Remembrance of Rusty Staub

Editor’s Note: Frequent reader and first-time contributor Kirk H. covers our off-day with memories of the first baseball game he saw in-person. Perfect way to pass an off-day.

In all the excitement of opening day, you may not have noticed that Le Grand Orange died that same day just shy of his 74th birthday. Rusty had an excellent career, and while not quite a Hall-of-Famer certainly qualified for the Hall of Very Good. He played on five different teams, most notably the Astros, Expos, and Mets, with good on base skills and some pop (career OPS+ 124). Jonah Keri, noted Expo fan, has a great retrospective on his baseball exploits, fan outreach, and charitable work here:

In Memory of Rusty Staub

While there isn’t really a Braves connection, his passing did stir memories of my first experiences seeing major league baseball in person as a young kid over 50 years ago (has it really been that long? Crap, I’m getting old). I grew up in a small town in south central Louisiana, in the heart of sugar, hot sauce, and salt country. The cultural highlight was the annual Sugar Cane Festival held every September to celebrate the harvest. Music was whatever they played on the local AM radio station. Sports was mostly high school football and basketball, with a dose of LSU Tiger football radio broadcasts in the fall. So it was with great excitement that I looked forward to my family’s more-or-less annual trip to Houston during the summers. It was about a four hour drive, but a world away from my hometown. It had everything. A huge shopping mall where you could actually go from shop to shop while remaining indoors, with an honest to goodness ice skating rink right there in the middle (whoever heard of such a thing). A great amusement park with all sorts of rides that made me sick to my stomach. And best of all, professional sports teams (the Houston Oilers and Houston Astros) that played in this totally awesome stadium called the Astrodome. They called it “the 8th Wonder of the World”, and it sure seemed that way to me. It was gigantic and new and modern, and they played ball *inside*. It had this brand new artificial grass they called “astoturf” since the real stuff wouldn’t grow. And it had this way cool animated scoreboard that was unlike anything else I had ever seen. They played all kinds of comic video shorts, making fun of the other team or inciting the crowd to cheer. But the best thing was that whenever an Astro hit a home run, it put on this fantastic display with bulls snorting and cowboys firing off their six shooters and simulated fireworks going off. It was amazing.

During one of our summer trips when I was maybe 9 years old, we caught a game where my greatest memory is of Rusty Staub hitting not one but two homeruns. I couldn’t get enough of that scoreboard home run show. I remember my parents wanting to leave early, and me begging them to stay in case he hit another one. But the Astros were behind pretty big, and I lost the case. Next day I found out that in fact the Astros *did* hit another homerun (although it wasn’t Staub). I was pissed I didn’t get to see the scoreboard go off again.

With the miracle of Baseball Reference, I was able to track down that game. It was August 19, 1967. The St. Louis Cardinals were in town in the midst of an excellent season where they would go on to win 101 games, the NL pennant, and the World Series over the Red Sox. The Astros had some very good players besides Staub, like Joe Morgan and Jimmy Wynn, but still they were in the dregs of the league. Staub had a fantastic game, with a double and the two homers. Joe Morgan had a double. Doug Rader had the 9th inning homer that I missed.

It was cool to relive that memory. RIP Rusty.

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64 thoughts on “Remembrance of Rusty Staub”

  1. Interestingly, the Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary has a segment on Rusty Staub, and that was my, as a younger fan, first exposure to him. He’s an entertaining player who seems to have flown a little under the radar playing many of his best years in Montreal. Their stadium was a real doozy back then.

  2. RE: Gohara

    There’s the simple fact that we are almost at a point where we need to trade someone from the pitching prospects, and the team or its mouthpieces have been saying it for years. Other teams may start noticing that we don’t have enough room for everyone. Gohara went from being a really good prospect struggling at A+ to one our top prospects, and the Braves may think this is his highest point. As it sits, we have 11-12 guys that are either under control or could hit Atlanta in the next couple years, and we’ll probably bring in a starter making some money via trade or FA. Gohara could bring back something really interesting on the position player side.

  3. Gohara seems like a guy that might struggle when his velocity starts to decline, since he doesn’t have a big repertoire.

  4. @2 – In a vacuum, you’re not wrong, but I’d actually like to see a top 5-10 rotation of homegrown guys before I’ll be convinced we need to trade someone.

    Will caveat that if the market perception is materially higher on a guy than their internal valuation then sure, pull the trigger. However, it wasn’t very long ago that Sims, Wisler, and Blair were all top 100 guys and we’ve seen how that’s turned out.

    Put it another way, Anibal Sanchez is still going to be added to the 25 man roster tomorrow.

