In this edition of the Players You Forgot Were Astros series, we look at the career of Rusty Staub.
Most baseball fans who were around in the 1970s and ’80s will remember outfielder/first baseman Rusty Staub. He’s probably best remembered for his time with the Expos from 1969-1971 and with the Mets, which came in two separate stints from 1972-1975 and again from 1981-1985. But he actually started his long, successful career with the Astros.
Actually, he started his career with the Colt .45s as a 19-year-old in 1963. He wasn’t particularly effective his first couple of years, but he developed into an All-Star in his six-year tenure in Houston. In fact, he made two All-Star teams with the Astros and garnered some MVP consideration a couple of times.
His best year came in 1967, when the 23-year-old hit .333/.398/.473 with 10 homers, 74 RBIs and a major league-leading 44 doubles. He also walked more often than he struck out, which was frequently the case throughout his career.
But Of Course They Traded Him
On January 22, 1969, the Astros traded the 24-year-old blossoming hitter to Montreal in exchange for outfielder Jesus Alou and first baseman Donn Clendenon. However, Clendenon refused to report to the Astros in April, so the Expos sent pitchers Jack Billingham and Skip Guinn along with $100,000 to Houston to complete the trade.
Billingham was serviceable in his three seasons with the Astros, going 29-32 with a 3.75 ERA in 61 starts and 70 relief appearances. He went to Cincinnati in the infamous Joe Morgan trade, racking up a pair of 19-win seasons and top-six Cy Young Award finishes for the Reds. Morgan, of course, went on to a Hall of Fame career and had his best years for the Big Red Machine, including winning a pair of MVP awards.
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Guinn only threw 31.2 innings for the Astros, working to a 5.68 ERA. Alou, the brother of Felipe Alou and uncle of future Astro Moises Alou, spent parts of seven seasons in Houston and compiled a .282/.313/.366 line and an OPS+ of 91. He wasn’t awful, but he wasn’t particularly good either, as he compiled only 0.7 WAR for his career.
Staub spent the next three seasons in Montreal, earning All-Star nods each time. He also became more of a power threat, hitting 59 homers his first two seasons there after hitting 57 in his six seasons in Houston. He quickly became a fan favorite and eventually had his number retired by the franchise.
He was traded to the Mets prior to the 1972 season, getting MVP consideration in two of his four years there despite playing through wrist and shoulder injuries. Following the 1975 season, he was part of a trade with Detroit that brought pitcher Mickey Lolich to Queens.
Staub was an All-Star in his first season with the Tigers and finished fifth in the MVP voting his third year. He drove in 318 runs in his three full seasons with Detroit before being traded back to Montreal during the 1979 season.
The Expos then traded him to the Rangers prior to the 1980 season, and he would hit .300/.370/.459 in his one season there at age 36. When he reached free agency following that year, he returned to the Mets and spent his last five seasons there as a part-time player and pinch hitter.
He retired after having played 23 seasons in the big leagues, totaling a .279/.362/.431 line with 2,716 hits, 499 doubles, 292 homers and 1,255 walks against 888 strikeouts. Not quite a Hall of Fame career, but one the Astros would surely like to have back. Staub passed away in March 2018 at age 73.