Tag: rusty staub

Rusty Staub Talks to Bloggers

Rusty Staub's doppleganger

In honor of his bobblehead day on May 26th, the Mets Media Relations department was kind enough to hold a conference call between the great Rusty Staub and several Mets bloggers.  Rusty was very nice and accomodating.  A range of subjects was covered, from his career, to today’s players, to grilling tips.

Here’s a sampling:

On Pinch Hitting

Rusty kept an eye on the game, and prepared for his late-inning turn at bat. He liked to keep his body temperature up.  He’d run up and down the runway – anything to keep from coming in cold.

He described his approach at the plate in pinch-hit situations as “controlled agression.”  “When I went up, the game was on the line,” he said.

On Being Gary Carter’s Teammate with the Expos and Mets

“Gary never lost that enthusiasm and drive,” Rusty said of Carter.  From his early days with the Expos to his latter days with the Mets, Rusty said Carter kept that enthusiasm throughout his career.  Rusty recalled what a huge piece of the puzzle Carter was when he came to the Mets in a trade prior to the 1985 season.

On His Popularity in Montreal and New York

Rusty was asked why he thought he was so popular in Montreal and New York.  “First of all, you have to play well,” Rusty said.  If you don’t play well, you’re not going to be popular.  He said he never thought of himself as being above the fans.  And in Montreal, his attempts to learn French didn’t hurt!  While he said he was never fluent, the fans appreciated his effort.

On Similarities Between Today’s Mets and His Early ’80s Team

Rusty said comparisons between eras are very difficult.

He did say that the “belittlement” of the Mets before the season was “beyond belief,” and that Mets fans should be proud of the start their team has had so far.

On Playing for Davey Johnson

He recalled that those teams had a total lack of discipline, and could have won more championships than they did, but “he [Johnson] was very very good” on the field.  He was his own guy, and had his own style.  Rusty said he is happy that Johnson has another shot in the big leagues, and sounded impressed with how the Nationals were playing under Davey’s guidance.

On Making His MLB Debut at Age 19

Rusty said he wasn’t overmatched at the plate, but he was overmatched by day-to-day life in the majors.  He said he made some mistakes, but those made him stronger.

He added some advice for today’s players: Don’t listen to the media, and “work your ass off.”  Rusty said some guys get complacent when they start making major league money.

On the Toughest LHP and RHP He Ever Faced

“I always said, if I started a team,” Rusty said, “it would be with Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson.”

On Ike Davis

“Ike is messed up in his head,” Rusty said, “it’s beyond comprehension.”  Rusty suggested that Ike slow it down, be quieter at the plate – cut down on his hand movements.

“He’s gonna get out of this thing,” he said, even if it means taking a couple of weeks in the minors, something Rusty said he did himself, and it wasn’t easy.  He also suggested studying himself when he is going well, so he can see what he is doing well and why.

On the 1973 Season

“It was a tough season,” he said.  A bunch of guys got hurt, and he himself said his hands were in terrible pain every day.  So much so, that the team gave him 3 days off in August.  “A well placed cortisone shot can be effective,” he said.  And during his time off, he got 4 shots in his left hand, and 3 in his right.  When he came back, he was “astounded by the pop in his hands.”

Rusty went on to say that with pitchers like Seaver, Koosman, “and George Stone was pitching terrific,” he felt they were still in it in late August.

On Grilling

“Concentrate,” Rusty said.  You don’t have to stand over the grill all the time, but don’t burn anything.  As far as cooking burgers is concerned, Rusty advocates high heat.

Atta boy.

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The Endy Chavez Encore and 10 Other Double-Duty Mets

A recent NYDN article indicated that the Mets have “discussed” a reunion with OF Endy Chavez. FWIW, I am in favor of this deal and hope it gets done. One of my reasons for this is that if Endy dons the orange and blue again, he becomes an interesting part of Mets History—players who have had two tours of duty with the Mets.

Technically, this would be Endy’s third go round with the Mets. First he was in their farm system from 1997-2001. He returned and played for the big club from 2006 through the end of the 2008 season before departing to Seattle in the massive three-team, twelve player deal that December.

