The 1973 Mets, for months more easily detected on the disabled list than within the National League East standings, overcame health issues once. Now we’re wishing they can do it again. Eddie Kranepool. Buddy Harrelson. Now Rusty Staub. You’d like to believe thoughts (and prayers, if you’re the type to keep those handy) will do these icons who sculpted the identity we latched onto in their and our youth some good. You gotta believe the concept certainly couldn’t hurt.
Rusty is hospitalized in Florida, reported as having contracted a staph infection that led to kidney failure. Bill Madden described the situation facing him in the Daily News on Friday. Friday, Madden wrote , was better than Thursday, and Thursday was better than Wednesday. That’s a trend line you’d applaud if you saw it rising from the dugout, strolling to the on-deck circle and preparing to take the one swing that could turn this thing around
Medical treatment is a complex affair, yet the metaphor of coming through in the clutch is irresistible here. It’s what Rusty did as a Met for four seasons as the regular right fielder and five more as a pinch-hitter deluxe, which sounds like something you’d order at your local diner, provided you couldn’t get a table at Rusty’s. You are no doubt cognizant that Mr. Staub stepped up to the plate in the culinary arts, too. It was his panoply of competencies and commitments, combined with his signature ability to literally change games, that made Rusty Rusty, a person and persona you not only couldn’t have made up but it would have occurred to you to have tried.
He steadily served a stream of satisfied customers. He selflessly served countless families of fallen first responders through his dedicated charitable foundation. Oh, and he served quite a few pitches into the outfield, pushing two generations of Mets clubs into position to win or at least come back.
Coming back. Another metaphor for Rusty. In his second Met go-round, when he was as much living legend as active player, you usually saw Rusty only once per game, generally late in the proceedings. We were probably behind or tied. One swing from Rusty could drastically alter that uncomfortable situation. It was his sacred skill, his higher calling, his raison d’être. He was no longer asked to field or run (save for a memorable spring afternoon in the autumn of his career ). But he could hit like he could cook. Just go ahead and get in his kitchen if you had any doubts.
Rusty Staub established his professional credentials as a Colt .45/Astro; colored Canada Le Grand shade of Orange as an Expo; chaperoned the likes of Fidrych, Trammell, Whitaker and Morris as they earned their Tiger stripes; and had a few moments as Daniel, Texas Ranger. But within that pool of characters who you know in your bones are natural-born Mets, was there anybody who seemed to fit our bill more perfectly than Rusty Staub? He is right there with Eddie and Buddy and a handful of others who made the Mets the Mets. Mets like them are Mets you could never imagine as anything but Mets, never mind the baseball cards you had that sometimes indicated otherwise. Rusty had to be traded for the first time, and he had to be signed anew a second time, but he was always a Met waiting to happen. Once he took off the uniform, he remained a Met. Remains a Met to this day.
Every day is a good day to think grand thoughts of Rusty Staub, New York Met. Le Grander, the better.