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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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One and Only Rusty Staub

Few baseball players attracted more nouns than Rusty Staub. Anybody can be described with adjectives. Most players are known simply as players, maybe identified by position. The late Daniel Joseph Staub, who died overnight in South Florida three days shy of his 74th birthday, had that part down cold: right fielder; first baseman; pinch-hitter deluxe. But he was so much more.

Raconteur. Bon vivant. Gourmet. Gourmand. Connoisseur. Philanthropist. Ambassador. New Yorker. Legend.

And, of course, Met.

Rusty Staub was born to be a Met. He had to be, right? He was a George Plimpton character who didn’t have to be invented. Entered this world on April 1, but nobody’s fool. Bare arms. Black gloves. Red hair. Lethal bat. A stroke that could not be easily neutralized. A big man in this town not once, not twice, but forever. Opened a restaurant. Opened another. Traded not on his fame but on his food. Provided ballast for a league champion. Mentored most of a world champion. Spent a decade talking about baseball in the broadcast booth. Devoted himself continually to the aid of others.

A 500-hit man in Houston, in Montreal, in Detroit and in New York. One city couldn’t contain this son of New Orleans, but we got the most of him. We got him when we needed him, in April of 1972. We needed him in our lineup and we needed him to brighten our outlook. We’d just lost Gil Hodges. Rusty told a story about Gil. Rusty told a story about everything, and you were always delighted to listen. The trade that was about to make the most vital of Expos a Met was in progress, but not yet official. Gil knew, but couldn’t say anything when he and Rusty crossed paths in church on Easter Sunday toward the end of Spring Training. Rusty had no idea what was up, but was touched by how much in the spirit of the day Gil was to be so friendly to him, a division rival.

In a matter of hours, Gil was gone. In a matter of days, Rusty was on his team. It was a blur of a time. The manager was taken from us, an All-Star was delivered to us, the game was on hold in deference to a strike. Then baseball came back and, quite suddenly, Yogi Berra and Rusty Staub were leading the Mets into first place.

First place didn’t last in 1972. Rusty was hit in the hand, and that was pretty much all she wrote. But he’d be healed by 1973 and, when he had enough healthy company, the Mets got well. Rusty and his teammates absconded with September. The rest of the National League East didn’t know what hit them. Then the Mets made off with the first half of October despite facing a universally believed better opponent. The believing was definitively on the Mets’ side then. Rusty Staub, too: a homer in Game Two; two homers in Game Three; the day temporarily saved when he crashed into the wall to make a breathtaking catch in the eleventh inning of Game Four. Cincinnati had the Big Red Machine. New York had Le Grand Orange.

He almost won us the World Series. Tried to do it on one shoulder. Batted .423 the only time he went to the Fall Classic. Led us through seven games. The Mets couldn’t beat the A’s in ’73 nor many opponents in general in ’74, but Rusty kept plugging, kept hitting, kept patrolling right, throwing out more runners than anybody else in the league from his station. And in 1975, Rusty grabbed the wheel, driving in more runners than any Met ever had before, 105. No Met was more popular. No Met was more clutch.

Then, because the ballclub he worked for had fallen ever more tightly into the grip of idiots, Rusty Staub was traded to the Tigers. The Tigers’ gain, to be sure. The Mets would keep making trades that baffled the mind and offended the senses. Rusty simply kept hitting. The Mets sadly kept getting worse.

Then we got him again when we needed him again. We always needed a Rusty Staub…make that the Rusty Staub. There was only one. He wasn’t as agile as he once was, but the parts of his considerable anatomy he used to swing the bat functioned just fine. Rusty was two or three rare breeds in one as soon as he settled in for his second Met term: that pinch-hitter you were sure you could count on; that Met who returned to the team and built on rather than detracted from our established memories; and a veteran presence that transcended the clichéd overtones attached to that phrase. Listen to Keith Hernandez. Listen to Ron Darling. Read Dwight Gooden’s autobiography. Rusty guided each of them through their first months and years in New York. He knew the town. He knew the sport. He knew what he was doing.

