Rusty Staub, one of the most beloved members of the Mets, was remembered as a big-hearted baseball star and champion of charitable causes during a memorial Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Wednesday.
Mets fans, former teammates and top police and fire brass showed up to pay homage to the man who dazzled on and off the field.
“Rusty has bypassed Cooperstown,” Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities, told the crowd. “He has made God’s hall of fame in heaven.”
The flame-haired Staub, nicknamed “Le Grande Orange” by fans during his time with the Montreal Expos, died on March 29 at the age of 73 after an illness.
Staub helped found The New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund in 1985 and funded the Catholic Charities food program for more than 15 years.
He was also a lover of food and wine and had opened two restaurants in New York City during the 1970s and 1980s.
Pipe bands from the New York City police and fire departments as well as the Port Authority Police Department lined up outside the cathedral for musical tributes.
“Rusty was very at home here,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan told the crowd. He recounted a phone call with Staub before his death in a Florida hospital, telling Dolan he had given his confession to a priest.
“That must have been good,” Dolan said with a smile, adding, “We miss him. We need the consolation only God can give.”
The crowd inside included former Mets greats Ron Darling, John Franco, Lee Mazzilli and manager Bobby Valentine, as well as Mets owner Jeff Wilpon, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill, former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and former FDNY Commissioner Sal Cassano.
Darling remembered Staub as a mentor for young players.
“Because he started his career at such a young age — he was a ballplayer at age 19 — he was very sympathetic to young players,” Darling said. “And he was always there with a guiding hand.”
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said Staub had an important impact.
“He was the one of the characters that really helped define our game and make our game great and really part of American culture,” Manfred said.