So how have other encore performances worked out for the Mets? We’re glad you asked!
1. Rusty Staub (1972-75, 1981-85): This is the best recycled player the franchise has had to date. After a four year stint with the Mets where he hit 62 homers and drove in 307 runs, the Mets shipped Le Grande Orange to Detroit for Mickey Lolich after the 1975 season, easily one of the worst deals in franchise history. Six years later, Frank Cashen undid that move and Staub returned to the Mets as a free agent. In 1983, he tied an NL record with eight straight pinch-hits and in that same season also tied the Major League record of 25 RBIs by a pinch hitter. He lasted until 1985, providing veteran leadership for a team on the rise. One of the more beloved Mets, he was later elected into the Mets Hall of Fame.
2. Lee Mazzilli (1976-82, 1986-89): Boy, I seem to blog about Maz often and for good reason: he has a fascinating history as a Met. His first stint from 1976 through 1981 coincided with one of the worst periods in team history. He was dealt to Texas before the 1982 season for Ron Darling and Walt Terrell, a deal largely credited (by me at least) in sparking the franchise’s resurgence. In 1986 the Mets picked him back up on waivers from the Pirates and he played an important part of their championship team. He hit .306 the next year and his career with the Mets continued until 1989.
3. Dave Kingman (1975-77, 1981-83): Dave clubbed 62 home runs for the Mets, some of them legendary, during his first two and a half seasons with the club. He also struck out 344 times in 1,208 ABs, couldn’t field a lick and was a surly clubhouse presence. He was shipped to San Diego as part of the June 15 1977 “Midnight Massacre.” The Mets re-acquired him before the 1981 season for Steve Henderson, another one of the trade principles from that fateful June evening. It was more of the same: Kong hit 52 homeruns and struck out 334 times in 1,136 at bats. His personality hadn’t changed and the Mets were glad to see him go after the 1983 season.
4. Tom Seaver (1966-76, 1983): The Worst Trade in Mets History (a.k.a the Midnight Massacre) sent their Franchise Player to Cincinnati in 1977. (Kingman went to San Diego in a separate deal that same night). Cashen undid that move by trading back for him in 1983. Tom lasted a season with the Mets, going 9 and 14 before being exposed a free agent compensation draft and getting claimed by the White Sox. I will always wonder why the Mets couldn’t have traded a prospect or two to the Sox instead and kept him. Seaver later moved to Boston and created a “what if” scenario, as an injury kept him off the Bosox active roster during the 1986 World Series.
5. Kevin McReynolds (1987-1991, 1994): Forgot this one? Kevin came to symbolize all that was wrong with the late 1980’s Mets and was run out of town in 1991. His replacement was Vince Coleman, who came to symbolize all that was wrong with the early 1990’s Mets until he was run out of town after the 1993 season—to Kansas City for McReynolds. K-Mac hit .256 during the strike-shortened 1994 season and then called it a career.
6. Jason Isringhausen (1995-99, 2011): Nice story last year, but is probably moving on again. His first go round with the Mets is worth a post in itself.
7. Tim Foli (1970-71, 78-79): Ah, Crazy Horse. Traded for Staub and then had his contract purchased by the Mets from the Giants in 1978. Later traded again, this time to Pittsburgh in early 1979 for Frank Taveras; a move that I loved at the time. He helped Pittsburgh win a World Series the next year.
8. Mike Jorgensen (1970-71, 1980-83): Traded with Foli and Ken Singleton for Staub prior to the 1972 season. Came back to the Mets in 1980 with Ed Lynch in a deal for Willie Montanez (not a bad trade!) The Mets sold his contract to Atlanta in 1983 on the same day they acquired Keith Hernandez from the Cardinals. Nice Upgrade.
9. Bill Pulsipher (1995-98, 2000): Can’t miss prospect that missed. Twice.
10. Bobby Bonilla (1992-95, 1999): Hard to believe, but his second stint with the Mets was worse than his first. The Mets are now paying him a million a year until around 2025.

Honorable Mentions: Kelly Stinnett, Alex Trevino, Ray Sadecki, Al Jackson, Bob L. Miller and David Cone.

Did I miss anyone?

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Mets Fans of Tomorrow

There’s an old episode of The Simpsons you may have seen where Bart and Milhouse are squaring off against each other on the diamond when Bart says, “Look at me! I’m Tomokazu Ohka of the Montreal Expos!” and Milhouse retorts with “Well, I’m Esteban Yan of The Tampa Bay Devil Rays!” It’s as funny now as it was when it first aired, given the unlikelihood of kids finding attributes worth emulating in obscure sub-superstars at the pro level. As we lurch toward another post-season we’ll have no part of, you have to wonder how we keep the children interested.

