It's almost as if the rain lilting down to cancel the Tigers home opener on Thursday were tears for a former Tiger who has moved on to the Field of Dreams.

Former Tiger great Rusty Staub, a delightful personality who punctuated a dark era of the Detroit Tigers with an immense joy for the game, passed away Thursday at the age of 73.

Staub had been suffering from a blood infection from a bout of cellulitis since January. He played 23 years in the major leagues from 1962 until 1985.

Staub gained his first notoriety as an original member of the Montreal Expos when that franchise was born in 1969. He immediately won over the team's French-Canadian fans with his outgoing personality, and they dubbed him with the nickname "L'Grande Orange". Even though he only spent three season with the Expos, they retired his number '10' jersey.

He also spent time in Houston with the Colt .45s (later the Astros), played in the 1973 World Series with the New York Mets, and in 1976 wound up in Detroit, when he was traded for pitching great Mickey Lolich.

Staub mostly was used as a designated hitter with the Tigers, where he cracked 70 home runs in three seasons. The Tigers were rebuilding from glory years of Cash, Kaline and Freehan and suffered through miserable seasons in 1976 and 1977, before putting 88 wins up in 1978, his only winning season in the Motor City under manager Ralph Houk.

Staub also played for the Texas Rangers and had another stint with the Mets to close out his career. He was the only major leaguer to have over 500 hits with four different teams, but he still wound up 284 hits shy of the 3000 hit benchmark.

A big man with a big heart, Staub, along with the eccentric pitcher Mark Fidrych, gave Tigers fans something to cheer about in a dismal era for the team.

Baseball song writer Terry Cashman wrote the song "We'll Remember Rusty (Forever In New York)" about Rusty back in 1981.

Always a larger than life character, Staub was reminiscent of another great, Babe Ruth, with the way he embraced life and looked anything but athletic. A jovial everyman, Staub interacted with fans and spent hours signing autographs and was a great spokesman for the game. He will be missed.

The New York Times obituary put it this way:

A remarkably durable player who hit his first home run at 19 and his last at 41, Staub did not look much like an elite athlete, but he managed to turn a fairly brief stint as one of the game’s true stars into an extended career as a guy who simply knew how to get on base. And while the general public may not have appreciated just how gifted he was in that all-important skill, a survey of fans of the Montreal Expos and the Mets would reveal that many of the people who saw him the most knew just how important he was.

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