"We do not hope our Expos lose the game tonight," a portly fan explained before a recent game the Expos lost to the Cincinnati Reds, "but we do not quite expect them to win the game, either. We come out here to have some fun, drink some beer and, of course, to see our Rusty hit the baseball."
Fortunately for Staub and the Expos, Le Grand Orange happened to arrive in Montreal at a time when Canada was desperately searching for a new sports hero. Traditionally, the idol of Canada has hit a puck and scored goals, usually for Les Canadiens. There were Howie Morenz, Toe Blake, Maurice (Rocket) Richard and, most recently, Jean Beliveau. But now Beliveau is almost 39 years old, and there is no hockey player ready to succeed him in the dynasty.
"I am well aware of the dynasty theory in Montreal," Staub says. "I know what is available to me here. It is something that I must handle delicately and professionally. Most importantly, Eve got to do it out there on the field."
Only 26, Staub has been doing well on the field since 1961, when Houston gave him a $132,000 bonus and announced that he would lead them to a pennant someday. In 1967 Staub came into his own as a big-league batter, hitting .333 and almost winning the batting championship. The following year he slipped to .291 but still was among the top 10 National League hitters.
Nevertheless, there was mutual disenchantment between Staub and the Astro management, which has been compared—with reason—to a Boy Scout operation. At spring training the players are locked into barracks every night. Almost every night during the season there is a bed check. "The entire operation is gripped by fear," Staub says. "Everything is an ultimatum."
Staub is a bachelor, and the Astros, it seems, always presumed that he was trying to become Houston's answer to Joe Willie Namath. "If I did half the things they thought I did, I'd be a cripple," he says. "Married players go out with their wives after games, why shouldn't I go out with a date? I'm no wild man."
The parting of the ways came on Jan. 22, 1969 when Staub was traded to Montreal for Outfielder Jesus Alou and First Baseman Donn Clendenon. Clendenon refused to report to Houston, and for a time it appeared that the trade would be voided. But Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn told Staub and Alou to report to their new teams and ordered the Expos to compensate the Astros for the loss of Clendenon. " Houston should lose Staub for even thinking about trading him," said Luman Harris, the manager of the Atlanta Braves and a former Houston manager. "Maybe that's what Kuhn was thinking, too."
The Staub trade was the first deal made by the Expos, and they will never make a better one. Last year, providing Montreal with its only real touch of professional respectability, Le Grand Orange hit for his usual high average (.302) but, more important, he also hit 29 home runs—the exact total of his home runs for the previous three seasons when he played half his games in the spacious Astrodome.
"I always knew Rusty had beaucoup power even before I knew what beaucoup meant," says Gene Mauch, the Expos' manager. "It was a matter of telling him he should swing for the fences and forget slapping the ball. He's a devastating hitter no matter what he does."
Staub's performances on the field permitted him to become a celebrity off it. Soon some of Canada's major corporations began to inquire about his availability for promotional work. Staub became associated with Gerry Patterson, who also conducts all of Jean Beliveau's business affairs, and now Rusty Staub is Rusty Staub, Inc., sharing a suite of offices high above La Place Ville Marie with Jean Beliveau, Inc. Often when the Expos are at home, Staub drives to the office and for a few hours conducts his business affairs. Most times this means a luncheon talk, some of it in French, of course.