The legendary Rusty Staub, an April Fool’s Day baby, would’ve turned 76 today. And there’s absolutely no doubt what he’d be doing right now, in our current pandemic crisis, had he not passed away in late March (Opening Day, in fact) of 2018.
“I’m sure Rusty would have been on the front lines,” John Franco said Tuesday. “…Knowing him, he would’ve been delivering food. He would’ve been right there, doing his share. Whichever way he could help.”
“I think at the moment, he would have really been making sure that those food pantries were stocked up, and that we continued to raise money, and that we made sure to provide to those who didn’t have access to food — or those who didn’t have money to go to grocery store,” said Stephen Dannhauser, who chairs the New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund that Staub founded in 1985. “…He’d be on the phone with our widows and children to provide a human connection.”
Staub’s commitment to helping others arguably stands as an even larger part of his legacy than his considerable playing career, which lasted from 1963 to 1985. Consider that he and Franco never were teammates, nor did they ever face each other — Mets manager Davey Johnson understandably never sent up the lefty-swinging Staub against the lefty-throwing Franco, then with the Reds, in 1984 or 1985 — but they became friendly because of their ties to New York, at first, and eventually the Mets.
“I knew of Rusty because I was a Mets fan growing up (in Brooklyn). Rusty’s (restaurant) on the Upper East Side, I used to go there quite often, my friend and I. But the first time I really met him was in Cincinnati,” Franco said. “He was doing the fireman’s picnic. He knew I was from New York. He asked me if I could get some guys from the Reds to go out and sign some stuff.”
Franco came through, and when the Reds traded Franco to the Mets before the 1990 season, the two men grew closer, as Rusty was working as a TV analyst for the club. “I tried to follow his footsteps in trying to give back,” Franco said. “Rusty would always come to me and ask me to round the guys up (for charity events). We’d make sure everyone but the starting pitcher would come.” The two men both were heavily involved in New York’s response to the September 11, 2001 attacks, Staub’s fund sadly inheriting a plethora of new recipients.
The fund continues to operate; as Dannhauser noted, there already have been coronavirus casualties in the service world. And as Franco pointed out, Staub also held a great fondness for his birth city New Orleans, which has been pummeled by this pandemic as well.
“He’d be back and forth between New York and New Orleans,” Franco said. “He would’ve been on the front lines in both states, trying to help.”
He would’ve been a comforting presence, red hair and all. While his legend lives on even in good times, we really miss him now.
This week’s Pop Quiz question came from Evan Charkes of Dobbs Ferry: The 1963 TV movie “Inside Danny Baker” features an appearance by a future Hall of Fame pitcher as himself. Name the pitcher.
Speaking of ties between sports and popular culture, check out my Post colleague Peter Botte’s daily recommendation during our shutdown of a good sports movie, TV show or book.
Your Pop Quiz answer is Whitey Ford.
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