He enjoyed a 23-year baseball career with 5 different teams. He was an original member of the Montreal Exposand that team’s first star; though the Expos traded him after only 3 years, his enduring popularity led them to retire his number in 1993.
Staub signed his first professional contract with the expansion team Houston Colt .45s organization in 1961. He spent the 1962 season in the Class B Carolina League, and at season’s end he was named one of the league’s all-stars. Following that season, Staub was signed to a US$100,000 Major League contract under the Bonus Rule. In his first season, at only 19 years of age, Staub played regularly, splitting time between first base and the outfield, but hit only .220. He became only the second major leaguerookie since 1900 to play 150 games as a teenager; the first had been Bob Kennedy, also 19, with the Chicago White Sox in 1940.The following season, he hit only .216 for the Colts and was sent down to the minor leagues at one point. His numbers began to steadily improve in the 1965 season for the now-renamed Astros, and he had a breakout 1967 season, where he led the league in doubles with 44 and was selected to the All-Star team. He was also an All-Star for the Astros in 1968.
Staub was traded to the Expos before the start of their inaugural season in 1969 as part of a trade for Donn Clendenon and Jesús Alou. The trade became a source of controversy as Clendenon refused to report to the Astros and attempted to retire; the deal had to be resolved by Commissioner of Baseball Bowie Kuhn who ruled that the deal was official, but that Clendenon was to stay with the Expos. Montreal eventually dealt Jack Billingham, Skip Guinn, and $100,000 as compensation.
He was embraced as the expansion team’s first star, and became one of the most popular players in their history. Embraced byFrench Canadians because he learned their language, he was nicknamed “Le Grand Orange” for his red hair (his more common nickname of “Rusty” has the same origin). The #10 worn by Staub during his first stint in Montreal was the first number retired by the Montreal Expos organization. He is also the franchise’s career leader in on-base percentage (.402), among players with 2,000 or more plate appearances with the franchise. He is also the first player to win the Expos Player of the Year award.
After three seasons in Montreal, the New York Mets made a blockbuster trade for Staub in 1972 in exchange for first baseman-outfielder Mike Jorgensen, shortstop Tim Foli, and outfielder Ken Singleton.He was batting .313 for the Mets until June 3 of that year, when he was hit by a pitch from future teammate George Stone of the Atlanta Braves, fracturing his right wrist in the process. He played through the pain until X-Rays revealed the broken bone. Surgery was required and as a result, he went on the disabled list and didn’t return to the line-up until September 18, 1972.
The injury never quite healed right and to make matters worse, he was hit by a pitch from Ramón Hernández of the Pittsburgh Pirates (on the left hand this time) early in the 1973 season. But he still led the team in RBI’s. In the National League Championship Series against the Cincinnati Reds, Staub hit three home runs and drove in five runs batted in. In game 4 however he made an outstanding play defensively, when he robbed Dan Driessen of an extra-base hit in the 11th inning. But while making the catch in right field, he crashed into the fence extremely hard and separated his right shoulder. The resulting injury to his shoulder forced him out of the line-up for game 5. The Mets went on to beat the heavily favored Reds to win the National League Pennant in 5 games. In the World Series the shoulder injury sat him out for game one. But he returned to the line-up for game two. The resulting injury forced him to throw underhanded and rather weakly in the World Series. Despite the injury, he batted .423 against the Oakland Athleticsincluding a home run and six runs batted in. And for the 1973 post season he batted .341 with 4 home runs and 11 runs batted in.
In 1975, he set a Mets record with 105 runs batted in—the first Met player ever to surpass 100 RBIs—that would not be matched until 1986, when it was tied by Gary Carter, and not surpassed until 1990 when Darryl Strawberry recorded 108.
In 1978, Staub became the first player to play in all 162 regular-season games exclusively as a designated hitter. Not playing the field at all proved beneficial, as Staub finished second in the Major Leagues with 121 RBI and finished fifth in American League Most Valuable Player voting. He was selected to the Sporting News American League All-Star team at the end of the season as the designated hitter.
Staub held out to start the 1979 season, and eventually he was dealt to the Montreal Expos in July of that same season.
After spending the 1980 season with the Texas Rangers, Staub returned to the Mets in 1981 as a free agent and served as a player-coach in 1982. In 1983, he tied a National League record with eight straight pinch-hits and that same season also tied the Major League record of 25 RBIs by a pinch hitter. In his last at bat in the season Staub hit a three-run home run off the LHP Dave Roberts to push his average to .300 for the season.
Smallthoughts: Old School Tuesday spotlights …Rusty Staub.