LONDON, ONT., - There was a simple reason why Daniel (Rusty) Staub embraced the French language and became one of the first heroes in Montreal Expos history.
“It was embarrassing for an eight-year-old kid to speak to you and you had no idea what they were saying,” said the 23-year major leaguer who was named to the 2012 class of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame Tuesday. “I felt inadequate. I felt it was worth my time to try to learn it. I wanted to be a part of it.
“I tried like hell. I had a speech I practised so the fans could hear baseball talk in their own language and I really tried to study to answer questions in their language.”
Le Grand Orange, as Staub was known, never became fluent in French but the people of Quebec adored him for trying.
“You have to play well for the fans to like you,” he said from his home in Florida. “There's no question about it. I remember I did an interview for Hockey Night in Canada one night. I had to the do the French one first. I was terrified. But I got through it, then did the second (intermission) in English.
“I participated in the community and that all jelled. I travelled across the country speaking for baseball and baseball in Canada. I remember (being a white-knuckle flyer) and going out to Kamloops, B.C., and the plane went in (low) near the mountains and once was enough for me.
“But it was very fulfilling. When I was in Canada, I felt like I was doing something above and beyond (playing) baseball.”
He played three years for the Expos in 1969-71, then returned in '79.
“I got injured my first game in Los Angeles,” Staub said. “I probably shouldn't have played but I came here to play so I said, 'Let's go.' I had been playing outfield and made a quick move to first base and I pulled my groin. It couldn't have happened at a worse time.”
Staub returned to Montreal and there were nearly 60,000 fans in the stands ready to see him play.
“When I came back, it was a doubleheader against Pittsburgh –- it was a little intense,” he said. “I pinch-hit at the end of the first game and I popped up. I wished I could've hit one out for the fans.
“(The ovation) was one of the amazing experiences in my life.”
When Montreal was trying to save its team and build a downtown ballpark, Staub returned to help.
“I had come back when they were trying to get the new stadium,” he said. “It was a wonderful experience. I thought we had a chance to have that be done, but it didn't happen, we lost baseball in Montreal and it's a shame.”