A Little Rusty

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Today felt like a good day to post an article I wrote for Baseball Digest. Stay inside, stay safe and enjoy.

You don’t have to be a baseball fan to be able to appreciate the fascinating life led by baseball’s Daniel Joseph ‘Rusty’ Staub.

You don’t need to know the difference between a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly. You don’t need to know the difference between a double and a double play. You don’t need to know the difference between “Let’s play two” and “Let’s get two”. You certainly don’t need to have knowledge of the intricacies to doing ‘The Wave’.

All you really need  is the ability to appreciate a great life story.

Daniel Joseph Staub, better known by his nickname, Rusty, was born on this day back in 1944. His father was a famous inventor known best for playing a principal role in the team that invented Scotch tape for 3M. His mother was a talented B-movie film actress. Staub’s childhood was mostly spent with production assistants as babysitters at movie set service tables, starting with Cry of the Werewolf, shot and released the same year he was born. His mother played Marie Latour, a woman raided by gypsies who finds out she is actually the daughter of a werewolf. Staub was only allowed on set the days his mother wasn’t pretending to kill those around her who knew her secret.  Staub’s imagination would reach great lengths throughout his life as he would find success not only on the baseball diamond, but also on the small screen.

While signing his first professional baseball contract with the Houston Colt. 45s in 1961, Staub was as happy as you would expect any excited, naive 19-year-old kid to be when signing his first contract. Cracking jokes in front of the local media present to cover the story, Staub was discovered by legendary CBS talent scout, Telly Vettison. Vettison approached Staub about not only his potential as a nationally known baseball star, but he also asked him if he had any experience performing. Staub had only spent time on movie sets and spent countless hours watching his mother act, however he had no experience of his own.

Looking to fill a morning slot on CBS’ Saturday  morning comedy block, Vettison convinced the network to give Staub a shot at his own half hour special after Staub met with executives in New York City. It was Staub’s first trip to the Big Apple and he was excited to at least get a free trip out of the deal. Never did he expect to walk away with a TV contract.

The network didn’t promise anything beyond a one-off special. The show was called “Staub It, You’re Killing Me!” and featured the ballplayer doing sketches a few young CBS scribes wrote for him. The sketches mostly revolved around baseball and bad word puns relating to Staub’s new team, the Colt .45s. Needless to say, the show was a huge failure and Staub’s stint in television ended nearly as quickly as it began.

His first season playing within the actual Colt .45s organization was much more successful as he was named an All-Star of the Class B Carolina League.  The following season Staub became only the second teenager to play 150 games on the major league level in his rookie season. Unfortunately there was another trip to the minors for Staub, until 1965 when he found his way back to The Show. This time it was in a Houston Astros jersey as the Colt .45s had changed their name.

1967 and 1968 delivered All-Star campaigns for Staub to show off on the back of trading cards.  In fact, his card was the most coveted of all in 1968. Government secrets were rumored to be hidden in his stat line for the 1968 season and as a result, it became a card collecting phenom. His baseball card from his 1968 season recently sold for $2.2 millon, putting it in the same class as the famous T206 Honus Wagner card.

Staub’s time in Houston ended with a one way ticket to Montreal as he was traded from Houston to the Expos in 1969, right before their inaugural season. The deal was to include Donn Clendenon and Jesus Alou from Montreal to Houston, however, Clendenon refused to report. Clendenon had seen “Staub It, You’re Killing Me” on Canada’s comedy network EH? and was a huge fan of Staub’s. Once he found out it was Staub who was reporting to Montreal, he refused to report to Houston.

The Commissioner of the league, Bowie Kuhn, ruled that the deal was official and that Montreal and Houston would make it work be providing other players and Houston would receive $100,000 for their troubles. It was the first time a player had successfully stopped a trade simply by refusing to report to the other team and set the poor precedent we see happening in today’s sports.

Clendenon wasn’t the only person excited to have Staub in Montreal. French-Canadians embraced Rusty for learning their language and using maple syrup as opposed to pine tar when at bat.  In only three years with the team, Staub won over the hearts of Expos fans, and started going by the nickname “Le Grand Orange” because of his red hair and became the organization’s career leader in on-base percentage among players with 2,000 plate appearances or more, which remains a club record. Staub’s red hair had a major impact on the hair product industry as French-Canadians were flooding pharmacy shelves buying up as much Rusty Staub Red Head Hair Product as they could find. Canada led the world in red-haired citizens until 1972, when Staub was traded to the Mets.