And he continued to hit. He passed 40 and homered, just as he had before he reached 20. That coupled him with Ty Cobb in the annals of baseball. One late April day versus the Pirates, when Davey Johnson’s options were severely limited, he asked Rusty to do more than bat. He played right and left and right and left — Davey tried to hide Rusty in extra innings from any encounters with fly balls. It almost worked. Rusty had to do some fielding. As with most everything he went after, he accomplished his task with élan.

Players come and go, in and out of lineups, on and off of rosters. Rusty made an indelible impression that only deepened. He may have been the de facto 25th man on the roster by 1985, but there was no forgetting he was waiting on the bench for one more call, one more swing, one more hit among 2,716 collected across 23 seasons. We chanted for him. We stood for him. We applauded him right up through his final at-bat in his final game, October 6, 1985. His groundout ended his career as well as the greatest season a Mets club that didn’t win admission to the postseason ever had. The Mets would keep climbing without him in their immediate ranks.

Still, we held on to him. The first place by a mile Mets had a day for him in 1986. His former teammates wore orange wigs and white visors bearing his restaurant’s logo. A couple of months later, he was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame, alongside Buddy Harrelson, in the first class devoted strictly to players. They were both born to be Mets. It just took Rusty a little longer to find his way home.

Rusty kept cooking in Manhattan. He kept talking in Queens. Eventually he gave up both gigs, but he remained around. He took care of the families of fallen cops and firefighters. There were a lot of people to take care of after September 11, 2001. Rusty’s foundation looked after each of them. His barbecues on their behalf at Shea and Citi were enormous annual events. His fellow MLB alumni benefited from his attention, too. And if you were lucky enough to meet Rusty during the three-plus decades during his retirement from playing baseball, you came away utterly enhanced by the experience.

He was Rusty Staub. He was something.

26 comments to One and Only Rusty Staub

  • Dave

    Thank you, Greg. Perfect tribute on a day of widely mixed emotions.

  • Ed

    Good morning Greg and thank you for the nice tribute to Rusty. It’s a sad opening day losing a man who felt like was one of our own. A good man and true power bat and quality player we had on those 70’s teams.

    I am thankful he was a Met and will keep the memories warm.

    Happy Opening Day – Lets Go Mets!


  • Argman

    Wonderful tribute to a class act.

  • SkillSets

    Rusty was ours. Le Grand Orange, est mort.

  • LarryDC

    Happy Opening Day, all.

    I’m proud to have attended this game, when Rusty tied what must honestly be labeled one of MLB’s most obscure records:

    • I was there, too. My first doubleheader. Straw breaking out, Rusty tying that record and the last time I saw Seaver pitch as a Met. Except for the Mets not winning both games, we should all have such memories.

  • A loss which truly makes one stop and reflect upon all that’s good, wholesome, and right about our beloved but rather flawed game of baseball. Meeting him three times makes his passing away that much more saddening. I’ve always look back on my days as a child rooting for Rusty and co. as a blessing. He was a titan to this former 8-year old. Meeting him as an adult merely confirmed it.

  • Greg Pattenaude

    What a wonderful tribute. My two Rusty memories: one as #4 and one as #10. 1974 was my 1st Opening Day in person. 37 degrees. 1st row in the field boxes in short right field. After the NL pennant was hoisted, Rusty trotted in and out to position all game. We yelled at him every trip.
    Then in 1985, it was Nostalgia Night. We were seated in Loge Level by the foul poll. The Mets were trailing going to the bottom of the 9th. Up steps Rusty to pinch hit. He connects but the ball curves just foul to the left of us. A mighty sigh from the crowd. Next pitch. This time it didn’t curve foul. Shea goes crazy. The Mets would go on to lose that game, but it was still one of my favorite moments. RIP Rusty.

  • Tim H

    We lost a good, good man, today. Rest in Peace, Rusty. You had a life well lived.

