In every way, Rusty Staub, the beloved Mets’ hitting icon, who passed away early Thursday morning at age 73, was bigger than life — a bigger-than-life baseball personality, humanitarian, gourmet chef, wine connoisseur, friend-to-all and, to the fans of Montreal, quite simply, “Le Grand Orange.”
The hulking 6-2 Staub, whose post-retirement weight fluctuated from 250-300 pounds, had battled a number of health issues in recent years, including a near-fatal heart attack, October 2, 2015, on a flight from Ireland to New York. He reportedly became woozy while playing golf near his Palm Beach Gardens, Florida home in late January and was later discovered to be suffering from cellulitis, which evolved into a blood infection that resulted in a shutdown of his kidneys.
Staub died at 12:30 a.m. Thursday at the Good Samaritan Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, due to multiple organ failure. He was initially admitted with pneumonia, dehydration and an infection and had spent the last eight weeks in the hospital. He would have turned 74 on Sunday.
Staub’s legacy is immense and will be immediately felt at Citi Field, where the Mets open their season Thursday afternoon against the Cardinals.
A prolific hitter, Staub compiled a lifetime .279 average with 2,716 hits, 292 homers, 499 doubles and a major league record-tying 25 pinch hit RBI in 2,951 games over 23 seasons with Houston, the Montreal Expos, Mets, Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers from 1963-85. In 1983, at age 39 with the Mets, he tied Dave Philley as the only players in baseball history with eight consecutive pinch hits. In addition, he is the only major leaguer in history to achieve 500 hits with four different teams, and, along with Ty Cobb, Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield, one of only four players in history to hit home runs in the majors before turning 20 years old after turning 40.
Off the field, Staub was a prominent humanitarian. His Rusty Staub Foundation, which in 1986 established the New York Police and Fire Widows and Children’s Benefit Fund, distributed over $11 million in the first 15 years of its existence to the families of New York area police and fire fighters killed in the line of duty, and since the September 11, 2001 attacks, received over $112 million in contributions. On January 8, Staub announced that, in conjunction with Catholic Charities, his foundation had also served 9,043,741 meals to the hungry at food pantries throughout New York over last 10 years, with funds though his annual wine auction dinner and foundation golf tournament.
Daniel Joseph Staub was born April 1, 1944 in New Orleans, but as his mother, Alma, explained, he became “Rusty” before he left the hospital. “One of the nurses nicknamed him “Rusty” because of the red fuzz he had all over his head and it just stuck.” His father, Ray, was a minor league catcher in the Class D Florida State League in 1937-38 who gave him a bat when he was 3 years old and instructed him to swing at anything round he could find. By the time he was a teenager, Rusty was a star first baseman at Jesuit High in New Orleans and after leading his team to the 1961 Louisiana State AAA championship, he signed a $100,000 bonus with the then-National League expansion Houston Colt 45s.
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SOURCE: NY Daily News, Bill Madden