  5. Trading Gohara at this stage of his career would be folly IMO. At least give him a decent shot.

  6. I saw a Mets-Astros game in the Astrodome back in 1974 (or was it ’71?) while my family was on a cross-country car trip. I remember that scoreboard, it was the most awesome-est thing a 10 (7?) year old from a North Carolina mill town had ever seen. The only baseball memory I have is that the Astros pulled off a triple play that game.

    Edit: July 16, 1971 Roger Metzger to Denis Minke to Doug Rader.

  7. Way back in 1962, I worked concessions for the Moultrie Colt .22s. Houston was then the Colt .45s, named for the malt liquor I presume.

  8. I’m obviously a Gohara fan, but thankfully we have Acuna to show us what an untouchable player looks like. Show me what you got, AA.

  9. Great job, Kirk H–thanks.

    My fading memories and Baseball Reference can suck up much time. The 1967 Astros had several very young and potentially very good players. Although they only won 69 games that year, the future was promising. In addition to the 23 year old Staub (who put up a 153 OPS+), they had future Hall of Famer 23 year old Joe Morgan and 25 year old Jimmy Wynn, who like Staub certainly belongs in the Hall of Very Good. Also in the mix was 22 year old shortstop and future Brave Sonny Jackson, who really wasn’t very good at all but sportswriters (and my 12 year old self) thought had great potential. He was fast and had lots of tools.

    They also had two of the most promising young pitchers in the league in 22 year old Don Wilson and 20 year old Larry Dierker. (Also in the rotation and pitching well was Mike Cuellar, who was 30 but had many excellent seasons still ahead of him–4 20 win seasons and two 18 win seasons for the Orioles.)

    If one of the two expansion teams was going to win the world series in a couple of years, I would have bet on the Astros rather than the Mets.

    I’m not sure if this is a cautionary tale for the current Braves, but it is a reminder that predictions of teams with unproven young players with great potential are difficult. And deciding who to trade and who to keep (Joe Morgan, Cesar Geronimo and Jack Billingham for Lee May and Tommy Helms?! Mike Cuellar for Curt Blefary?!) is especially tough.

    Trading Gohara now has just such risk–but everything should be on the table.

  10. Peanut saying “at some point this season” is telling, I think. They believe he may still shine for now but will break down over time, is my guess. Perhaps his spring injury struggles have shown the front office something.

    Seems reasonable. Basically the same staff was wrong about Alex Wood. But still, seems reasonable.

    I just wouldn’t then leak that info to Peanut! Don’t worry about my feelings, do what you gotta do, AA :)

  11. What are the chances Acuña actually plays on April 14? I just realized it was in Chicago, and I might be able to go, living only 2 hrs away.

  12. Houston was named for the same pistol the drink was named after. Favored sidearm of Texans in the Republic.

  13. Yeah, I get that we’ll have to trade some of these pitchers, and since “TINSTAAPP” you shouldn’t treat any of them as untouchable. Just seems weird for that to show up in Bowman’s column.

  14. There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect.

    Since they tend to flame out at high rates.

  15. It’s a physical impossibility to give every legitimate pitching prospect a chance at the big league level. And I don’t think it really matters if they are “right or wrong”. They weren’t wrong about Wood, and they weren’t right about Miller. I think both times they thought they were trading a really good starting pitcher in hopes of getting good value back. I think you’re setting yourself up for a bad evaluation process of the FO if you think that we are significantly better than other clubs at figuring out who will pan out and who won’t. Do we have some ideas? Sure. Could they be worried about Gohara? Sure. But if Gohara becomes CC Sabathia, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have traded him when/if we do.

    Plus, we’re probably overrating our farm. I think it’s natural to do that when your focus is shifted from the big league product. When we won 14 straight division titles, we weren’t as obsessed with prospects, nor should we have been. And trust me, when the big league rotation is full of studs, we’re probably not going to care about the Bryse Wilson’s and Freddy Tarnok’s of the 4th rounder world the way we seem to be now. They’re going to show up towards the top of the prospect sheets one day, we’re going to be surprised that it was a 4th rounder, and then that’s it.

    It’s just weird at this point. We have our investments disproportionately tied up in this one asset of starting pitching prospects at this point in the rebuild. It’s like having all of your wealth in real estate or precious metals or one type of mutual fund, and you’re illiquid. We have all this value tied up in this asset that we can’t use. Is it valuable? Sure, but at some point they need to stick it in a vehicle that can be used in present day. It’s getting old.

  16. You’re right, Rob, that it’s not wise to judge trades in retrospect. You make the best guess you can about future value at the time you trade.

