When Daniel Joseph Staub signed a major league contract, he fell under the “bonus baby” nomenclature. Nicknamed “Rusty” by a nurse upon his birth on April 1, 1944, Staub became so known. In a 1967 article for Sports Illustrated, Gary Ronberg cited Staub’s mother in revealing the story behind the dubbing: “‘I wanted to name him Daniel so I could call him Danny for short,’ said Mrs. Staub, who is, of course, Irish. ‘But one of the nurses nicknamed him Rusty for the red fuzz he had all over his head, and it stuck.'”
Staub, all of 17 years old, signed with the nascent Houston Colt .45s in 1961 as an amateur free agent while the team prepared for its 1962 début. In his Houston Post column “Post Time,” Clark Nealon used the Post‘s February 26, 1962 edition to highlight Staub. Quoting Brooklyn Dodgers icon Babe Herman, Nealon wrote, “He runs well, handles himself well, has good hands. He needs some work in the field, but that’ll come. I like the way he swings the bat.”
Playing with the Durham Bulls in ’62, Staub hit 23 home runs, compiled a .293 batting average, and won the Carolina League’s Most Valuable Player award. In 1963, Staub elevated to Houston for his first major league season—he played in 150 games, batted .224, hit six home runs. A stay with the Oklahoma City 89ers in 1964 provided seasoning for the red-haired bonus baby—Staub tore apart the Pacific Coast League with a .334 batting average after 60 games.
In the September 19, 1964 Sporting News article “Return of Rusty: Staub Rides Hot Bat Back to .45s,” Bob Dellinger reasoned, “Staub, perhaps the No. 1 boy in Houston’s renowned youth movement was farmed to the Class AAA club in mid-July with a double-dip objective. First, he could play every day and perhaps build up his confidence at the plate; second, he could gain valuable defensive training in the outfield.”
Further, Dellinger exposed Staub’s perception of the demotion to the minor leagues: “Sometimes it seems like the world is coming to an end, but maybe it just starts over. I believe I will be back—better prepared physically and mentally.”
Staub played in a little more than half of Houston’s games in 1964, garnering a .216 batting average. His performance at the plate improved for the remainder of his Houston tenure—batting averages of .256, .280, .333, and .291. Staub also played for the Expos, the Mets, the Tigers, and the Rangers in his major league career, which ended after the 1985 season. His time in an Expos uniform began with the team’s inaugural season—1969—and lasted three years; he also played part of the 1979 season in Montreal. Upon arrival, Staub enjoyed a newfound respect. In his 2014 book Up, Up & Away: The Kid, the Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, Le Grand Orange, Youppi!, the Crazy Business of Baseball & the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos, Jonah Keri explained, “They urged Staub to become the face of the team, and an ambassador to the community. This was a challenge he happily embraced.
“Staub’s first step was to learn to speak French—some French anyway, somewhere between knowing what his own nickname meant and true fluency. He’d go out to lunch with francophone friends and insist that they speak French the whole meal.”
Montreallians bestowed the nickname “Le Grand Orange” upon Staub.
A New Orleans native, Staub was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 1989.
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 12, 2016.
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