The baseball world mourned the loss of the great Rusty Staub, 73, on Opening Day this year.
The Catholic baseball star enjoyed a 23-year career with the Houston Colt .45s/Astros, Montreal Expos, New York Mets, Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers.
Father Daniel Murphy, former Mets team chaplain and former pastor at St. Saviour, Park Slope, concelebrated Staub’s funeral Mass April 12 at St. Edward’s Church, Palm Beach, Fla. Another funeral Mass is set to be celebrated April 25 by Cardinal Timothy Dolan at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Manhattan.
A public memorial service was held in New Orleans as well on April 10.
“He (Staub) said, ‘When I meet the big guy – meaning God – I want to be able to tell Him that I could do more than just hit the curveball,’” said Father Murphy, currently serving as a parochial vicar at Holy Cross parish, Vero Beach, Fla.
Staub was the main reason Father Murphy became Mets team chaplain in the first place. Several weeks before Easter Sunday in 1984, Staub approached Mets general manager Frank Cashen saying the Catholic ballplayers needed to go to Mass on Easter, even though the team would be playing in Philadelphia, Pa.
Cashen called Father Murphy to ask if he would come to Veterans Stadium to say Mass. Sure enough, Father Murphy made the trip.
From there, Staub suggested that Father Murphy say Mass during all Sunday home games at Shea Stadium. As a result, Father Murphy went on to serve as team chaplain from 1984 to 1990.
Staub finished his big-league career with 2,716 hits, a .279 batting average, 292 home runs and 1,466 RBIs. Father Murphy, an avid baseball fan, called him a “very smart hitter” who was constantly thinking – not just up there swinging.
When planes from LaGuardia Airport used to fly over Shea creating lots of noise, Staub used this to his advantage.
“Every batter stepped out until the plane passed over, except Rusty,” Father Murphy said. “Rusty stayed in the box because he was of the belief that it would affect the pitcher more than it would affect him.”
“Le Grand Orange” holds several unique records in the game. He joined the legendary Ty Cobb as players to hit a home run both before their 20th birthday and after their 40th birthday. He also became the first player to collect 500 base hits for four different teams.
Staub, a six-time All-Star and member of the Mets Hall of Fame, was known for his philanthropy work after his playing career. For the past 14 years, the Staub Foundation partnered with Catholic Charities in the “Feeding Our Neighbors” program, which has helped to deliver more than 12 million meals to New Yorkers in need.
He also established the New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund, which has raised millions of dollars for the families of first responders killed in the line of duty. The fund has been especially helpful to the families affected by the terror attack of 9/11.
For the first 26 years of the Staub Foundation’s existence, Father Murphy gave the invocation at the annual dinner.
Iconic players like “Le Grand Orange” don’t come around too often, so those who had a chance to see him play know how lucky they are. He will surely be missed, but he’ll always be remembered as true pioneer of the game of baseball both on and off the diamond.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at email@example.com.