Washington Nationals: Franchise legend Rusty Staub passes away

BALTIMORE, MD - JULY 10: The hat and glove of Bryce Harper
BALTIMORE, MD - JULY 10: The hat and glove of Bryce Harper /

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Former Washington Nationals franchise icon Rusty Staub passed away Thursday. Although he never played here, his presence was.

Washington Nationals fans would have loved Rusty Staub.

Staub, one of baseball’s most underrated players, died Thursday at 73 from multiple organ failure. He was two days shy of his 74th birthday.

He played a pivotal role in establishing two expansion teams in the 1960s, the Houston Colt 45’s and the Montreal Expos. During the New York Mets impossible comeback and National League pennant drive in 1973.

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It was with the Expos, the future Nats franchise, where Staub became a legend. In his three full seasons in Quebec, he was an All-Star. Not because the team needed to have one, but a legitimate star on both sides of the Canadian border.

A two-time All-Star with Houston, Staub traded the power-robbing Astrodome for the open air of Jarry Park. He smashed a career-high 29 home runs in 1969 and then 30 in 1970. If you are a believer of Wins Above Replacement, he had three years with over 6.0 WAR in Montreal.

In 518 games with Montreal over four seasons, he returned in 1980 via a trade with the Detroit Tigers, Staub crushed 81 dingers and carried a slash line of .295/.402/.497 for an OPS of 899 and a 149 OPS+. So crucial for Montreal, they named the roof at Olympic Stadium after him in the 1980s, “Le Grande Orange” for his cropped carrot-topped hair.

As the Nats franchise starts the 50th season, it is important to remember those making its success possible.

You remember the first season here. Frank Robinson in the dugout. Hot prospect Ryan Zimmerman working his way up from the University of Virginia. Livan Hernandez on the mound pitching on Opening Day.

Think of Staub like Hernandez. He is the same established star who made fans go to Jarry Park in bad weather like Hernandez did on his starts at old RFK Stadium. Just as Nick Johnson and Jose Guillen paced Washington’s offense as they chased the wild card, Staub’s performance gave the Expos instant credibility.

From New York, where there were tears in the clubhouse on Opening Day, to Texas where he played in 1981, Staub’s impact as a player and person stretches long beyond the borders of baseball.

As the lone All-Star in 1969, Staub lined up on the baseline at RFK that afternoon before the game but was the lone position player for the NL not to play. We hoped he would return this year as Washington hosts their first All-Star Game since then.

Next: Nats staff predictions for 2018

Godspeed, Rusty.