    But I had the impression at the time of the Alex Wood trade that the Braves’ “inside” evaluation was that, given his unusual
    delivery and previous TJ, he would not hold up over time. In other words, I’m not sure they thought they were giving up a “good” starting pitcher. Turns out he’s quite good.

    Of course the bigger problem with that trade was the return. Talk about poor player evaluation.

  17. Soroka seems like the surest thing. Wright seems like the highest upside. I wouldn’t turn down at least a conversation about big returns for either.

    I don’t disagree with @24. You do get a little advantage from information asymmetry, but not much. Injury and ineffectiveness should also alleviate the ensuing roster crunch on its own, but if it hasn’t up to this point, now you’re basically just gambling on who stays healthy. So while maybe it has paid to be careful up until now, it’s time to start expecting some big trades.

  18. I should add that Rob’s larger point about information symmetry/asymmetry is sound. In this age of vast information plus metrics-savvy front offices, I suspect most front offices know pretty much what every other front office knows.
    That wasn’t necessarily the case just a few years ago.

  19. @21 yes.
    @24 YES.

    I’ve thought all along that the Braves ‘rebuild’ will either succeed AMAZINGLY well, meaning that we’d win a couple WS and become a mini-dynasty provided we signed some bats OR it would be an ABJECT failure and that there wouldn’t be much in between because of the overwhelming unbalanced nature of the farm system. For every Acuna there are scores of non-MLB in the field talent.

    If I had to bet, I’d bet on the rebuild being a failure rather than an overwhelming success mostly because I believe that most of these pitching prospects are bottom of the rotation filler. I also believe that farm systems are ‘judged’ by talent evaluators who rank them disproportionately on quantity rather than quality. For example, a system that had ONE pitcher that you were almost certain is going to be a #1 starter type, IMO is better than one that has 15 #5 starter/long relief types.

    Cheap and gambling isn’t exactly a way to run a franchise. Until the 2019 FA market frenzy proves to me otherwise, I’ll continue to believe that the CURRENT Braves plan is all in on the farm. There is reward to that but there is also MASSIVE downside.

  20. Chief, I think you’re underestimating “bottom of rotation filler”, especially since your definition of “bottom of rotation filler” is actually like 2 WAR pitchers. Have you seen the Nationals’ rotation? They have 3 studs, don’t get me wrong (though Gio’s FIP was a full run higher), but last year their fourth starter was Tanner Roark who had a 4.67 ERA (4.13 FIP), and Joe Ross/Edwin Jackson, who combined to have ERAs and FIPs around 5. Roark had a 1.2 bWAR, and the 5th starters were basically replacement level (0.4 combined WAR).

    The rotation you’re negatively describing is probably a 16-18 WAR rotation, which most teams would kill for. And when some of them don’t work out, they have two good enough pitches to be decent relievers. I think you’re overestimating what it takes to have a playoff caliber rotation because you’re been lulled to sleep by the garbage the Braves have put out there these past few seasons that they either got for free or very little. When we actually start putting legitimate assets into the MLB team, it’s going to blow your mind.

  21. Braves fans are still spoiled silly by that whole Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz/Fourth Guy That Would Be Any Other Team’s #1 run.

  22. @29

    I will say the Braves did take fliers on guys like Anderson and Allard as “we can sign them cheap and get more upside later”

    That’s not always a sound plan.

  23. Carlos Perez added to the roster and Anibal Sanchez called up. Ravin to the DL and Socolovich DFA’d.

  24. @31

    It’s pretty much the most ridiculous of these stupid beefs yet. If the at-bat is so unimportant that bunting for a cheap base hit is beyond the pale, why in the hell are you still shifting? Why isn’t that against baseball’s unwritten rules?

    Also, the fact remains that this team will not contend again without either trading some prospects away or signing some big-name free agents, probably both. I didn’t think this was especially up for debate, but I guess it still is. We will have to trade some pitching prospects, and it’s not gonna be ones that everyone has decided are useless. Aaron Blair is not going to bring anything back worth even the slightest bit of a crap.

  25. I believe with every fiber of my being that if you are going to overshift your infield so that you cannot defend a bunt, you are tacitly conceding the bunt. If you don’t want the guy to bunt, don’t overshift. There’s nothing inherently sacred about overshifts that the other team doesn’t get to try to beat them.

    Brian Dozier is a dumb idiot jock.

  26. @37 @4

    I think there’s a lot of “let’s see what we got first”, but I’d argue 1) We’ve already had a lot of time to do that and 2) if you wait until you have a top 5-10 rotation, you probably have taken so long that many prospects have flamed out and have become untradeable.