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10 DUPACR: Rusty Staub

Some of you may be saying, “Joe, Rusty wore #4!”. He did, it’s true. And in fact, his best years as a Met occurred when he wore a single digit. But I was fairly young when Rusty was singlehandedly hitting the Mets into the postseason in ’73 and was their main run producer in the early part of that decade; my most vivid memory of him was in his second go-around, as pinch-hitter extraordinaire.

Seeing Rusty in his later years, when he was almost exclusively used as a pinch-hitter — and choking up exactly one-hand high — was a special treat. Not sure about you, but for me, when the truly great hitters of the game are in their final years (people like Don Mattingly, George Brett, Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs, and Pete Rose immediately come to mind), my eyes are glued to the screen when they come to bat, because I know I won’t be seeing much more of them (and maybe I’ll learn something). This is the way I saw Rusty Staub in his final years with the Mets: he demanded every bit of my undivided attention. Maybe his career numbers weren’t HOF-worthy, but he was an absolute professional in the batter’s box – smart, attentive, focused, and with a plan. His bat speed was nowhere near what it once was and his power was sapped, but he used his guile and savvy to beat the pitcher every once in a while – not unlike a crafty veteran hurler does once his fastball is gone. Rusty read pitchers like a book, and was one of the best at stealing signs and picking up on cues that “tipped” pitches. By the time he was in his 40s, he relied almost exclusively on these abilities, and was something of a “guess hitter”; though, he was an “educated guess hitter”. He also took cuts according to the situation; if all that was needed was a single, his swing would be more measured and geared to contact; if a sac fly was ncecessary, he’d take a slight uppercut and look for a pitch he could lift; if a homerun was needed, he would try to work the pitcher into a situation where he could guess fastball and time it just right, or work him into a curveball situation and hope for a hanger. He didn’t always come through, but when he did, it was earned.

I have many fond memories of Rusty, both on the field and off. My career in the wine business crossed paths with his (first as a restaurateur, later when he was a winery owner), and thus I had the pleasure of his company many times. He sat with me for dinner at his old restaurant (Rusty’s on 5th) on one occasion, and I returned the favor a few years later after a wine tasting event. Every time I saw him he was a complete gentleman — an absolute class act — and never tired of talking baseball. On the field, there is one unusual night in particular that I remember, I think it was in his last season as a Met. I was at a tie ballgame at Shea when Rusty made one of his pinch-hitting appearances, and somehow wound up in left field in the following inning — a fairly rare occurrence, considering Rusty’s girth and inability to move quickly toward baseballs in flight in those later years. After the first batter — a lefthanded hitter — was retired, I looked out to the outfield and saw Rusty jogging across the pasture to switch places with the right fielder, as a righthanded batter was due up next. By the time Rusty made it over to right, a pinch-hitter was announced — a lefthanded hitter, of course. Before the first pitch was thrown, Rusty and the other corner outfielder switched places again. Watching Rusty huff and puff, lugging his portly frame 150-200 feet across the green grass was bizarre, and mildly comedic. When he finally made it back to left field — just in a nick of time and before the pitch was thrown, the crowd erupted with a loud ovation. The sudden noise seemed to distract the hitter, who was late on the pitch and blooped it out to left — directly toward the seemingly exhausted Staub. Rusty raced in and caught the ball just as it dropped toward his shoetops, and the fans went nuts, giving him a brief standing ovation. Good times.

What #10 do you best remember? Hot Rod Kanehl? Dave Magadan? Rey Ordonez? Endy Chavez? Someone else? Post your memories in the comments.

The countdown thus far:

#10 Rusty Staub
#11 Lenny Randle
#12 John Stearns
#13 Edgardo Alfonzo
#14 Gil Hodges
#15 Jerry Grote
#16 Dwight Gooden
#17 Felix Millan
#18 Darryl Strawberry
#19 Anthony Young
#20 Howard Johnson
#21 Gary Rajsich
#22 Ray Knight
#23 Doug Flynn
#24 Kelvin Torve
#25 Willie Montanez (no link … sadly, didn’t have time to write a post)
#26 Dave Kingman
#27 Pete Harnisch
#28 John Milner
#29 Alex Trevino
#30 Jackson Todd

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Shades of ’73

mets1973-yearbookA number of loyal MetsToday readers have commented here and emailed me suggesting that this season could turn out to be a rerun of the magical NL Championship year of 1973.

For those too young to remember, ’73 was the year “Ya Gotta Believe” was coined by Tug McGraw, among other events.

