NEW YORK (Reuters) - Rusty Staub, a beloved slugger dubbed “Le Grand Orange” by fans of the Montreal Expos and later embraced as a team leader of the New York Mets, died on Thursday at age 73 after a 23-year Major League Baseball career and a retirement devoted to charity.
His death at a Florida hospital, which came on baseball’s opening day for the 2018 season, was confirmed by the Mets, with whom the left-handed-hitting outfielder did two tours of duty in the 1970s and 1980s.
Staub, who had been in failing health in recent years, was awarded spots on six All-Star teams over a career with five teams in which he compiled a solid .279 batting average, with 2,716 base hits, 292 home runs and 1,466 runs batted in.
But it is the quirky distinctions that devoted baseball fans remember most.
At 6 foot 2 inches (188 cm) and 200 pounds (91 kilograms) during his playing days, Staub had some of his best years as a member of the Montreal Expos, who later became the Washington Nationals. In homage to his size, big bat and ginger hair, French-speaking Montreal fans affectionately called him “Le Grand Orange.”
He was one of only three players to hit home runs in the big leagues before turning 20 and after turning 40 (Ty Cobb and Gary Sheffield were the others). He also tied a record set by Dave Philley in 1958 by getting eight consecutive base hits as a pinch hitter while playing with the Mets in 1983.
After baseball, Staub became restaurant owner and an active philanthropist and fundraiser.
“There wasn’t a cause he didn’t champion,” the Mets said in a statement. “Rusty helped children, the poor, the elderly and then there was his pride and joy, The New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund.”
Daniel Joseph Staub was born on April 1, 1944 in New Orleans and got his lifelong nickname even before he left the hospital, when a nurse called him Rusty for the red fuzz on his head, according to the Baseball Almanac.
As a 19-year-old, he came up with the Houston Colt .45s in 1963, the National League expansion team’s second season before changing its name to the Astros in 1965. He played in Houston for six seasons.
Besides the Expos, Astros and Mets, Staub also spent four seasons with the Detroit Tigers and one with the Texas Rangers.
Reporting by Peter Szekely; Editing by Dan Grebler