It was impossible for Joel Youngblood to leave his gauntlet behind. Even if Youngblood, who showered and wears a suit after being traded to Montreal, has already begun a baseball journey that will lead him to an exotic place in the game’s lore.
So he told the taxi driver who took him to O’Hare Airport in Chicago to turn around. Head back to Wrigley Field for the only glove Youngblood has ever used in his 14-year MLB career, the Rawlings XPG Fastback. “I couldn’t break another glove the way this felt,” Youngblood says now. “I still have it.”
The Mets were still playing with the cubs and his mitts were sitting where he left him, on a concrete ledge in the visitor’s lair, along the stairs to the field. He grabbed her, waved to his former teammates, and returned to the waiting cabin.
Forty years ago, Thursday, Youngblood boarded his journey and the rest is baseball history. The Mets handed Youngblood to the Expos in the middle of an afternoon game at Wrigley—Youngblood had already hit a single in the third inning—and joined the Expos during their night game in Philadelphia.
Youngblood made fresh food for dinner, in the seventh inning, making him the only player in Major League Baseball history to have two different teams in two different cities on the same day. Adding to this achievement: hit songs came from two future Hall of Famers, Fergie Jenkins and Steve Carlton.
“I don’t think anyone realized how special he was at the time,” says Youngblood’s Mets teammate Mookie Wilson. “I knew he went to the Expos, but I didn’t realize he got hit by Steve Carlton in Philly. Two Hall of Famers. Yeah, that’s weird. I never thought about that.”
“This is incredible.”
1982 Mets, who finished 65-97 under George Bamberger, were in transition mode, their mid-1980s glory only on the horizon. “Honestly, it was a bit messy,” Wilson recalls.
GM Frank Kashin had replaced Lee Mazzili with Braun Darling and Walt Terrell and players like Wilson and Wally Bachmann were in the making. Youngblood, then 30, was an All-Star in 1981 when he hit the 0.350 in a season short on injury, but the Mets always seem to pick someone else for their full-time gigs at third base or off the field.
On that day in Chicago, Youngblood, the free agent, was snatched from a circle on the deck. Bamberger told him he was traded at Expos for a player to be named, who eventually became bowler Tom Gorman.
The manager added this: “They want you to come to Philadelphia. They lack players.”
So Wilson replaced him at center field, Youngblood hit the shower, packed up, paid his petty cash at the hotel and headed to the airport, turning around to get his glove. After picking up Rawlings, Youngblood had about an hour to catch his 6:05 p.m. flight. He said to the driver, “Bring me there and I will give you great advice.
“It was $50. or $100. I’m not sure,” Youngblood says with a laugh. “He got me there.”
Shortly after arriving at the Veterans Stadium, he put on his uniform and sat on the hidden stairs. Then he heard, “Youngblood, you’re awake.”
Lucky for Youngblood, Carlton touts. Few, if any, hitters have said so during their careers, considering Carlton to be one of the greatest hitters who ever lived. But Youngblood took dozens of bats against Carlton as a junior player with Cincinnati.
The Reds and Phillies have set up spring training camps near each other in Florida. When Carlton was due to start spring training but Phils was on the road, he would skip the trip and go into the Reds compound and face some young players. “Maybe he bumped me 50 times there, so I knew what I couldn’t hit,” Youngblood says. “Scroll bar down and in, don’t swing. It’s unbeatable.”
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At 82 at-bats, Youngblood fought .329 with five House Keepers against Carlton. That night, he crashed violently toward the middle of a historical single. But Youngblood says, “I didn’t think of anything at the time.
“The next morning, I got phone calls from the writers. What happened? Call me when I get my four home runs! I haven’t done anything amazing. When you look back, everything has to fall into place.”
It may not happen again. Nowadays, more players are taking a day or two to report to their new teams, which was evident in the previous MLB swap deadline. Youngblood raced to join the Expos because they needed him.
“The only way to replicate it is if the player is on the road,” Youngblood adds. “If I was playing at home, I would go home. Nobody [family] Staying there if you’re on the road, that’s an incentive to go.”
Youngblood will turn 71 later this month. He retired from baseball – his playing career lasted 21 years overall and finished averaging 0.265 in the majors with five teams over 14 years. He hit 80 house throws and had a 0.721 OPS. He was a coach for 27 years, including 11 years with the Diamondbacks.
All these years later, he’s happy to talk about his extraordinary achievement, which was celebrated on the 1983 Flair baseball card showing him in both uniforms. Two tickets from the Expos-Phillies are kept at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, marking the moment.
“I will always remember something,” Youngblood says. “I love the game. I was a forever.”