Thursday, January 16, 2014

#629 - Rusty Staub



As a welcome back to the land of baseball cards, Rusty Staub gets a rather odd action shot at Shea. Rusty had some contractual differences with Topps that left him without cards in the ’72 or ’73 set, though he does make at least one appearance in the latter set jogging towards center on Tommie Agee’s card as Agee makes a catch (more on that card on the next post).  Here, Rusty looks like he is conversing with someone to his left – the catcher maybe – while just about every fan’s focus appears to be on something in the outfield. Rusty was in the midst of his second season in NY, having come over from Montreal in a big trade prior to what would be a bit of a train wreck for him in the ’72 season. Then, like a lot of his teammates, ’73 was sort of a mixed season for him. Early on, Rusty got nailed in the hand by a pitch which made it pretty tough for him to grip a bat the balance of the season. Because of the plethora of injuries suffered by just about every other starter he never went on the DL and the injury contributed to discounted power from his recent full seasons. But he was still the team’s biggest power threat and he came up big in the post-season with three homers – his only hits – and five RBI’s in the playoffs and a .423 average with six RBI’s in the near-upset of Oakland in the Series. And even with the injury it was better than the prior year. So if Rusty is smiling here as I suspect, he had reason to.
Rusty Staub grew up in New Orleans, which seems about right given what he did in his off-seasons. In high school there he played basketball and baseball. His senior year he hit .474 and homered to win the state championship. The prior summer he led his team to the American Legion world series and the summer after his senior year he hit .553 for that team. That summer was ’61 and when Legion play ended Rusty was signed by Houston to a bonus baby contract. He had a big first year in B ball, putting up a line of .293/23/93 with 115 runs and a .429 OBA while playing first base. Houston then elevated him all the way up and that year he split time between – primarily – first and right field. His numbers weren’t crazy impressive but he put up more walks than strikeouts and earned a spot on the Topps Rookie team. He remained in Houston to start the ’64 season but after struggling offensively returned to the minors, where in Triple A he put up a line of .314/20/45 with a .427 OBA in just 226 at bats, so there was nothing left for him to prove at that level.  When he returned in ’65 he was moved to right field as his primary spot, put up his first double digit homer tally, and added 40 points to his average. In ’66 he added another 25 points to his average, got into slugger territory with his RBI total, and put in some time in left. In ’67 he put up the best average of his career while leading the NL in doubles and in ’68 he hung in there offensively in a tough year to do that while playing only first base again. In both ’67 and ’68 he was an All-Star. Early the next year he was sent to the new Montreal Expos for Jesus Alou and Donn Clendenon in a deal that was almost derailed because Clendednon refused to report (he did not want to play again for Houston manager Harry Walker). The deal got fixed when the Expos subbed Jack Billingham, Skip Guinn, and $100,000 for Clendenon.
With Montreal Staub became a fan favorite. Named “Le Grande Orange” by the Canadians for his red hair, he endeared himself to the fans up north by responding to them in French when he was asked for autographs. He wasn’t too shy with the bat either. In ’69 he jumped on the homer train as he put up a .426 OBA. In ’70 he hit the 30 homer mark the only time in his career and in ’71 he nearly had triple figures in both runs and RBI’s. He’d also become an excellent right fielder and he and first baseman Ron Fairly made a very good right side defensive duo even though they were probably the two slowest guys in the league. All three years Rusty was an All-Star as his OBA during his initial time with the Expos topped .400. Then, just before the start of the ’72 season he was part of another big trade in which he went to NY for three guys who would turn into immediate starters for Montreal: Tim Foli, Mike Jorgensen, and Ken Singleton. His first year with the Mets was going great guns: in mid-June he was hitting over .300 and NY was in first place. Then he got hit in the hand by a George Stone pitch. He would continue to play for over a week but it would turn out that his hand was broken and he would miss the first significant amount of time in his career in seeing his season halved. After his dramatic comeback season in ’73 he put up a .258/19/78 line for a crappy ’74 club and then in ’75 improved to .282/19/105 as he set a team record for RBI’s. As a reward he was on the road again, this time to Detroit in a horribly-balanced trade which got the Mets Mickey Lolich, who was well past his prime.
With Detroit Staub returned to the All-Star game in ’76 as the starting AL right fielder as he went on to post a .299/15/96 line for his first shot in the new league. He then became a full-time DH as well as an RBI machine the next two seasons as he put up stats of .278/22/101 and .273/24/121 respectively. But Rusty did not want to DH and in ’79 he held out in spring training and didn’t get into the line-up until early May. He started off well enough and his power stats were pretty much in line with where they’d been the past few seasons, but his average slid to under .240 and he’d burned some bridges with the holdout so in July he was sent back to Montreal for cash and a minor leaguer. He was warmly received by his old fans and picked up his average by 30 points the rest of the way as he did some reserve work at first and in right. His return was short-lived, though, and after the season he went back to the AL to Texas for Chris Smith and LaRue Washington. With the Rangers he got off to another hot start - .412/2/9 through April – when he went down with an injury and missed the next month-plus. He finished with a .300/9/55 line in his 340 at bats and after the season signed as a free agent with the Mets. Back in NY he would do spent the initial part of the ’81 season starting at first and then split starts there the rest of the way with fellow re-acquiree Dave Kingman. He also did some significant time as a pinch hitter and that year of his overall .317/5/21 line – on 161 at bats – his pinch stats were .300/0/6 with a .467 OBA. In ’82 he reversed things, getting most of his starts late in the season as his line slipped a bit to .242/3/27 but he showed more power in the pinch with a .211/1/13 in 57 at bats. By ’83 NY was getting more solid at Rusty’s field positions and from about mid-year on he was exclusively a pinch hitter. That year in that role he went .284/3/25 in his 81 at bats and .296/3/28 overall in 115 at bats. In ’84 he was .273/1/18 in just 66 pinch at bats and in ’85 .262/1/8 with a .404 OBA in 42 at bats in his final season. Rusty finished with a .279 average, 292 homers, 1,466 RBI’s, 2,726 hits, and a .363 OBA for his career. In his only post-season he hit .341 with four homers and eleven RBI’s in his eleven games. All-time he is in the top 100 in hits, doubles, total bases, walks, singles, and RBI’s. Defensively he is in the top 25 for right field assists, putouts, and double plays.
Staub kept busy before and after he was playing. While he was laid up in ’72 he refined a lot of the cooking skills he learned from his mom, preparing meals for teammates, and later cooking in some local restaurants. By ’77 he opened his own ribs place on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and he later added another one on Fifth Avenue. After playing he was a color announcer for over 20 seasons for NY and during that time he also established a fund that helped families of NYC police and fireman injured or killed in the line of duty. That fund exploded after 9/11 and raised over $125 million for affected families. He’s been an active community guy in NY as well and has been elected to the Louisiana, Mets, and Expose halls of fame.