That year, the Mets won 82 games and lost 79, barely edging the St. Louis Cardinals (81-81) and the Pittsburgh Pirates (80-82). Yes youngsters, the Cards and Bucs were in the NL East back then, as were the Cubs and a team from Montreal, Canada, known as the Expos. Further there was no Central Division, and the Milwaukee Brewers were in the American League. This was all “B.S.” (Before Selig) … or is it all “B.S.” now? Anyway, I digress …

There is too much to say about the ’73 season in one blog post, so if you are interested in re-living it, please purchase the book From First To Worst: The New York Mets, 1973-1977, a fine book that gives a blow-by-blow account of all the details of that year and the three diastrous campaigns that followed.

But there are many similarities between the 1973 Mets and the 2009 edition, the most obvious being their shared lack of punch. The ’73 Mets most prolific slugger was a wiry, street-tough dude named John “The Hammer” Milner (why is it that no one has cool nicknames anymore?), who mashed 23 homers. Only three other players on the team hit more than 6: Wayne Garrett (16), Rusty Staub (15), and Cleon Jones (11).

Obviously, the ’73 Mets didn’t overpower the competition with their offense. It was the pitching staff that carried them to the postseason, led by Tom Seaver. Seaver was arguably the best pitcher in baseball at the time but was victimized by poor run support (sound familiar?). As a result, he won “only” 19 games despite a 2.08 ERA through 36 games started and 290 innings (18 complete games). His 19-10 record was one of only two winning records among regulars in the starting rotation (the other was George Stone, who went 12-3).

Back then — as you might have surmised from the high complete-game total — closers were not used as often as they are now. But in addition to the best starter in MLB, the Mets also had one of the best relievers in baseball — Tug McGraw, who appeared in 60 ballgames, saved 25 of them, and hurled 119 innings (some starters today struggle to reach that number!).

The team was built on pitching, defense, and fundamental baseball, and had little room for error. Much like 2009, the ’73 team was wrought with injuries. First baseman Milner, leftfielder Jones, starting pitcher Jon Matlack, shortstop Bud Harrelson, and catcher Jerry Grote were among the key starters who lost significant time due to injuries. In addition, backup catcher Jerry May, acquired to replace an ailing Grote, injured himself within weeks of joining the team (Duffy Dyer became the backup to the backup), and rookie outfielder George Theodore went down as well. In addition, Staub played most of the year with a badly injured wrist, causing him to swing one-handed and severely diminishing his power.

Amidst the injury spree, a light-hitting, smooth fielding Don Hahn took over in centerfieldand provided clutch hits down the stretch (could that be Jeremy Reed?). For occasional power and leadership, the Mets leaned on aging outfielder Willie Mays, whose best days were long behind him and who was only able to play a few times a week at most (mild parallel to Gary Sheffield, no?).

Without their big hitters for much of the season, the Mets relied on small ball to score runs. Their switch-hitting shortstop — Bud Harrelson — was the main leadoff hitter and baserunning threat until an injury in June took a chunk of his season. In the two-hole they had a slick fielding second baseman named Felix Millan, who choked up on the bat, punched grounders and bloopers for base hits, and was an adept bunter. Sound familiar?

Their manager — Yogi Berra — had taken over the team the previous season as an interim manager, and was a favorite of the media for quotable quotes and malaprops. Though, he expressed a more positive outlook than the ’09 manager when his team hit rock bottom. Ravaged by injuries and stuck in last place halfway through the year, the press asked Yogi if their season was finished. His reply? “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Strangely, the ’73 Mets didn’t steal many bases — only 27 for the entire year. As a team they batted a cumulative .246 with 85 homeruns. With no power and no speed, it’s not surprising they scored just 608 runs all season (3.77 runs per game).

So how did the 1973 Mets get to the World Series? Mostly because the rest of the NL East was as incompetent and affected by injuries as the Mets. The Cubs and Cardinals were aging teams, the Pirates had injury issues, the Expos had terrible pitching, and the Phillies were in rebuilding mode. Essentially, the Mets “won” the division by losing less than everyone else.

Aside from the contrast in stolen bases, there is one other, major difference between the 2009 Mets and the 1973 NL Champions. A picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll leave you with this:

buddy-belts-rose

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Left Field Entrance

citi field left field entrance

This is where I entered the park, because the entrance at the Jackie Robinson Rotunda was a madhouse. I like the black and white photos of Tom Seaver, Tug McGraw, Rusty Staub, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, etc.

Above each entrance is a steel figurine (sculpting?) of a key moment in Mets history. As seen below, left field is marked by “the catch” that made Endy Chavez forever immortalized.

citi field left field entrance endy chavez

Next post: left field from the inside.

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