NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Mets say former slugger Rusty Staub has died at 73.

The team said in a statement he died Thursday after an illness in a hospital in West Palm Beach, Florida, hours before the start of the baseball season. A team spokesman says the Mets learned of the death from friends of Staub who were with him at the time.

Staub was a six-time All-Star and the only player in major league history to have at least 500 hits with four different teams. The orange-haired outfielder became a huge hit with fans in the U.S. and Canada during a career spanning 23 seasons.

Staub played from 1963 to 1985 and finished 284 hits shy of 3,000. Affectionately dubbed "Le Grand Orange" in Montreal, he broke into the majors as a teenager with Houston, lasted into his 40s with the Mets and spent decades doing charity work in the New York area.