  • Bob

    Thank you for wonderful tribute.
    Lowered my Met Flag to Half Staff now.
    RIP Rusty Staub–Orange & Blue forever!
    How lucky we were to have Rusty as long as we did.

    Bob in LA-

  • Will in Central NJ

    Thanks, Greg, for sharing memories of an uncommon man, Rusty Staub, who gave back early and often to many in the City of New York, his adopted home. This, in addition to his many accomplishments on the diamond. Thank you, Rusty.

  • David Purcell

    Thanks, Greg.
    I turned 11 on Oct. 16, 1973. Rusty went 2 for 6 with a double in Game 3 in Oakland. I’d be lying if I told you I remembered that. But what I do remember, and always will remember, is Rusty out in right, his shoulder so banged up he could only throw underhanded. This made an enormous impression on me. I recall in the days after the series ended talking with friends about how we’d have won if Rusty hadn’t been hurt. We threw this idea around with all the certainty of 11-year-old boys and for us it took hold. Of course, it wasn’t true. Honestly, though, how did he hit .423 in that series?
    When I think about the Mets in the abstract, when I just let an image come to me, I see Rusty.

  • Paul from Brooklyn

    Great tribute Greg.R.I.P. Rusty . Cried when I saw what looked like orange flowers in an arrangement by home plate today.He handed me a ball once when I was 12 years old.A class act on the field and off.

  • Cleon Jones

    Rest in Peace Rusty.

  • Lenny65

    It’s a real tribute to the man when you see how many franchises are still proud to call him one of their own. He was fondly remembered at every stop of his wonderful career. He will be sorely and very dearly missed.

  • StorkFan

    They used to say about guys like Rusty that you could wake him up at 3:00 AM and he’d line a single for you. Great hitter, even better person.

  • v-dog

    With all the great stories I’ve read and heard about Rusty today, I haven’t seen a single mention of his RF booster club, “Rusty’s Busties”. All my friends out here in Cali think I’m making it up; somebody who was around in those days, please back me up!

  • Greg, if you were a pitcher and this blog your mound, this post would be your perfect game.

  • eric1973

    I met Rusty in the parking lot at Shea, and while he did not give autographs, he shook my hand and offered to talk.

    What a true gentleman.

    I wrote a check to his Policeman’s and Fireman’s Widows Fund, then, and now in his honor.

  • […] “He was a George Plimpton character who didn’t have to be invented,” wrote Faith and Fear in Flushing’s Greg Prince. […]

  • Andy Thomas

    When I was 7 years old, my Dad took me to the Banner Day doubleheader (the first Banner Day?) against the Houston Colt 45’s at the Polo Grounds. My parents made me a banner, a large white flag of surrender with a small Mets logo stitched to its center, which I was to wave whenever Houston scored. I got a workout, and the fans surrounding us thought it was pretty funny. Mets fans are a special lot. My favorite player, Al Jackson, dropped the opener despite pitching pretty well (nothing unusual there) and the nightcap got out of hand. With most patrons gone, my Dad led me from our right field lower deck seats down behind home plate for the last few innings. The ushers in those days were accommodating or turned a blind eye, and I was thrilled! A Colt 45 rookie stepped to the plate and blasted an incredible drive into the distant seats just to the right field side of the center field clubhouse area, beyond Vic and Willy, out where you could detect the curvature of the earth. I’ll never forget the sound of that particular crack of the bat. As he crossed the plate with a big grin, I remember wishing that the Mets could have THAT guy on our team! Eventually, they did, and he became one of our greatest — for many reasons beyond merely the baseball. Rest in Peace, Rusty, your contributions are immortal.

  • Rusty batted left, threw right and played right field. So did I as an eight year old. I was watching the game when that Grimsley pitch broke his hand and was heartbroken. He played the ’73 series with a great bat, despite his wounded shoulder. He was a fine player, a better man and loved by baseball. Thank you for this tribute.

  • […] “He was a George Plimpton character who didn’t have to be invented,” wrote Faith and Fear in Flushing’s Greg Prince. […]