MMO Flashback: Mets Trade Le Grande Orange

An article by posted on December 26, 2011

Here’s something I dug up from a couple of years ago that brings us back to the hot stove season of 1975, when the Mets also traded one of the team’s most popular players – a move they would eventually regret. Mike Lloyd does a nice job in the re-telling of what happened back then.

Examining Hot Stove history from the Past.

December 12th 1975 – The New York Mets trade Rusty Staub and Bill Laxton to the Detroit Tigers for Mickey Lolich and Billy Baldwin.

From the moment he was acquired, Rusty Staub was probably the best Met hitter of the first twenty years of the franchise. He was a more prolific power hitter than Cleon Jones who had a great year in 1969 batting .340, which led the Met franchise for decades till John Olerud hit .354 in 1998. But, Rusty was shipped out of town in December 1975 for an excellent pitcher named Mickey Lolich. The other principles, Bill Laxton and Billy Baldwin never amounted to much.

‘Le Grande Orange’ had come to the Mets on April 5th 1972 , 3 days after the death of arguably the greatest manager in Met history, Mr. Gil Hodges. The Mets paid a steep price to acquire the most popular player in Montreal Expos franchise history to that point. Ken Singleton, Mike Jorgenson and Tim Foli were dealt away to Montreal to bring Rusty to Shea Stadium. (we’ll examine that deal at another time)

The irony of the ’75 deal with Detroit was that it shouldn’t have occurred. Free agency had arrived in baseball and players were beginning to realize just how much money the owners were making, and how little the players cut was. Rusty made some waves regarding his salary and M.Donald Grant, the Met President at the time, (yes, that M. Donald Grant) decided that he could compete with a rotation of Seaver, Koosman, Matlack and Lolich, and decided to ship Rusty to Detroit for the ‘portly’ lefthander.

(Mickey owned a donut shop and it was argued by fans that he spent every waking hour testing his products)

On the surface Mickey was a complete bust who went 8-13 in ‘76, his only year in NY. But he did have a 3.22 ERA that season. And it was argued by many that Lolich didn’t receive run support throughout the campaign. Matlack had arguably one of his best seasons that year when he went 17-10, 2.95 ERA and Koosman won 21 games with a 2.69 ERA, his only 20 win season. Seaver went only 14-11 but with a 2.59 ERA. Mickey just wasn’t the same great pitcher in NY as in Detroit. Meanwhile, Met fans were frustrated by the lack of offense associated with that ‘76 team.

The trade was a total failure as Staub, age 31 at the time, managed some excellent years in Detroit while Lolich managed to eat his way out of baseball soon thereafter.

Lolich was age 35 in’76. He had some incredible years in Detroit but was at the end of the line when the Mets made that deal. That wasn’t his fault, but that was of little solace to Met fans.

Rusty had some incredibly productive years in Detroit, but back then as today, the Yankees and Red Sox dominated the old AL East in the late ‘70‘s. He even managed an AL all-star appearance for Detroit in ’76. Prior to that, he’d appeared in five straight NL all-star games from ‘67 through ‘71. He never managed an appearance in the summer classic with the Mets, but may have, if he hadn’t had multiple injuries in his first stint in NY. Shamefully without that injury history, Rusty may have reached 3000 hits.

The Mets were dismantled over those 2 ½ years, eventually culminating with the Midnight Massacre on June 15th 1977. (we’ll also examine that fiasco at another time) But the Rusty Staub trade on December 12th 1975 was the beginning of the end for the Mets’ first successful cycle of their history. In ‘76 the Mets had a decent year going 86-76. They’d never be above .500 again until 1984.

Of course, Rusty did manage to return to the Mets in ’80. Nearly 5 years to the day after being dealt away, Rusty signed as a free agent December 16th 1980. He went on to become one of the more prolific pinch hitters and beloved figures in Met history.

Former teammates and fans alike loved ‘Le Grande Orange’. He is revered not only in New York, where he’s become a fixture, but in Montreal, where his popular nickname was derived. A deal that should have never occurred… How many can we count in NY Mets history?

NOTE: Rusty’s restaurant in Manhattan is a must for Met fans to enjoy. The Cajun style menu is wonderful!

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