Rusty always ready

Staub one of the game’s pure hitters

December 02, 2010
Rusty Staub is one of 12 finalists on the Expansion Era ballot for election to the Hall of Fame. (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

Watch a video on the Expansion Era ballot

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – From his big league debut at the age of 19 to his waning playing years as one of the game's deluxe pinch-hitters, Rusty Staub could put the bat on the ball.

That skill kept Staub in the big leagues for 23 seasons – and now brings him to the threshold of the Hall of Fame.

Staub, who played for the Colt .45s/Astros, Expos, Mets, Tigers and Rangers over 23 seasons, is one of 12 finalists on this year's Expansion Era ballot that will be considered by the committee on managers, umpires, executives and long-retired players at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The 16-person committee will vote on Dec. 5 at baseball's Winter Meetings in Orlando, and the results of the vote will be announced Dec. 6.

The 12 candidates on the ballot are: Vida Blue, Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Pat Gillick, Ron Guidry, Tommy John, Billy Martin, Marvin Miller, Al Oliver, Ted Simmons, George Steinbrenner and Staub. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all ballots cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2011.

The committee consists of Hall of Fame members Johnny Bench, Whitey Herzog, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Tony Perez, Frank Robinson, Ryne Sandberg and Ozzie Smith; major league executives Bill Giles (Phillies), David Glass (Royals), Andy MacPhail (Orioles) and Jerry Reinsdorf (White Sox); and veteran media members Bob Elliott (Toronto Sun), Tim Kurkjian (ESPN), Ross Newhan (retired, Los Angeles Times) and Tom Verducci (Sports Illustrated).

Born April 1, 1944, in New Orleans, La., Staub was signed as an amateur free agent in 1961 after a high school career that resulted in Ted Williams calling Staub one of the best young hitters he ever saw.

Staub made his big league debut with Houston eight days after his 19th birthday. He played in 150 games as a rookie in 1963 – setting a single-season games-played record for teenagers (including only games played before a player's 20th birthday) that still stands.

Staub was returned to the minor leagues for part of the 1964 season, but became a regular again in 1965 and gained national attention in 1966, hitting .280 with 13 homers and 81 RBI while finishing 22nd in the National League Most Valuable Player voting.

The next season, Staub cashed in on his enormous potential by hitting .333 with an NL-best 44 doubles, 10 homers and 74 RBI while earning his first All-Star Game selection. Traded to the Expos before their inaugural 1969 season, Staub became a folk hero in Canada as "Le Grande Orange" – the first baseball star north of the border. He was named to the All-Star team in each of his three seasons with Montreal, averaging 26 homers and 90 RBI in his three seasons with the Expos.

The Mets parted with prospects Tim Foli, Mike Jorgensen and Ken Singleton to get Staub before the 1972 season, and in 1973 Staub led New York to the National League pennant with 15 homers and 76 RBI. In the World Series, Staub hit .423 with a homer and six RBI in the Mets' seven-game loss to the A's.

Traded to the Tigers following the 1975 season, Staub became one of the American League's best designated hitters – averaging 106 RBI from 1976-78. He played with Montreal in 1979 and Texas in 1980 before returning to the Mets from 1981-85 as a pinch-hitting specialist.

In 1983, he set big league records (since broken) with most pinch-hit at-bats (81) and walks (11). He also set a record with eight straight pinch-hits that season, tying the mark set by Dave Philley in 1958.

For his career, Staub had 100 career pinch-hits – good for a .280 average.

"Our pitchers don't like to face Rusty, and I don't know many who do," said future Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog during Staub's playing days. "He's there with the singles and doubles and hits the ball where it's pitched to."

Staub retired after the 1985 season with a .279 average, 2,716 hits, 292 home runs, 1,466 RBI and six All-Star Game selections. He appeared in at least 150 games in 12 seasons, and his 2,951 big league games rank No. 12 on the all-time list.

Craig Muder is the director of communications at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum