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Mets’ top 25 all-time home run leaders, #24: Rusty Staub

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Staub was a twice-tenured Met and a fixture in the team’s television broadcasting booth after he retired from playing.

New York Mets Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

24. Rusty Staub

Home runs as a Met: 75
Home run rate: 1 per 39.5 plate appearances (2.53%)

Daniel Joseph “Rusty” Staub, Le Grande Orange, hit 75 home runs in his two tenures in Flushing, which places him 24th on the Mets’ all-time home run list. Mets fans who are roughly my age and younger remember Staub for his color commentary on WOR, but he played a lot of good baseball before he ever stepped into the booth.

Staub was a well-established player by the time the Mets traded for him in 1972, having played nine seasons for the Houston Astros (née Colt .45s), with whom he made his major league debut as a 19-year-old in 1963, and the Montreal Expos. It was in Montreal that he acquired his “Big Orange” nickname—a term of endearment that was a nod to both Montreal’s preponderance of French speakers and Staub’s red hair.

Staub’s greatest assets as a hitter—his plate discipline and ability to make good contact—made him a reliable on-base machine, but he had some power, too, particularly over the first dozen or so years of his career. He was in his prime when the Mets traded for him, and it was surely expected his presence in the lineup would help them back to the World Series. Unfortunately for everyone, Staub’s promising first season in Queens was cut short in early June by an errant pitch that fractured his wrist. The injury required surgery, and Staub was sidelined for almost the entire remainder of that season.

Happily, he recovered and was the paragon of durability over his next three seasons with the Mets. Overall, his offensive output, while good, wasn’t quite what it had been in his heyday, although he rebounded sufficiently in 1975 to get a few points in the MVP voting. It was during this stretch of seasons in the 70s that he hit the majority of his home runs as a Met, tallying 62 in sum. Staub also gave the Mets some postseason heroics in 1973, particulary in the NLCS against a Big Red Machine-era Reds team, thus endearing himself to Mets fans forever.

By the end of 1975, the Mets were entrenched in mediocrity—and, though no one knew it then, quickly approaching the precipice of one of the more miserable stretches of baseball in franchise history. Before the 1976 season, the Mets completed an ill-conceived trade that sent Staub and teammate Bill Laxton to the Tigers in exchange for Mickey Lolitch and Billy Baldwin (not that one). Lolitch and Baldwin were busts, and Staub promptly made the All-Star Game—thus planting some of the early seeds that would one day sprout into shade-giving LOLMets memes.

Staub returned to the Mets as a free agent before the 1981 season. The vagaries of time had relegated him to part-time-player status by then, but he quickly proved his worth as a pinch-hitter. The Mets fielded some awful, forgettable teams in Staub’s first few years back in Queens, but he was a bright spot—a bridge, in fact, to the mid-to-late-80s glory that was to come. Staub retired after the Mets’ outstanding 1985 season, and one can feel grateful that he was able to hang up his spikes on a high note.

Rusty Staub (with the Mets)

Year Games Plate Appearances Home Runs OPS+
Year Games Plate Appearances Home Runs OPS+
1972 66 278 9 137
1973 152 666 15 118
1974 151 649 19 112
1975 155 670 19 132
1981 70 186 5 147
1982 112 250 3 79
1983 104 132 3 122
1984 78 79 1 84
1985 54 55 1 126