Rusty Staub was a huge hit on both sides of the border.
Instantly recognizable for his fiery orange hair and gregarious personality, the outfielder who charmed baseball fans in the United States and Canada during an All-Star career that spanned 23 major league seasons died Thursday. He was 73.
Staub died after an illness in a hospital in West Palm Beach, Florida, hours before the start of the baseball season, the New York Mets said in a statement. The team learned of his death from friends of Staub who were with him at the hospital, a spokesman added.
Affectionately dubbed “Le Grand Orange,” Staub was a six-time All-Star and the only player in major league history to have at least 500 hits with four teams. Popular with fans and teammates in two countries, he was most adored in New York and Montreal.
“He could be as tough as hell and as soft as a mushroom,” said Mets teammate and close friend Keith Hernandez, who choked back tears as he spoke about Staub at Citi Field before New York hosted the St. Louis Cardinals.
A savvy, reliable slugger with left-handed power and a discerning eye, Staub played from 1963 to 1985 and finished 284 hits shy of 3,000. He had 3½ great seasons with the Detroit Tigers and batted .300 for the Texas Rangers in 1980.
He broke into the majors as a teenager with Houston, lasted into his 40s with the Mets as a pinch-hitter deluxe and spent decades doing charity work in the New York area.
“There wasn’t a cause he didn’t champion,” the Mets said.
Staub, who would have turned 74 on Sunday, survived a 2015 heart attack on a flight home from Ireland. Years earlier, the gourmet cook owned and operated a pair of popular restaurants in Manhattan that bore his name. He also authored a children’s book titled “Hello, Mr. Met!”
“What a unique personality he was. I never met anyone like him,” former Mets pitcher Ron Darling said. “He was a renaissance kind of man.”
The Mets saluted Staub on the stadium video board before Thursday’s season opener. The number 10 he wore during some of his time with the team (he also wore No. 4) was painted in white on the back of the pitcher’s mound.