Rusty Staub, long-time outfielder and DH from 1963 to 1985, has died. Staub averaged almost one hit for each of his nearly 3000 career games, played mostly in the NL with the expansion cousin Mets and Astros. More after the jump on the career of Rusty Staub.
Staub began his career as a 19 year-old in 1963, logging 150 games for the Houston Colt .45s, the most games played in one season before the age of 20 (White Sox third baseman Bob Kennedy played 154 games as a 19 year-old in 1940, but 41 of those came after turning 20 in August). Despite the extended playing time, Staub struggled that season and the next, earning a tune-up stint in the minors for the second half of the 1964 campaign.
With Houston’s move indoors for the 1965 season, Staub started to hit his stride, topping 100 OPS+ for the first time that season, then reaching 150 hits, 80 RBI and 3.6 WAR in 1966. That set the stage for Staub’s breakout year as a 23 year-old in 1967, topping 5 WAR and 150 OPS+ while leading the NL in doubles and placing in the top 5 in BA and OBP. Staub regressed a bit in 1968, but still placed top 10 in BA and top 5 in OBP, enough to attract the attention of the expansion Montreal Expos who traded for the young outfielder before their first season, offering up their expansion draft pick Jesus Alou in exchange (Montreal also gave up a second pick from that draft, Donn Clendenon, but he refused to report to the Astros and ultimately landed in New York, becoming the Mets’ 1969 World Series MVP).
With his flaming red hair and a newly emergent power stroke, Staub became a fan favorite in Montreal, attracting the nickname Le Grand Orange while smashing 29 homers and walking 110 times, both results more than 20% of the Expos’ team totals. Those marks were good enough for top 10 finishes in HR, SLG and total bases, and a top 3 placement in walks, giving Staub a third straight season finishing top 10 in BA and top 5 in OBP. Staub produced similar totals in 1970 while topping 90 RBI for the first time, upping that RBI total to 97 the next year while posting a career best 186 hits in 1971. Staub reached 6 WAR in each of those three seasons, more than the rest of his team the first season and almost one-third of the team’s total batting WAR the next two years.
Despite Staub’s stature as the team’s best and most popular player, when the Mets offered a package including both a promising young outfielder (Ken Singleton) and shortstop (Tim Foli), Montreal took the bait, sending Staub to New York. Staub started strongly in 1972, with a typical .298/.378/.476 slash through the Mets’ first 56 games, before a Ross Grimsley pitch broke Staub’s hand. After sitting out 25 games, Staub tried to come back, playing a complete game on July 18th, but then opted for surgery, sidelining him until mid-September. Despite appearing in only 66 games, Staub’s 38 RBI were tied for second on a team that scored only 528 runs, yet still finished 10 games over .500 (and eleven games over their Pythag). Returning for a full season the next year, Staub led the Mets in OPS, XBH and RBI as New York finished 9-2 to outlast its NL East foes and claim the division crown with only an 82-79 record. Staub was at his best over the season’s closing weeks, finishing the year on a 15 game hitting streak during which he slashed .387/.441/.468 and posted an eye-catching 6.96 RE24. Staub continued his hot play in the NLCS, smashing three homers as the Mets upset the heavily favored defending NL champion Reds. In a memorable 7 game World Series, the defending world champion A’s came back from a 3-2 series deficit to best the Mets, again led by Staub who, despite playing with a shoulder injury sustained against the Reds, collected a hit in each game and slashed .423/.464/.615, easily the best on either team, including a 4 hit, 5 RBI performance as New York tied the series in game 4.
Staub turned 30 as the 1974 season began and his age started to show, recording just 2.0 oWAR in 649 PA, his worst oWAR per PA result since his rookie season. That performance was compounded by his defensive play which, never strong, plumbed new depths with -18 Rfield, the worst of his career. Staub rebounded the next year with 3.0 WAR and 3.8 oWAR while driving in 105, then the best result of his career, but with the Mets only a .500 team and having 6 players aged 30 or older logging 100+ games, change was in the offing, resulting in an off-season trade to the Tigers.
Staub’s move to the junior circuit was opportune, as the DH rule offered hope for an aging, slow-footed outfielder who still had some pop in his bat. Staub was the Tigers’ everyday right-fielder in 1976, a solid season with a .299/.383/.436 slash and 96 RBI, but with the younger Ben Oglivie pushing Detroit’s outfielders for playing time, it was not a surprise when Staub moved to become a full-time DH the next year. In fact, Staub didn’t pick up a glove for the rest of his time in the Motor City, playing his last 388 games as a Tiger as a DH or pinch-hitter, including 244 straight starts at DH from midway through the 1977 season to the end of the following campaign (the latter was the first of only two seasons, the other belonging to Willie Horton, of 162 DH games). Staub topped 100 RBI in 1977, upping that to a career best 121 ribbies the next year, then the most as a DH and surpassed since by only three players. But, a slow start in 1979 resulted in a mid-season trade to the Expos, then in the thick of a pennant chase and willing to take a flyer on the franchise’s former marquee star. Alas, Staub was not a factor in limited playing time at first base as the Expos’ pennant drive stalled in the final week with a 1-4 finish (incredibly, Montreal posted a 17-1 record from August 28th to September 15th, yet saw their division lead shrink from 3 games to only ½ a game).
Staub wound up in Texas for the 1980 season where he rebounded with a solid .300/.370/.459 in 388 PA, splitting his time between DH, 1B and a handful of games in the outfield. A free agent following that season, Staub returned to New York where he finished his career as a utility player in 1981, then primarily a pinch-hitter after that, with at least 50 PH appearances each of his last four seasons (the oldest player to accomplish that four-peat), and 290 PH appearances aged 38+, the third highest total all-time. Quiz: which player recorded the most career PH appearances starting in his age 38 season?
Over his 23 season career, Staub was a teammate of fourteen HOFers, as well as three players (Jesus Alou, Jack Billingham, Mike Jorgensen) for whom he was traded earlier in his career. Staub’s opponents included players whose careers spanned almost seven decades, from 1941 (Stan Musial) to 2007 (Julio Franco). Staub is the only player with 500 games played for four different franchises. He and Ty Cobb are the only players all-time with 100 games before their age 20 season and 100 games after their age 39 season. RIP Rusty!