The endearing quality that made him one of the most popular players in the history of the Montreal Expos continues to resonate strong within the soul of Rusty Staub.
He still refers to the original home of Canada’s first Major League Baseball team as Parc Jarry, the French pronunciation of the bandbox that was the Expos home for the first eight years of their existence.
Staub wound up playing less than 3 1/2 seasons of his solid 23-year baseball career in a foreign country and in a city where he couldn’t speak the language of many of the fans.
His attempt to learn to speak French, combined with his ability to crush the baseball with regularity, quickly elevated the New Orleans-born Staub to celebrity status in Montreal.
“I would go on to play nine years with the New York Mets, so that’s my team,” Staub said. “But I always tell people that when I die and they do an autopsy, they’ll find a little part of my heart that still has that MTL on it.”
The man who was dubbed “Le Grand Orange” will be back in Canada on Saturday, when his contribution to the game here will be recognized with his induction into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum in St. Marys, Ont.
Now 68, Staub lives in West Palm Beach, Fla., and continues to be a goodwill ambassador for the Mets. He is heavily involved in a couple of charitable foundations, including the New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund.
“There’s no moss growing under my behind,” he said.
Staub was already a two-time all-star with the Houston Astros when he was dealt to the expansion Expos in January of 1969 – and he admits it was a bit of a shock.
“If you want to talk about a bleak day, I flew up when the trade took place to do the media work and say hello to the organization,” Staub said this week. “When I left Houston, it was 78 degrees [F]. I arrived in Montreal, it was five below. That got my attention.
“And then I went out and saw Parc Jarry, which wasn’t finished yet. And all it was, there was about six feet of snow everywhere. I was going, ‘How in the world are they going to get this stadium finished?’”
As did most major-league players from the era, Staub quickly grew to love playing in Montreal, and at Jarry Park, which held about 28,000 for baseball and had its charms.
“I can remember nothing going on in the game and then, all of a sudden, there’s a standing ovation going on,” Staub said. “The players would have no idea what was happening until you realized that some absolutely, knock-down, drag-out gorgeous woman is walking in her hot pants or mico-mini down the aisle.
“I promise you, it happened at least 15, 20 times during my first three years.”
Staub managed to concentrate long enough to make three All-Star Game appearances during his first stint with the Expos. (He also played 38 games for Montreal in the latter half of 1979.)
In total, the left-handed hitter played 518 games for Montreal, with 81 home runs and the best on-base percentage (.402) and second-best slugging percentage (.497) of any player who wore the jersey.
Following the 2004 season, the Expos closed shop in Montreal and relocated to Washington – a move that still rankles former players such as Staub, who finished his MLB career with 292 home runs and 2,716 hits.
“The Washington Nationals have no interest in anything that was connected to the old Expos franchise,” Staub said. “They could care less.
“So it’s like it’s just this little franchise that popped up in 1969, and then quietly faded away. It’s a shame.”
Along with Rusty Staub, the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum on Saturday will also enshrine Rheal Cormier and Doug Melvin, along with the members of the Canadian senior men’s team that won the gold medal at the 2011 Pan American games.
Born in Moncton, Cormier pitched for 16 big-league seasons, the third-most played by a Canadian behind Ferguson Jenkins (19), Matt Stairs (19) and Larry Walker (17). Cormier finished 71-64 with 760 strikeouts in 1,221 2/3 innings pitched.
A native of Chatham, Ont., the 59-year-old is the general manager of the Milwaukee Brewers. Melvin pitched in the minors for the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees from 1972 to 1978. He landed his first GM job with the Texas Rangers in 1994, and held that post for eight seasons. He was named executive vice-president and GM of the Brewers on Sept. 26, 2002.