  27. @36 If Chance Sisco comes to the plate in your stadium, and you don’t play The Thong Song, then, well, you’re no better than Gabe Kapler.

  28. Trading any prospect including Gohara is defensible for a high enough return. Personally I hope they don’t trade him. Was just surprised to see that rumor put out in the press.

    Man, I hate the Nats. Hope Newcomb’s command and Dansby’s bat show up tonight.

  29. @37

    Though not many have said “don’t trade anybody,” I think there’s a lot of implied “Don’t trade anybody worthwhile until we know they’re not worthwhile.” Except by then, their value would’ve tanked and there’d be no point.

    If somebody would rather trade Soroka than Gohara or Wright than Soroka or whatever, I’ve got no issue with that, but if someone’s unwilling to entertain the thought of trading any of the three, that’s a problem IMO. I could be wrong, but I think we will need to trade a valuable pitching prospect or two before the end, and AA needs to be willing to do it.

  30. I’ve always wondered if floating a trade piece like that is an easier way of letting 29 teams know someone is available vs. making AA and his assistants get it out.

  31. I read an article the other day about how MLB GMs interact and apparently most of it is through texting. And apparently, most of the interaction is between lower level assistant GMs and people of the like that then bring things TO the GMs. Most trades and transactions do not originate between actual GMs.

    I actually am very interested in these types of stories.

  32. A couple things on information asymmetry and waiting until now for trades:

    1) @27 is right when it comes to things you can measure. The place where the Braves have the advantage with their players are the things you can’t measure: their work ethic, coachability, etc. When he was on the Mariners, Gohara apparently had attitude problems; maybe those have resurfaced (or maybe not). Word has a way of getting out, but not always.

    2) The idea that AA didn’t know our system well enough to make trades this offseason was mostly spin, but I do think there’s something to the notion that you want the best information possible, which can mean the most recent information. Offseasons last a long time — and a time where teams don’t have as much access to players. Players do a lot of tinkering. Sure, most players can’t and don’t reinvent themselves in the offseason and all this activity is what leads to the “best shape of his life” stories that are now a big baseball in-joke. I would understand waiting to see if, say, Allard regained his velocity before trading him. Maybe you still trade him, but you could get more in exchange. And if he’s still the same guy in spring, no harm done.

    Anyway, I don’t think AA has this excuse any more. A month should suffice. Now IMO it’s a matter of when other teams get themselves to a place where they’re open to trade.

  33. I don’t understand Newcomb. He nibbles and nibbles and nibbles, then goes fat and sassy down the pipe to the best player in baseball. Attack the right hitters, man. There was one point where he was threw 5 straight breaking pitches, only 3 of which were strikes, to the 7- and 8-hole hitters. If Bryce beats you, fine, but when you’re walking weak hitters, that’s a bad strategy.

  34. Today isn’t pretty, and it’s a blind, dumb, stupid thing, but I still have hope for Newcomb.

    Blair, Wisler, and Sims I don’t care about.

  35. @54 Funny enough, I feel that way (hopeful) about Folty but not Newcomb. IMO, the best we can hope for from Newk is that he turns into a good bullpen arm. In contrast to Newk, Folty has sufficient control to survive as a starter; he just suffers from “million dollar arm / ten cent head” syndrome.

    Watching Newk, it just appears that… I’m not sure how to say this, but… he doesn’t know how to pitch to advanced hitters. I would hope that he could get connected with a catcher somewhere in the Braves system who can call a game for Newk.

  36. List of excuses/defenses for Newk:

    -Pitching to a new catcher
    -Bad approach (fixable)
    -Washington is a good team
    -First outing of the year
    -His fastball and curveball look pretty good

    That’s all I got. He’s maddening, almost more frustrating than Folty. Plus fastball, plus curveball, and Chip said that he’s working on a slider. Velo is there, stuff is there, but his command is awful and his approach is worse. I would love to see a start where he just gets pounded but doesn’t walk anymore. Has he ever had a start where hitters just simply beat him?

  37. Newcomb’s command is just not good enough to be a starter long term. It’s too bad, because he has 3 plus pitches that are TOR quality.

  38. Newcomb is a bigger mystery to me than Folty. He simply cannot command the fastball. He threw all those curves to the 7 and 8 hitters in the first because they had a better chance of being strikes than the heater. He didn’t mean to groove the fastball to Harper; he just can’t throw it where he wants to. And he has such an easy simple motion–it’s never made sense that his command is so off. But if he doesn’t develop command of the fastball, he can’t even be an effective reliever.

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