 Almost all the info on the back of Rusty’s card has been covered above. He relocated from Houston to NY later during his Mets time and remained there a long time thereafter. In the NL playoffs in ’73 he nailed his shoulder slamming into the wall after making a catch of a long fly hit by Dan Driessen and had to throw underhand during the Series. It didn’t seem to hurt his hitting too much though.
In mid-summer of ’73 the existence of the White House taping system and the acquisition of the tapes by the Special Prosecutor and the Senate Committee were the main themes but news-wise they were a dead issue until the Supreme Court’s decision over their release. So most news now was tangential stuff:
7/21/73 – Around this time former Attorney General John Mitchell testified before the Committee. By the time of Mitchell’s testimony it had already been established that he’d been involved in both planning and covering up the Watergate and other break-ins so he was past denying his own involvement. So the recurring theme of Mitchell’s testimony – again in contrast to John Dean’s testimony – was labelled in the press the “see no evil, hear no evil, say no evil” thread. Mitchell claimed that he and others involved never told President Nixon of any White House involvement in the break-ins and subsequent actions so that he would have no knowledge of them and therefore be insulated from any political fallout. After his testimony, and with the lack of any definitive news regarding the tapes, negative public opinion regarding Nixon abated a bit. But then...
Early August ’73 – Vice-President Spiro T. Agnew became a big political liability for issues completely unrelated to Watergate. Agnew, who was never accused of any Watergate involvement nor was asked to testify, had built his recent reputation as a conservative populist bulldog who frequently baited the press and anyone else he deemed as liberal with alliterative characterizations like “nattering nabobs of negativism” and many references as being effeminate. Prior to joining the Nixon ticket in ’68 he was the Governor of Maryland and around this time investigations into accusations of bribe-taking by him while in that role from various contractors became high-profile. Those prosecuting the accusations ran a double thread against Agnew: that he accepted the bribes and that he failed to report income from them. While there was no association between the President and Agnew’s actions while governor, the revelations generally prevailed a “What’s next” attitude on the public regarding the administration.
So my general rule is 100 at-bats are necessary to “officially” make guys teammates. In this case those at bats took the latter player six years but he gets there:
1. Staub and Ivan Murrell ’63 to ’68 Colt .45’s/Astros.

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