There was no way Joel Youngblood was leaving his glove behind. Even if Youngblood, showered and wearing a suit after being traded to Montreal, already had started the baseball odyssey that would lead him to a quirky place in the game’s lore.
So he told the cabbie taking him to O’Hare Airport in Chicago to turn around. Back to Wrigley Field to grab the only glove Youngblood ever used in his 14-year MLB career, a Rawlings XPG Fastback. “I couldn’t break in another glove the way this one felt,” Youngblood says now. “I still have it.”
The Mets were still playing the Cubs and his glove was sitting where he left it, on a concrete ledge in the visiting dugout, along the stairs to the field. He grabbed it, waved to his now-former teammates and ran back to the waiting cab.
Forty years ago Thursday, Youngblood caught his flight and the rest is baseball history. The Mets dealt Youngblood to the Expos in the middle of an afternoon game at Wrigley — Youngblood had already hit a two-run single in the third inning — and he joined the Expos during their night game in Philadelphia.
Fresh off airline food for dinner, Youngblood singled in the seventh inning, making him the only player in Major League Baseball history to get a hit for two different teams in two different cities on the same day. Adding to the feat: the hits came off two future Hall of Famers, Fergie Jenkins and Steve Carlton.
“I don’t think anybody realized how unique it was at the time,” says Mookie Wilson, Youngblood’s Mets teammate. “I knew he went to the Expos, but I didn’t realize he then got a hit off Steve Carlton in Philly. Two Hall of Famers. Yeah, that is weird. I never really thought about that.
“That is incredible.”
The 1982 Mets, who finished 65-97 under George Bamberger, were in transition mode, their mid-80s glory only on the horizon. “To be honest, it was a little chaotic,” Wilson recalls.
GM Frank Cashen had traded Lee Mazzilli for Ron Darling and Walt Terrell and players such as Wilson and Wally Backman were emerging. Youngblood, then 30, was an All-Star in 1981 when he batted .350 in an injury-shortened season, but the Mets always seemed to pick someone else for full-time gigs at third base or the outfield.
That day in Chicago, Youngblood, a free-agent-to-be, was yanked off the on-deck circle. Bamberger told him he had been traded to the Expos for a player to be named later, which eventually became pitcher Tom Gorman.
The manager added this: “They want you to get to Philadelphia. They’re short of players.”
So Wilson replaced him in center field and Youngblood hit the showers, packed, paid his incidentals at the hotel and headed to the airport, with the detour to get his glove. After picking up his Rawlings, Youngblood had about an hour to catch his 6:05 p.m. flight. He told the driver, “Get me there and I’ll give you a great tip.
“It was $50. Or $100. I’m not sure,” Youngblood says, laughing. “He got me there.”
Soon after he arrived at Veterans Stadium, he was in uniform and sitting on the dugout stairs. Then he heard, “Youngblood, you’re up.”
Lucky for Youngblood, Carlton was pitching. Few, if any, hitters ever said that during their careers, considering Carlton is one of the greatest pitchers who ever lived. But Youngblood had taken dozens of at-bats against Carlton as a minor-leaguer with Cincinnati.
The Reds and Phillies had spring training camps near each other in Florida. When Carlton was scheduled to start in spring training but the Phils were going on the road, he would skip the trip and go to the Reds’ complex and face minor-leaguers. “He probably struck me out 50 times there, so I knew what I couldn’t hit,” Youngblood says. “The down-and-in slider, do not swing. It’s unhittable.”
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In 82 at-bats, Youngblood batted .329 with five homers against Carlton. That night, he hit a grounder toward the middle for a historic infield single. But, Youngblood says, “I didn’t even think anything about it at the time.
“The next morning, I was getting phone calls from writers. What happened? Call me when I get four home runs! I didn’t do anything spectacular. When you look back, everything had to fall into place.”
And it might never happen again. Nowadays, more players take a day or two to report to their new teams, which was evident at this past MLB trade deadline. Youngblood raced to join the Expos because they needed him.
“The only way it could be duplicated is if the player is on the road,” Youngblood adds. “If I was playing at home, I would’ve gone home. No one [family] is staying there if you’re on the road, so that’s an incentive to go.”
Youngblood will turn 71 later this month. He’s retired from baseball — his playing career lasted 21 years overall and finished with a .265 average in the majors with five teams over 14 years. He hit 80 home runs and had a .721 OPS. He was a coach for 27 years, including 11 with the Diamondbacks.
All these years later, he’s delighted to talk about his unusual feat, which was commemorated on a 1983 Fleer baseball card that shows him in both uniforms. Two tickets from the Expos-Phillies game are preserved at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, marking the moment.
“I’ll always be remembered for something,” Youngblood says. “I love the game. I was a lifer.”