Hours before the start of the 2018 Major League Baseball Season, the game lost Rusty Staub.
Staub, a former Tiger who played 23 seasons in the major leagues and racked up 2,716 hits, died Thursday morning, the New York Mets confirmed. He was 73. He reportedly suffered from kidney failure.
Staub played parts of four seasons for the Tigers, from 1976 until he was traded to the Montreal Expos in 1979. Aside from the Tigers, Mets and Expos, he also played for the Houston Colt .45s/Astros, with whom he began his career, and the Texas Rangers.
Tigers manager Ron Gardnehire was a teammate of Staub's for several years with the Mets in the 1980s.
"Rusty was a tremendous guy and teammate," Gardenhire said in a statement released by the Tigers. "He had a wonderful influence on his teammates and remained a close friend of mine even after our playing days. I extend my deepest condolences to his family during this time.
A left-handed-hitting outfielder, first baseman and designated hitter, the New Orleans-born Staub went on to carve out his niche in the baseball record books. Among the most interesting statistics, he once had eight pinch-hits in a row, he’s the only player ever to accumulate 500 hits with four different franchises, and he’s one of four players to hit a home run in the major leagues before turning 20 and after turning 40, joining Ty Cobb, Gary Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez.
His lasting impact, though, includes more than just his time on the field. He was a huge early influence on a players’ union that became the strongest in any support, and post-baseball, he started a foundation to help the widows and children of police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty.
“Rusty will be missed but the legacy of his humanity and compassion will live on,” Tony Clark, head of the players’ union, said in a statement Thursday.
The Tigers acquired him from the Mets in 1975, for Mickey Lolich — who was set to throw out the first pitch at Comerica Park on Thursday, until the game was postponed until Friday.
With Detroit, he resurrected his career, thanks to the designated-hitter position. In total as a Tiger, he batted .295 with an .899 OPS, twice driving in more than 100 runs, and twice hitting more than 20 home runs. He was an All-Star in 1976. In 1978, he played in all 162 games, and was the DH for every one of them, and finished fifth in the American League MVP voting.
Prior to the 1979 season, Staub got into a stalemate with Tigers general manager Jim Campbell over his contract. He had two years left on a contract and earned $200,000 a year, but he wanted additional years on his deal. He eventually suited up for a May 3 game, but was traded two-and-a-half months later.
During his Tigers tenure, he made quite an impression, particularly on the younger players who would become world champions in 1984.
"He could hit (and) never got the recognition that he deserved," said Alan Trammell, a young up-and-coming shortstop when he was teammates with Staub in the 1970s. "He really tried to help the young players when he got to Detroit."
Yet, it was the Mets with whom he was most associated, playing with them from 1972-75 and again from 1981 until he retired after the 1985 season.
He began his career in 1963, with the then Colt .45s. He played his first six seasons with the Houston, before moving on to Montreal. He made six All-Star teams.
Staub, who finished with 2,716 hits and 292 home runs, is a member of several Hall of Fames, including with the Mets’ and the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, and he was the first player ever to have his number retired by the now-defunct Expos. Fans in Montreal called him ““Le Grand Orange,” a tribute to his distinct hair color.
"I remember watching him as a boy when he played for the Expos at Jarry Park," said Dan Petry, who grew up watching Staub, eventually was briefly a teammate of his, and later even faced him a few times (Staub went 1-for-3). "He was one heck of a hitter. Choked up and slashed the ball the other way off me."
After retiring, he turned to a number of ventures, including charitable work. His New York Police & Fire Widows’ & Children’s Benefit Fund, founded in 1986, has raised and distributed more than $100 million, most since Sept. 11, 2001. Staub also owned restaurants in New York City, and would always invite former Tigers teammates out to dinner, Trammell said.