Sometimes a player’s impact on a franchise is not connected to longevity. Aaron Boone played half a season with the Yankees and Dave Roberts played less than half a season with the Red Sox. And yet they are beloved figures in their team’s history.
David Wells felt like a Yankee for life despite only playing 4 seasons with them. Roberto Alomar is the definitive Blue Jay but only played 5 seasons in Toronto.
Rusty Staub has that same effect but with two franchises. Two cities in two different countries embraced Staub as one of their most beloved players. Yet those stints as a star in those cities were not that long and he wound up on the All Star team with two additional franchises.
The Louisiana native was signed by the Houston Colt 45s in 1961 and played 150 games for the team as a 19 year old. He didn’t hit much for the squad in 1963 nor 1964. But as a 21 year old for the newly rechristened Astros, he showed signs of power. He clubbed 14 homers and batted .256 the first year in the Astrodome.
By 1967, he was representing Houston in the All Star Game, batting .333 in a pitchers era and leading the National League with 44 doubles. His numbers dipped in 1968, but he still made the All Star team.
Before Spring Training began in 1969, the Astros made a complicated trade with the new expansion Montreal Expos. Staub was sent packing to Quebec. Jesus Alou and Donn Clendenon were sent to Houston. The problem was Clendenon did not want to go to Houston and perhaps emboldened by Curt Flood’s recent refusal to be traded, would not report to Houston. The Expos, at the end of spring training, sent Skip Guinn, Jack Billingham and cash to complete the deal. (Clendenon later that year would accept a trade to the Mets and be named World Series MVP.)
The Expos played in Parc Jarry, a flimsy stadium not suitable for Major League Baseball. Whether baseball would succeed in Montreal was still a total mystery.
What became clear right away was that Montreal had a fan favorite. Staub hit .292 with 13 homers in the first half of 1969, earning him yet another All Star Game berth. Then in the second half, he posted an OPS of .1063, batted .317 and launched 16 homers. Plus the Louisiana boy had a connection with French culture, made an effort to speak the language and became the beloved “Grande Orange” based upon his red hair.
In 1970, his hot bat made him one of the chief attractions in Montreal. He had 4 multiple homer games in 1970 including a game on August 1 where his first homer tied the game and his second one put the Expos up for good.
Staub was an All Star for the Expos in 1971 again. He batted .311 and drove in 97 and saw his OPS finish at .874. He was a beloved Expo after 3 years.
And then they traded him. The trade appeared to make some sense as the Expos got talented players like Ken Singleton and Tim Foli and Mike Jorgensen back in the deal. But emotionally and in terms of fan backlash, it was disastrous. Le Grande Orange had gone. He gave fans in Montreal 3 terrific seasons and reasons to like baseball. Now off he was to New York.
The Expos loss was the Mets gain. An injury plagued 1972 kept him from shining in his first year with the team. But in 1973, he hit 15 homers for a Mets team that had trouble staying over .500.Then down the stretch, he batted .307 with an OPS of .843.
In a critical game on September 21 against the Pirates, the Mets climbed back to .500, Staub reached base 3 times with a homer and 3 RBI. That put the Mets 1/2 a game ahead of the Pirates with 7 to play. The Mets won 5 of their last 7 and snuck into the NLCS.
With the series tied at a game a piece, the NLCS went back to Shea. Staub hit a homer in the first inning to put the Mets on the board. Then in the second inning, he launched a 3 run homer to give the Mets a 6-0 lead. They would win the game and take a 2-1 series lead. Eventually they would win Game 5 and the pennant, stunning the heavily favored Reds.
In the World Series against the defending World Champion A’s, Staub would come up big again. After 3 tense games, including a pair of extra inning campaigns, the A’s had a 2-1 series lead. Ken Holtzman pitched the fourth game for Oakland. With 2 on and nobody out in the first, Staub went the opposite field for a 3 run homer, giving the Mets an early 3-0 lead. Holtzman would not make it out of the first. Staub would reach base 5 times and drive in 5 runs as the Mets cruised to a 6-1 win.
The A’s would win the World Series in 7 games but Staub’s post season numbers were impressive. He batted .341 with a slugging percentage of .683 and an OPS of 1.096.
Being the first baseball hero of Montreal and being a productive playoff performer in New York are the recipes for long term fan base love. Staub would play for the Mets in 1974 and 1975 before he was traded away after only 4 years.
He landed in Detroit where he was named to his sixth All Star team with his third franchise. (He was never an All Star with the Mets.)
He continued being a productive hitter in Detroit before a late season move put him back in an Expos uniform in time for their run for the NL East title in 1979. They fell just short to Pittsburgh, but the arrival of Staub reminded many Expos fans of the early struggling days as they finally were contending.
After a season in Texas, Staub returned to the Mets where he played 5 more seasons almost exclusively as a pinch hitter. His final year was in 1985 where he appeared in 54 games but only one game in the field.
Perhaps the second stints with each team gave the illusion that he was there longer. Staub, an original Expo, was there for their first playoff push in 1979. Staub played along side Seaver, Koosman and Bud Harrleson as well as Gooden, Strawberry and Carter, it made it feel like he had never left.
His number was retired in Montreal and he had a restaurant in New York many years after he last played.
It doesn’t always take longevity to become beloved. Sometimes it just takes earning the love of the fans right away.