Long before Joe Carter touched ‘em all and long before Doug Ault, Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Larry Walker, Justin Morneau and Joey Votto made a name for themselves, Rusty Staub was the face of Canadian baseball.
Some 20 odd years before Brett Lawrie was born – yikes! – a generation of Canadian baseball fans both inside and outside of Quebec became card-carrying members of the Bank of Montreal’s Young Expos Club. Who else but Le Grand Orange would be president?
Staub, a beloved member of the Expos with a gourmand’s flair on and off the field, was announced Tuesday as one of the members of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s class of 2012, joining Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, left-handed pitcher Rhéal Cormier, a native of Moncton who was 71-64 (4.03 earned-run average) in 683 games over 16 major-league seasons spent with five teams, and a gold medalist at the 2011 Pan American Games. The induction will take place June 23 in St. Marys, Ont.
Nicknamed Rusty for his red hair, Staub was the Expos’ first star and was a three-time all-star. Staub, who learned French to the point where he remembers doing interviews between periods on La Soirée du Hockey and The Pierre Lalonde Show, had 81 home runs and 284 runs batted in and had a career batting average of .295 in 518 games with the Expos. He returned to the club in 1979, seven years after being traded to the New York Mets for Ken Singleton, Tim Foli and Mike Jorgenson.
“New York’s been my beat,” Staub said Tuesday. “But I’ve always kidded that when they do an autopsy, I’ll always have a little MTL part of my heart because it was a great time in my life.”
This class is very much a celebration of the grassroots of Canadian baseball. Melvin, a native of Chatham, Ont., has been the Brewers GM since 2002 and held the same position with the Texas Rangers from 1994 through 2001. He is one of five Canadian-born GMs in baseball history, joining George Selkirk of the Washington Senators (Huntsville, Ont.), Murray Cook of the New York Yankees, Montreal Expos and Cincinnati Reds (Sackville, N.B.), Gord Ash of the Toronto Blue Jays (who is now Melvin’s assistant and is a native of Toronto) and current Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos, a native of Town of Mount Royal, Que. Staub is American by birth, but he planted a lot of those roots.
This is a time of transition for the Canadian hall. Tom Valcke, the chief executive officer of the Hall of Fame for the past decade, is stepping down on Feb. 29. Two members of the Hall, Blue Jays president and chief executive officer Paul Beeston and Blue Jays founding director Don McDougall, have been asked by the Hall’s board of directors to look into options for a new building on site or a move to another site within St. Marys. Scott Crawford, director of operations for the Hall, says a move out of the picturesque town is not in the cards.
It costs roughly $500,000 annually to operate the Hall, which draws about 15,000 visitors annually, and Valcke estimated that only about 30 per cent of the Hall’s artifacts are on display because of size restrictions. Valcke had visions of getting the town to purchase St. Marys Central Public School and turn it over to the hall for renovations that could have reached $750,000. Valcke hoped turning the second floor of the school into a dormitory for year-round use by visiting baseball and hockey teams would provide a revenue stream and also give the Hall more area for displays, possibly an interactive area. But that plan did not get support, and the school was purchased by a developer for $600,000 and will be turned into a senior’s housing complex.
“The hall needs a new revenue stream,” Valcke said. “You can’t keep doing 50/50 draws, bingos, silent auctions and hitting up the same donors.”
Baseball long ago outgrew its identity crisis in this country. It’s a shame the Hall is still fighting that battle.