Rusty Staub never resembled an athlete so much as a 205-lb Sherlock Holmes who’d taken an intense interest in the game of baseball. Staub began with modest natural skills and honed them to precision through perpetual practice. Baseball was equal parts discipline and sport to Staub, whose broad, curious world view attracted him to the study of history and gourmet cookery. “He leads the league in idiosyncrasies,” said one Staub observer. “He makes a science of getting ready to play to the point where it almost becomes an obsession to him.” For years, Staub operated Rusty’s restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. He’d often embarrass teammates who joined him for dinner on the road by sending his meal back two or three times until the chef got it right.
Staub retired with 2,716 hits and an unmatched reputation as a batter. “He is a pure hitter,” said Duke Snider. Staub said, “I discovered at a very early age that nothing was going to come easy for me, that I’d have to work for my success.” Despite a lack of speed, Staub led his league four times in outfield assists. When he was placed at DH by the Tigers, he knocked in a career-high 121 runs in 1978. The Mets made him a pinch hitter in his final few years, and he tied records in 1983 for consecutive pinch hits (8) and RBI (25), and had a record 81 pinch at-bats (he hit .296).
Staub signed with the Houston Colt .45s (later the Astros) for $100,000 in 1961 and played in 150 games as a 19-year-old rookie. He and Ty Cobb are the only players to homer before age 20 and after age 40, and Staub is the only player to appear in 500 games for four teams and collect 500 hits for four teams. His short, lefthanded stroke produced line drives and a .333 average for the Astros in 1967, with a league-leading 44 doubles. Always popular, Staub became a national hero (and was nicknamed Le Grand Orange for his red hair in French-speaking Quebec) in Canada as a star for the expansion Expos. He hit 30 homers for Montreal in 1970. A broken hand, his first major injury, sidelined him with the Mets in 1972, but he played a dramatic role in the postseason in 1973. Staub hurt his shoulder against the Reds in Game Four of the playoffs when he caught Dan Driessen‘s 11th-inning drive and smashed into the right-field wall at Shea Stadium. He took cortisone shots and threw underhand in the World Series against the A’s. Though unable to pull the ball, he socked an opposite field homer off Oakland’s Ken Holtzman to win Game Four.