He flowered as a hitter with the Astros of the mid-1960s; became the Expos’ first star player; and played nine seasons with the Mets in two stints: in the 1970s, when they won their second National League pennant, and then in the ’80s, when he became one of baseball’s most accomplished pinch-hitters.
He was later a Mets broadcaster, from 1986 to 1995, working mostly with Ralph Kiner and Tim McCarver. And though a native of New Orleans, he was much the New Yorker. At one time he owned two restaurants in Manhattan, Rusty’s and Rusty Staub’s on Fifth.
Staub was especially respected, during his baseball career and afterward, for his community involvement and his charitable work.
He particularly endeared himself in Canada, where he played for the expansion team the Expos; he was an All-Star in all three of his full seasons in Montreal, from 1969 to 1971. Staub learned French and became a traveling ambassador for the team, hailing the advent of Major League Baseball in Canada.
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He did so out of respect for the fans, he said.
“I was in Quebec — I couldn’t talk to a child,” he told The Montreal Gazette in 2012. “I couldn’t say something encouraging. I felt like I was not doing my job — not being able to respond to the media at least in some basic form.
“I took about 25 French classes after the first season, and the next year I took longer classes,” he continued. “There’s not a question that my making that effort is part of the reason that whatever Le Grand Orange represented to Montreal and all those fans, they knew I cared and I tried.”
As for the sobriquet that stayed with him, he wrote in The New York Times, teammates had been calling him the Big Orange even before he arrived in Montreal in a trade with Houston.
“The name wasn’t formalized for the public until one day when we were playing in Los Angeles,” he recalled. “I hit a home run and made a pretty good catch when Willie Crawford hit a pea against the fence. The next day in the newspapers, I was ‘Le Grand Orange.’ And in both English and French papers, it stayed that way.”
The Expos traded him to the Mets in April 1972. A year later, he helped propel them to a National League pennant, hitting three home runs — accounting for all his hits — in their five-game victory over the Cincinnati Reds in the National League Championship Series.
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He also injured his shoulder in that series while making an outstanding catch. But he went on to bat .423 in the World Series, with two doubles and a homer, though the Mets were defeated by the Oakland A’s in seven games.
Staub drove in 105 runs in 1975, setting a Mets record that stood for 15 years. But he was traded that December to the Detroit Tigers, with the Mets receiving the pitcher Mickey Lolich, and served mostly as a designated hitter.
Staub returned to the Expos in a trade in July 1979. In his first at-bat back at Olympic Stadium, Expos fans gave him a standing ovation.
It was a short second stint in Montreal. He spent the 1980 season with the Texas Rangers and then signed with the Mets as a free agent, playing his final five seasons with the team. As a pinch-hitter in 1983, he had eight consecutive hits in June and drove in 25 runs that season.
Staub was also seen displaying his cooking techniques on television, but his love of food made it challenging to keep his weight down.
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“It’s hard,” he told The Times in 1985. “I’ll go into my favorite Italian restaurant, and there’s this risotto dish that I just love. It’s got gravy and porcini mushrooms, and I say, ‘Not this time.’ But every time I go there I have to get it.”
Daniel Joseph Staub was born in New Orleans on April 1, 1944. He signed with the Houston Colt .45s organization in September 1961 out of Jesuit High School of New Orleans. The franchise, which later became the Astros, was preparing along with the Mets to enter the National League the next season as an expansion team.
After playing in the minors, Staub made his debut with Houston in 1963. His breakout season came in 1967, when he batted .333 with a league-leading 44 doubles and was an All-Star for the first time.
He retired after the Mets’ 1985 season with 1,466 runs batted in and a career batting average of .279 to go with his 292 homers and 2,716 hits.
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Besides his brother, he is survived by his sisters, Sally Johnston and Susan Tully.
After leaving baseball Staub became president of the Rusty Staub Foundation, which has supported emergency food pantries throughout New York in collaboration with Catholic Charities. He also created the New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund, which has raised millions of dollars for the families of uniformed personnel killed in the line of duty. (An uncle of Staub’s died while working as a New Orleans police officer.)
When Major League Baseball returned to New York for the first time after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, with the Mets playing the Atlanta Braves, the Mets donated proceeds from the game, about $450,000, to the fund for widows and children.
That night, Staub said the organization had distributed $8.3 million in the 15 years before the attacks.
“Since then, we’ve already raised $8 million,” he told The Times. “You want to get money to the widows and children, we’re the ones.”