SO BELOVED and benevolent was Daniel Joseph Staub that he claimed three hometowns and three nicknames to go along with one gloriously large heart. That heart, and the Runyanesque life in full it begat, was stilled on March 29, three days before his 74th birthday, in a West Palm Beach, Fla., hospital after a lengthy illness. He was Rusty from the time he was born in New Orleans in 1944—as soon as one nurse saw the red fuzz on his head—and acquired one of the all-time great sports sobriquets when Montreal Gazette sportswriter Ted Blackman christened him Le Grand Orange after Staub helped snap a 20-game losing streak with the expansion 1969 Expos, and to those closest to him he was affectionately "Orange."
Two cities especially adopted him as their own: Montreal, where he played for four years, and New York, where he played nine for the Mets before becoming a club ambassador. The joke was that his title was simply Rusty, because the name itself was an honorific. Such a sweet hitter was Staub that Ted Williams, upon trying to coax him into signing with the Red Sox, inscribed in his high school yearbook, "To a future major leaguer if I ever saw one."
Twenty-three seasons, 2,716 hits, six All-Star Games and five franchises—all of them better for having Staub grace them with his spirit. His ability to play baseball paled in magnitude compared with his empathy. In 1985, Staub established the New York Police and Fire Widows' and Children's Benefit Fund to raise money for the families of fallen first responders. After 9/11, his fund distributed more than $117 million. Staub later established the Rusty Staub Foundation, which provides food pantries and meals to New Yorkers in need. Over the past 14 years, while partnering with Catholic Charities, his foundation has delivered more than 12 million meals.
He epitomized how sports at their best are not an end but a platform for the better. The blaze of hair atop his head made him recognizable, the perpetual smile upon his face made him convivial, but the unselfishness in his heart made him unforgettable.