staub hit .341 with 11 RBIs in his only post-season, a clutch and gritty performance that endeared him to Mets fans forever.
New York traded Staub to Detroit in December 1975 and he made his final all-star team with the Tigers in 1976. He had 121 RBIs and finished fifth in AL MVP voting in ’78, becoming the first major leaguer to play all 162 games in a season at designated hitter.
His final season was 1985, one year before the Mets won the World Series. After spending nine seasons with New York, he was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame in ’86 and when he was honoured at Shea Stadium, smiling ex-teammates such as Keith Hernandez and Darryl Strawberry wore long, orange wigs for the on-field ceremony.
At the end of his distinguished career, Staub founded the New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund. The charity has raised tens of millions of dollars and provided additional support to families of first responders killed in the line of duty.
Following the 9-11 terrorist attacks in 2001, Mets players and coaches donated their entire salaries from their first game back, about US$450,000, to Staub’s foundation.
Staub also helped serve meals to thousands of the hungry and homeless at food pantries across New York City through Catholic Charities, with funds from his annual golf tournament and wine auction dinner.
“Rusty helped children, the poor, the elderly and then there was his pride and joy The New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund,” the Mets said.
— With files from The Associated Press.