Daniel 'Rusty' Staub

Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images

Metsellaneous – Joey Wahler On The Mets: Staub’s Charity Continues To Answer The Call

June 07, 2019 - 12:31 pm
Categories: 

By Joey Wahler

At Wednesday’s Mets-Giants game, over 1,000 people from the New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund, most of them beneficiaries, enjoyed their annual outing at Citi Field, minus the charity’s late founder, Rusty Staub.

“Rusty was a huge figure for our organization,” said Stephen Dannhauser, a partner in the law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges, who helped spearhead the charity with Staub, his dear friend. “But we have a dedicated board and a tremendous group of donors that have been with us for a long period of time. And I think all are energized to continue the work.

“We’ll never fill Rusty’s shoes. He was bigger than life.”

Since Staub died March 29, 2018, three days before his 74th birthday, the charity organization he founded in 1985, also called Answer The Call, has continued its work, just as he wanted. That includes this week’s ballpark outing.

“If you saw the faces on the young people, either the ones that threw out the first pitch, or the ones that were getting their faces painted or eating a hot dog, it was a very special occasion,” Dannhauser said.

To date, Answer The Call has raised over $150 million for the spouses and children of New York City police and firefighters killed in the line of duty, Dannhauser says. When such a death occurs, families receive $10,000, plus another check annually, the amount depending on what’s been raised that year. About 600 families will each get $7,500 this year, Dannhauser says. That’s all done with just three full-time employees.

Aside from their Citi Field gathering, Answer The Call has other yearly events, like a gala each October and a golf outing. Such activities keep the victims’ families and members of the organization in touch.

“There’s something special about getting a hug from somebody and a reminder that the sacrifice has not been forgotten,” Dannhauser said.

A popular Met from 1972-’75 and ’82-’85, Staub totaled 2,716 hits during 23 major league seasons. Yet it’s his selfless charity work that went well beyond Answer The Call for which he’s just as well remembered in New York.

“He was a beloved figure in the city,” Dannhauser said. “I would walk down the streets and people would constantly stop him and say, ‘Rusty great job!’ and ‘thank you.’ He couldn’t have been more gracious. But he really understood the fact that people who are blessed need to give back. And he did it as well as anybody ever did.”

A gifted cook, Staub once owned Rusty’s, a popular Manhattan restaurant known for its ribs.

“If he had a function at his place and 20 people were coming, he’d cook for 40 and he’d give the food away to staff and other people,” Dannhauser said. “That’s just the way he was.”

Well documented is the daunting task Answer The Call tackled immediately after 9-11, when first responder deaths exponentially increased the money suddenly needed for victims’ families.

“We had a tremendous group of volunteers,” Dannhauser said. “And Rusty was right in the middle of it, trying to do anything he could.”

Called Le Grande Orange as a player from his Montreal Expos days, Staub was fun loving but also a man of faith and principle. Some men learned that once on a golf trip with Staub in Florida during Holy Week, which they’d won in a charity auction, preceded by attending church.

“Everybody after communion gets up to leave church,” Dannhauser recalled. “And Rusty puts his arm out and says, ‘We don’t rush God here.’”

Leaving church, Dannhauser says Staub noticed his guest golfers were very chatty.

“He said, ‘Listen, I have one more rule for you. You’ve got a hundred words. You can use them on the first hole, or second hole or wherever. But once you get to a hundred, you’ve got to shut up because you’re driving me crazy. I’m trying to concentrate.’”

Still in the church parking lot, those same men were cursing, lamenting their poor play the day before.

“Rusty stops the car and he says, ‘I have another rule. You have to be at least a hundred yards out of the church parking lot before you can curse.’”

In a tribute video on his charity’s website, answerthecall.org, a teary-eyed Staub says, “It’s an amazing thing to realize that I had such a big hand in doing something that’s so great for this city.

“The truth is, if we don’t have an obligation to these families who have had this ultimate sacrifice to have to live with all their lives, what kind of a community are we? We’ve been able to do this for as long as we have, and we’re trying to make sure that it’s going to be here a long time after I’m gone.”

In failing health during his final months, Staub was struggling and pulled off a golf course in Florida by Dannhauser, his final round ever. Hospitalized and doing poorly, Staub suddenly perked up one night upon reflecting upon Answer The Call, Dannhauser says.

“I’ve had a life filled with blessings,” Dannhauser remembered Staub telling him. “And nothing makes me more proud than the fact that our widows organization will continue. And nothing makes me more proud than thinking about the difference that we’ve made in so many lives.”