By Zach Gewelb
The 2018 Mets season began on a sad note, as legend Rusty Staub died last week just before the team’s home opener against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Staub, a New Orleans native, died in West Palm Beach, Fla., succumbing to organ failure March 29. He was 73.
“It’s a sad day for the Mets. Ironic that it’s Opening Day,” general manager Sandy Alderson said before the Mets’ 9-4 victory over the Cardinals at Citi Field. “Perhaps the overcast [weather] was an indication of how Mets Nation is feeling.”
Staub played for five teams in his 23-year career, including nine seasons in two stints with the Mets. He was a six-time All-Star and slugged 292 home runs. Aside from having a reputation as a good player on the field, the outpouring of love and support in the aftermath of his death shows how he earned the respect of his fans and baseball colleagues by being an even better person.
“Obviously this is a sad day for Metland here. Rusty’s a very dear friend, and he has his place in Met lore, and also the city. It’s a tough day,” said Keith Hernandez, another Mets legend who played with Staub from 1983-85.
Even City Council Speaker Corey Johnson chimed in, expressing his sorrow over Staub’s death.
“The Borough of Queens and the City of New York lost a titan today: legendary New York Met Rusty Staub,” Johnson said on the day of Staub’s death. “On this Opening Day, Rusty’s loss leaves a void at Citi Field and baseball stadiums across the country. Rusty not only was a champion in baseball but also a champion for all humanitarian causes. He was as good off the field as he was on. Rusty helped all New Yorkers — whether you were a child or a senior citizen, rich or poor or even a Yankees fan. New Yorkers will miss Rusty greatly, and the Council expresses its deepest condolences to Rusty’s family and Mets fans everywhere. Viva Le Grand Orange,” referencing Staub’s nickname, which honored his shock of red hair.
Staub was a known humanitarian, someone who always wanted to give back. His charity has raised over $17 million since its inception in 1985. The Rusty Staub Foundation has established food pantries and mobile units in all five boroughs that serve thousands of meals annually. The foundation also provided aid for the families of first responders who died in the line of duty.
And he always made sure to give back to baseball by becoming an advocate for the players’ union.
“He will also be remembered by the fraternity of players as a smart, tireless advocate on their behalf who helped build the Major League Baseball Players Association and stood at the forefront of the fight for player rights,” MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said in a statement. “Upon retirement, he devoted himself through his foundation to helping 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.”
Reach reporter Zach Gewelb by e-mail at zgewe