Rusty Staub was remembered as a member of “God’s Hall of Fame” at a Memorial Mass celebrated by Cardinal Dolan at St. Patrick’s Cathedral April 25.
“Rusty has bypassed Cooperstown because on the very first ballot he’s made God’s Hall of Fame in heaven,” said Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities in the archdiocese, in closing his homily remembering the New York Mets great who died at age 73 in a Florida hospital March 29.
Msgr. Sullivan, speaking to the several hundred people attending the Mass, said Staub accepted “the invitation to make Jesus Christ his Lord,” and that the afternoon liturgy was a celebration of Staub sharing in the Lord’s risen life.
Staub, nicknamed “Le Grand Orange,” was a six-time All-Star in his 23 major league seasons. He is the only player in major league history with 500 hits with four different teams, finishing with 2,716 hits in his career with five teams.
Off the field, Staub assisted the widows and children of fallen New York City policemen and firefighters. He started the Rusty Staub Foundation, which partnered with Catholic Charities in the archdiocese to feed New York’s less fortunate, serving 1 million meals annually. Staub was the first person to win both the Terence Cardinal Cooke Humanitarian Award (2016) for his commitment to youth and the John V. Mara Sportsman of the Year Award (2005) for his sportsmanship during his career at the archdiocese’s annual CYO dinner.
“So, I suggest if there is a lesson for us today, that whatever profession we might be, no matter how exalted, how busy or how popular, it’s no excuse or substitute for also being human,” Msgr. Sullivan said. “We can’t hide behind our professions and say that’s all we do because within each of our professions is the image and likeness of God bursting to get out.”
Following the Mass, a press conference was held with family, friends and former teammates.
“This was a man of great generosity with a huge heart,” said Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred. “I think he’s part of a tradition that our players have followed for many many years in terms of giving back to the communities in which they played. It was a sad day when we lost Rusty.”
Former teammate Lee Mazzilli, who said Staub introduced him to his wife, was growing up in Brooklyn when Staub first played for the Mets.
“He was a huge part of the city. I think you look at him as a baseball player, but I think millions of New Yorkers may have never known he played baseball because of his heart and what he did for the police and firemen. That’s the most important thing. Baseball is what we do, but it’s not who we are. Rusty was definitely more than that,” Mazzilli said.
Bobby Valentine was a player, coach and manager for the Mets. He said Staub remembered Valentine’s first home run better than he did. Staub, who was older than Valentine, later offered him advice when he was Staub’s coach with the Mets.
“He was the first to ever say to me, ‘Remember you’re a teacher, no one cares what you know until they know that you care,’” Valentine said.
Staub’s fans were at the cathedral for the Mass, many dressed in the Mets’ blue and orange team colors. Peekskill’s Darlene Beattie said she first watched Staub play in 1972 and became a Mets fan, asking her father to take her to Shea Stadium to see Staub.
“He was just a great person and he was my first baseball crush. I had to be here for him. He had a pure, wonderful heart,” said Ms. Beattie, a parishioner of Holy Spirit in Peekskill.
Ronald Kriegel of Brooklyn has been a Mets fan since 1962 and a fan of Staub’s, even before he joined the Mets. Kreigel owns a Montreal Expos and Houston Colt 45s cap as well as many Mets caps.
“His work off the field was greater than his work on the field, which was close to (Baseball) Hall of Fame quality. That’s how he should be remembered by New Yorkers and the whole country,” Kriegel said.
“I hope people get the message that being kind to people is what it’s all about. That’s all that matters—nothing else.”