Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Great Orange

The Mets have made a lot of disastrous trades over their ignominious history.  Fans can cite the familiar litany that includes trading Nolan Ryan for a washed up Jim Fregosi; Amos Otis for a never-was Joe Foy and, of course, Tom Seaver for spite.  One of their worst trades that does not often get discussed is Rusty Staub for an over-the-hill Mickey Lolich in 1976.  Rusty was a beloved member of the Mets -- a key part of the 1973 World Series team despite a shoulder injury that forced him to pathetically flip the ball underhand from the outfield while hitting over .400 for the Series.  In 1974, he was the Mets' best hitter (admittedly, not saying much) and in 1975, Rusty became the first Met to knock in more than 100 RBIs.  He was only 31 years old when the Mets traded him to the Tigers.  Not sure what they were thinking.  In return, the Mets got Lolich, a star pitcher for the Tigers in 1968 but more recently had lost 18 games in 1975 -- and lost 21 the year before that.  And not  to fat-shame him or anything, but when Mickey came to the Mets he was shall we say, somewhat rotund.

After Lolich lost 13 games for the Mets in 1976, he returned to Detroit where he opened a donut shop.  (Not kidding.)  Meanwhile, Rusty had three great seasons with the Tigers, including an All Star appearance (his sixth trip to the All Star game) and he came in fifth in the MVP voting in 1978 (the aforementioned Amos Otis came in fourth).

Luckily Rusty came back to the Mets, signing as a free agent in 1981 and stayed until 1985.  Rusty continued to hit -- he could always hit, no matter how hurt he was or how old he got -- and in his last few seasons, became one of the best pinch hitters in baseball.  When he hit a home run in 1984, he became the second player in history (Ty Cobb was the other) to have hit a home run in his teens and in his forties (Gary Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez have since done the same and are now a part of this excellent trivia question)

Before the Mets acquired him in 1972, Rusty was an original Montreal Expo, their first star and huge fan favorite. He was given the moniker, Le Grande Orange because of the color of his hair.  (Before that he was a star with the Houston Astros.)

 Rusty was loved by fans and teammates wherever he went.  After he retired he opened a couple of pretty good restaurants in New York, called Rusty's.  More significant has been his charitable works, including raising millions for families of policemen and firefighters killed in the line of duty.

The vulgar talking yam in the White House has given orange a really bad connotation but here's to one who made it special.  RIP Rusty.

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