Joel Youngblood: No Respect

Today in New York Mets History: August 4, 1982 – Former New York Met Joel Youngblood became the first player in Major League history to get a base hit for two different teams in two different cities in the same day. He started the day as a New York Met and collected a two-run single off Ferguson Jenkins in the third inning at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs. Youngblood was notified he was traded to the Montreal Expos in the fourth inning. He grabbed his bats, left the ballpark and caught a flight to Philadelphia in time for the Expos-Phillies game. He pinch-hit in the seventh inning and singled off Steve Carlton.

Joel Youngblood played for six teams over his 14-year Major League Baseball career – including two in one day. It happened 30 years ago today on August 4, 1982; Youngblood’s longest, and in an odd way, his most productive day, as a major league player.

It started as a seemingly “normal” day in the life of a professional ballplayer. Youngblood woke up on that Wednesday morning in Chicago, a member of the New York Mets. This was 1982, before Wrigley Field installed lights. So the Mets and Cubs were scheduled to start at 2:10 p.m. He was at the park taking batting practice at 9:00 a.m. When then Mets manager George Bamberger posted the lineup card, Youngblood perked up when he saw his name starting in center field.

Starting was a day-to-day proposition for Youngblood during his six-year tenure in New York. It didn’t  matter who his manager was — Joe Torre or Bamberger — Youngblood would find himself at second base one day, right field or third base another and pinch-hitter the next day. He played six different positions during his time with the Mets. He hated the role. To him, utility meant uncertainty. But, for Torre, Youngblood was “a manager’s dream.”

“Don’t tell me, ‘You’re too good to start,’” he told Torre. “I don’t want to hear it. “What do I have to do? I’ve sat on the pine before. I want to play.”

Youngblood became so proficient as a utility player he was named to the National League All-Star team in 1981. Of course, that decision was out of necessity because, as All-Star rules go, each team has to have at least one representative. While he was not a regular in the Mets 1981 lineup he was the best of an otherwise slim crop of talent.

“Everybody talks about mental preparation in this game,” Youngblood told Sports Illustrated before the 1982 season. “Well, for so long I didn’t know where I was playing, what I was playing, if I was playing. So I told Joe I didn’t want to play third. I’m not comfortable at that position. I don’t even want balls to be hit to me when I’m in the infield. Joe said, ‘O.K.’ And he said I wouldn’t get to play very much.”

And, so it was. On Opening Day 1982 Youngblood was on the bench and rookie Mookie Wilson was in right field.

Youngblood suffered from poor timing. He arrived in the smallest of three infamous “Midnight Massacre” trades on June 15, 1977 included three trades: Tom Seaver to Cincinnati for Pat ZachryDoug Flynn, Steve Henderson and Dan Norman. The second: Dave Kingman to San Diego for Bobby Valentine. The third: Mike Phillips to St. Louis for Youngblood. His exit from New York was equally as awkward.

Youngblood then started in center field in place the injured Mookie Wilson. In the third inning, he singled home two runs off Ferguson Jenkins, giving the Mets a 3-1 lead in a game they would go on to win 7-4. Meanwhile, Frank Cashen was 750 miles away in Little Falls, New York, trying to complete a trade that would send Youngblood to the Montreal Expos.

”We hoped to make the deal by game time,” Cashen told the New York Times the day after the trade. ”But there was a phone circuit problem, and we couldn’t complete it. Bamberger asked me what to do with Youngblood, and I told him to go ahead and start him, we’d take a chance on his getting hurt.”

With the Cubs batting in the bottom of the third, and Youngblood patrolling center field, Cashen called the visitors dugout at Wrigley Field. When the inning ended Bamberger cornered Youngblood and told him he’d been traded to the Expos.

He packed his bats and left Chicago. He arrived at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia as the Expos and Phillies game was starting. He was inserted in the lineup in the seventh inning against Steve Carlton and delivered a pinch-hit single in the Expos 5-4 loss. The day started at 9:00 a.m. in Chicago and ended 14 hours later, at 11:00 p.m., in Philadelphia.

“With a flight, two games, it was a really long day,” he told the New York Daily News year later.

Youngblood became only the third player in history to play in two games with two different teams on the same day, but he also became the first and only player in major league history to play in two games in two cities and collect hits for both teams. He put an exclamation point on the feat by collecting hits against two future Hall of Fame pitchers (Jenkins and Carlton).

Respect.

Comment (01)

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    April 11, 2019

    Joel Youngblood was a fun player with a cannon arm who had the knack of getting key hits late in the game. The Mets of his tenure did not get a lot of key hits at crucial moments, so if anybody did it was often Youngblood or maybe catcher John Stearns. Both played hard-nosed baseball and never acted like losing was accepted. Expected? Sure. Accepted? No.

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