Often clutch during his illustrious 23-year baseball career, Rusty Staub has followed suit helping families of 9/11 victims though the New York Police and Fire Widows and Children’s Benefit Fund.
“It was and is still an honor to be the guy that started it,” Staub said of the foundation he launched in 1986. “And my thanks to so many people that have helped us to continue to be able to do this.”
Called “Le Grand Orange,” the red-haired Staub was a Mets outfielder from 1972-’75 and ’81-’85.
The terror attacks killed 402 police officers and firefighters, Staub says. Giving their families a $10,000 death benefit (today $25,000) meant suddenly raising over $4 million, which Staub thought might be impossible.
Then-mayoral candidate and foundation board member, Michael Bloomberg said, “Don’t worry about that. If it [doesn’t happen] I’ll take care of it,” Staub recalled. “And I cannot tell you the burden that took off me.”
Far exceeding expectations, “voluminous” numbers of donations poured in from worldwide, Staub says, fueled by his nine-plus months of 18-hour days, buoyed by about 40 volunteers daily.
Well beyond 9/11 recipients, the foundation has distributed about $117 million to families of first responders killed on duty. Each family receives an annual check, with some 600 families due $6,000 this October. Much support has come from foundation chairman Stephen Dannhauser, a retired partner in Manhattan’s Weil, Gotshal & Manges law firm.
Living in Battery Park City, Staub was across the street when the Twin Towers began falling.
“I jumped over the back fence and just started going north,” he remembered.
Hundreds of relatives of fallen city first responders attend Staub’s annual Citi Field picnic before a Mets game.
“It’s a very special day and there’s a lot of tears involved,” Staub said. “It’s also a warm day where there’s a lot of love.”
After suffering a heart attack last October, “I’m here,” Staub said gratefully. “It’s a gift of time. I’m just trying to use it well.”
Staub produced 2,716 career hits, epitomizing the adage, “He could get out of bed Christmas morning and hit a double.”
At 72, asked if he could still at least draw a walk on Christmas, Staub joked, laughing, “I would have to walk because I damned sure couldn’t run.”
Approaching Sunday’s 15th 9/11 anniversary, Staub said money aside, “It’s just as important to these families that we have not forgotten what they went through.”