Astros in the Sky
Born: Apr 1, 1944
Signed as a 17-year-old in 1961 for a then whopping $110,000 bonus, Rusty Staub was the first big prospect in the Houston farm system. Barely 19 years old when he debuted in the majors, Staub struggled offensively until 1966. He developed into a tenacious hitter, batting .301 and averaging 45 extra-base hits from 1966 to 1968. His league-leading 44 doubles and .333 average in 1967 would both stand as team records for 27 years. During his six seasons in Houston, the popular Staub hit .273 with 57 homers.
What came next was one of the worst and most controversial trades in baseball history. It started after Houston unwisely dealt Staub to the expansion Expos for Donn Clendenon and Jesus Alou. When Clendenon balked at the trade and refused to play for Houston, the Astros tried to have the trade annulled. Newly chosen commissioner Bowie Kuhn stepped in and forced a reconstructed trade onto Houston, with Montreal keeping both Staub and Clendenon. Along with Alou, the Astros were given pitchers Jack Billingham, Skip Guinn and cash.
Staub became Montreal's first star. Dubbed "Le Grande Orange" in Canada, he became the power hitter the Astros' brass felt he'd never develop into (in truth, he realized he was better off hitting liners in the Astrodome and adapted his swing to fit his surroundings). He made the All-Star team for five straight seasons.
The Expos traded him to the Mets in 1972 and he helped New York reach the World Series the next year, where he hit .423 against Oakland. From there, he played for the Tigers, Rangers and then returned to the Mets as a pinch-hitter and bench player. He finished his 23-year career with a .279 average, 292 homers and 2,716 hits.
After baseball, Staub became a successful restauranteur and occasional commentator.
He passed away in West Palm Beach, FL, from multiple organ failure at the age of 73, three days shy of his birthday on March 29, 2018 and just hours before the start of the first games of Opening Day.