While Staub’s first trip to New York resulted in a failed comedy special/television career. Luckily, he came to Shea Stadium with more than a wing and a prayer. Staub had already proven himself by becoming an All-Star for the Astros and was looking to bring success to the New York Mets. It didn’t take long for Staub to make an impact on the Mets. In 1973, one year into his tenure as a Met, he helped lead the team to the NLCS. His stand out play from that series was when he robbed Dan Driessen of an extra-base hit in the eleventh inning and in doing so, crashed into the fence in right field. The bad news was that it resulted in a separated shoulder and caused him to throw under-handed in the World Series against the A’s. The good news was that it started a new trend at Shea Stadium “Crash Into a Banner Day”. It became one of the most popular promotions in team history. No other Mets promotion resulted in more separated shoulders than “Crash Into a Banner Day”.

In 1975, Staub had his best season for the Mets reaching the 105 RBI mark. It was the first time any Met had reached 100 RBIs and remained unmatched until Gary Carter tied it in 1986. In 1968, Baseball Digest’s Furman Bisher saw greatness early on in Staub and raved over the potential he saw in the young player. You can read it by clicking here.

Staub went on to another All-Star appearance in 1976, this time with the Tigers after being traded before the season by the Mets to Detroit. In 1978, he finished in second place among major league hitters with 121 RBI as the first player to play an entire 162 game season solely as a designated hitter. He finished fifth in the AL MVP voting that year and was rewarded with a trade back to Montreal later that same year. Staub would ultimately finish his career with the Mets in 1983 and wrapped his career with a .279 batting average and 292 home runs.

This year is a rather monumental birthday as Montreal is celebrating Rusty Staub Day today and commemorating it by retiring the number 10 altogether in Canada. All new ten dollar bills printed in Canada will now feature Staub’s face, as was announced last month at a press conference honoring his career as a member of the Expos. Otherwise, his number 10 will no longer be used in the metric stystem used by French-Canadians while inside the Canadian borders. It is the top honor an athlete may receive in Canada. Wayne Gretzky is the only other athlete to receive the honor as there has not been a single 99 dollar bill in circulation in Canada for quite some time now. Also announced today, this article, while not a total fabrication of Staub’s life, definitely took some liberties in creating Staub’s life story in honor of him being born on April Fool’s Day.

All of the stats are correct. All of the teams he played for are correct and any reference to his actual baseball achievements are absolutely true. All facts from Rusty’s life off the field or otherwise not connected to is career are simply our way of saying, “April Fools!”. Otherwise, in the spirit of a gag card in a gift store, it should be considered a well-meaning tribute to Rusty Staub and the fascinating life that he led as a major league ballplayer – who just so happened to be born on April 1st. Rusty is known not only for his accomplishments on the field but also for his positive demeanor, strong work ethic and humanitarian efforts in starting the New York Police and Firefighters’ Widows’ and Childrens’ Fund which has raised over $11million in it’s first 15 years for families with police officers or firefighters killed in the line of duty and has raised over $112 million since September 11, 2001. Also, his Rusty Staub Foundation is a large focus of Rusty’s life in their effort to provide food for those who struggle to provide for themselves and their loved ones. You can learn more about the Rusty Staub Foundation at rustystaub.com Nowadays, if he isn’t involved with an event to raise money for either of those two foundations, you might find Rusty at one of his two restaurants in Manhattan, or on the back jacket of his children’s book, “Hello, Mr. Met”, at bookstores all over the country.

Also Born Today:

Will Rhymes turns 28 today. Rhymes was drafted by the Tigers in the 27th round of the 2005 amateur draft. He recently won the second base job with the Detroit Tigers. In 54 games with the big league club in 2010, he batted .304 and hit his first major league home run.

Phil Niekro turns 72 today. Niekro was signed by the Milwaukee Braves as an amateur free agent in 1958 and made his big league debut in 1964. The five-time All-Star pitcher won five gold gloves and led the league in ERA in 1967 giving up only 1.67 earned runs per game. Niekro led the National League in complete games in 1974 and then again from 1977-1979. His hard work paid off with an induction into Cooperstown, inducted by the BBWAA in 1997 appearing on 380 out of 473 ballots.

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