Rusty Staub remembered by his brother, coach

Two young baseball players caught the eye of a volunteer playground coach named Firmin Simms.

At the time, Raymond and younger brother Daniel Staub were playing on a Cub Scouts softball team.

Simms was so excited about the two prospects that he sought out their father, Ray Sr., a coach at Nicholls High School in the Bywater area of New Orleans.

The man who would become a legend over the next 25 years in the New Orleans and Jefferson Parish recreation departments introduced himself and asked permission to let the boys play on his NORD team.

“He told our dad that he would pick us up and drop us off back home on Royal street near the river,” said Ray Jr., who is better known as “Chuck.” 

Simms took the two to City Park to play on his 12-year-old team. He would hit countless balls to Chuck and Daniel (Rusty), amazed at their skills and poise for such a young age.

How could a 10-year-old and his little brother be so polished? he wondered.

Chuck had the answer. 

“Dad was a former major league catcher for the Chicago White Sox and introduced us to the game at an early age. He had small bats made for us.”

Chuck reflected on his beloved little brother who died on March 29 of multiple organ dysfunction syndrome in West Palm Beach, Florida, at age 73.

Chuck recalled the days when Ray Staub would take the boys to a playground on Royal and Almonaster with a bucket of tennis balls.

“We would stand in front of a concrete wall and hit tennis balls. We hit balls for hours  then pick them all up when we were finished.”

A big bat

Baseball was in their genetics. And their talents carried them to the pinnacle as members of Jesuit’s American Legion National Championship in 1960 and the Blue Jays’ state championship that year. Chuck co-captained those teams. 

Chuck and Rusty had always maintained a loving relationship. The little redhead wanted to follow in his big brother’s footsteps and did so from high school on to the major leagues, where both were signed by Houston.

Rusty’s professional career flourished, while Chuck spent a short time with the Astros’ AA team in Scottsdale, Arizona. When he was cut from the team with more than a year left on his contract, general manager Paul Richards, paid Chuck’s tuition to Loyola University, where he played for “Rags” Scheuermann’s teams.

Chuck followed Rusty’s career from the time he signed a $125,000 contract as a 17-year-old in 1961 until he retired after 23 years in the bigs in 1985.

Over that span, Rusty hit 292 home runs and drove in 1,466 runs while playing for the Astros, Montreal Expos, Detroit Tigers and the New York Mets on two occasions.

Rusty was a heavy hitter. That’s why he made it to the majors and Chuck did not.

“That was a time when ‘Home Run Derby’ was a big thing on television. I was a lead-off hitter who hit singles. The majors wanted home run hitters,” Chuck said.

“Rusty was a natural,” noted Kevin Trower, who coached the Staubs at Jesuit.

“When I became the coach in 1959-60, Chuck was a senior and Rusty a junior. Rusty played junior varsity and Legion ball as a sophomore right fielder. I moved him to first base and made him our clean-up hitter.”

While Chuck was scattering base hits as a lead-off man is supposed to do, Rusty was hitting towering shots over the fences at Muny and Kirsch-Rooney parks as he did while on Simms’ NORD team at Stallings Center.

“In his senior year, Rusty hit over .300, just counting home runs,” Trower noted. “He obviously walked a lot.” 

Trower and brother Chuck followed Rusty’s career closely. And when Rusty retired, he continued to visit his birthplace and often rode in the Bacchus parade. 

He never married, but his love for his mother’s cooking got him into the restaurant business upon his retirement.

Aside from his two terms with the Mets, Rusty’s success on the baseball field and his philanthropy have made him, literally, an institution in New York City.

A great philanthropist

Throughout his retirement, he has raised millions of dollars for the widows of police, firefighters and first responders through his Rusty Staub Foundation. His Catholic charities have fed thousands of homeless throughout the city.

The foundation, which in 1986 established the New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund, distributed more than $11 million in the first 15 years of its existence to the families of New York-area police and firefighters killed in the line of duty.

And in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Rusty raised more than $112 million in contributions, according to the New York Post. 

And over a 10-year period, in association with his Catholic charities, Rusty’s foundation had also served more than 9 million meals to the hungry at food pantries throughout New York, using funds raised through his annual wine auction dinner and foundation golf tournament.

He had been a connoisseur of fine wines since opening his first eatery, a downscale place he named “Rusty’s Barbeque.” From there, he opened another, more upscale restaurant, “Rusty’s on Fifth Avenue.”

Chuck noted, “Once he saw how the wines were selling, he went to France to buy finer wines for his auction.”

Six celebrations of life will be held for Rusty, Chuck said. 

They will take place in Palm Beach, Florida; New York; Houston; Napa Valley, California; Detroit; and in New Orleans on April 10 at 2 p.m.  at Immaculate Conception (Jesuits) Church at 130 Baronne St., Chuck said.

Trower recalled something Rusty said to him the last time they talked: “When you’re talking to the ‘Big Fella,’ tell him about me.”

I think he already knows, Redhead.

Ron Brocato can be reached at rbrocato@clarionherald.org. 

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