Rusty Staub, Canada's first major league superstar, dead at 73

Nicknamed "Le Grand Orange" by Montreal Expos fans for his shock of red hair, he was one of the most popular players in the team's history.

'Le Grand Orange' was an original member of the Expos, but also played for Mets, Astros, Tigers and Rangers

Rusty Staub, who died at age 73, was beloved by Expos fans. (Canadian Press)

Rusty Staub, an original member of the Montreal Expos and one of the team's first superstars, has died. He was 73.

Nicknamed "Le Grand Orange" by Montreal fans for his shock of red hair, which also earned him the handle Rusty, the right-fielder was traded to the Expos in 1969, before the start of their first season in the majors.

He went on to become one of the club's most popular players ever, especially for a generation of fans who followed the team from the beginning.

"Rusty Staub was our country's first major league superstar,"said Scott Crawford, the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame's director of operations.

"He may have only played three-and-a-half seasons with the Montreal Expos, but he gave his heart and soul to the franchise and to the city of Montreal. He immersed himself in the city's culture as much as any Expo and the fans loved him for it.''

Staub was enshrined in the Canadian Hall of Fame six years ago.

"It was evident when he returned to Canada for his induction into our hall of fame in 2012 that part of his heart still belonged to the city of Montreal and its baseball fans.''

Rusty Staub answers questions before his induction to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2012. The former Montreal Expo was the team's first superstar and played for four teams over his 23-year career in the big leagues. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

Staub was immediately embraced by fans at Jarry Park who appreciated that he learned French.

He made three straight all-star teams with Montreal and hit a career-high 30 home runs for the last-place Expos in 1970. Despite his short tenure with the Expos, his No. 10 became the first uniform jersey retired by the team in 1993.

He also played for the New York Mets, Houston, Detroit and Texas.

The Mets confirmed Staub's death in a tweet Thursday morning.

The team said in a statement he died after an illness in a hospital in West Palm Beach, Fla., hours before the start of the baseball season.

A team spokesman said the Mets learned of the death from friends of Staub who were with him at the time.

According to the New York Daily News, Staub died of multiple organ failure.

'Superb ambassador'

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred called Staub "a superb ambassador"for the sport.

"Across his accomplished 23-year major-league career, Rusty Staub earned the respect of fans in Houston, Montreal, New York, Detroit and beyond," Manfred said in a statement.

"Known for his power and patience at the plate, Rusty became an all-star for three different clubs and a fan favourite. He played a memorable role in the early franchise histories of the Astros and the Expos, and he starred for the Mets in the 1973 World Series.''

Born Daniel Joseph Staub in New Orleans, the Montreal baseball icon would have turned 74 on Sunday.

Rusty Staub, suiting up here with New York Mets, is seen speaking with Montreal Expos hitting coach Duke Snider. (AP Photo/Harry Harris, File)

Long after the Expos moved to Washington and were renamed the Nationals before the 2005 season, he remains one of the most beloved players in franchise history.

A six-time all-star, he recorded 2,716 hits with 292 home runs and 1,466 RBIs during his career. He was the only player in major league history to have at least 500 hits with four different teams.

He retired in 1985 at the age of 41.

Off the field, Staub spent decades doing charity work in the New York area.

"There wasn't a cause he didn't champion," the Mets said.

He owned and operated two popular Manhattan restaurants that bore his name, and authored a children's book titled "Hello, Mr. Met!''

Staub had battled numerous health issues since leaving the game. He nearly died in 2015 when he suffered a heart attack on a plane. He had reportedly been diagnosed with cellulitis in January and complications led to kidney failure.

"Today is a sad day," said Crawford. "We'll miss Le Grand Orange, but we'll never forget him.''

Beloved by Mets fans, too

Staub was traded to the Mets in 1972 and one year later helped lead them to a surprising National League pennant.

In all, Staub hit .341 with 11 RBIs in his only post-season, a clutch and gritty performance that endeared him to Mets fans forever.

New York traded Staub to Detroit in December 1975 and he made his final all-star team with the Tigers in 1976. He had 121 RBIs and finished fifth in AL MVP voting in '78, becoming the first major leaguer to play all 162 games in a season at designated hitter.

Rusty Staub was a hit with fans in New York, Montreal and elsewhere. (The Associated Press)

His final season was 1985, one year before the Mets won the World Series.

After spending nine seasons with New York, he was inducted into the team's Hall of Fame in '86 and when he was honoured at Shea Stadium, smiling ex-teammates such as Keith Hernandez and Darryl Strawberry wore long, orange wigs for the on-field ceremony.