Remembering Joel Youngblood’s Crazy Day

With Juan Uribe and Alberto Callaspo traded for each other with their old and new teams in the middle of a three-game series, my mind began to wander to the legendary Joel Youngblood.

Youngblood played 14 seasons in the big leagues for the New York Mets, San Francisco Giants, Cincinnati Reds, Montreal Expos, and St. Louis Cardinals. He was primarily a right-fielder, but he played every defensive position except pitcher and at least 150 games at four different positions.

In the context of Major League Baseball players, Youngblood was nothing special. He batted .265/.329/.392 in 4,078 career plate appearances, good for a .721 OPS and 103 OPS+.

In his career, Youngblood faced 14 future Hall of Fame pitchers and got at least one hit against 13 of them — he went 0-for-9 against Goose Gossage. His batting line in his 311 plate appearances against Hall of Famers was actually better than his overall line: .304/.357/.452 for an .809 OPS.

The Hall of Famer Youngblood faced the most, by a wide margin, was Steve Carlton, against whom Youngblood went 27-for-82 with five home runs for an .887 OPS. He batted against Fergie Jenkins only seven times, going 2-for-6 with a double and a walk.

But once upon a time, on August 4, 1982, Youngblood faced — and singled off of — both Carlton and Jenkins on the same day. As you probably know, Carlton and Jenkins were both starting pitchers, and they were never teammates. Youngblood had to accomplish his rare feat the hard way, with 769 miles between the two hits.

The day started with Youngblood’s Mets taking on the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field for a day game on a beautiful 72-degree afternoon. Jenkins started for the Cubs, and he struck out Youngblood to end the top of the first inning. Two innings later, with the game tied 1-1, Youngblood came up with the bases loaded and one out and singled to the left-center field gap to score Wally Backman and Craig Swan. This put the Mets up 3-1, and they would not relinquish the lead, going on to beat Jenkins and the Cubs 7-4.

Youngblood did not see the end of the game, though. In the top of the fourth, as the Mets were adding two more runs on a home run by the pitcher Swan with Hubie Brooks on third base, Mets manager George Bamberger informed Youngblood that he had been traded to the Expos. They were playing a road game against the Philadelphia Phillies that night, so Youngblood immediately set out to meet his new team at Veterans Stadium.

By the time Youngblood reached Philadelphia, his new number 25 powder-blue Expos jersey was ready and waiting for him. (He had worn number 18 with the Mets, but that number was already in use by Expos outfielder Jerry White.) In the bottom of the sixth inning, with the Expos leading the Phillies 3-2, Youngblood took over for White in right field and watched the Phillies score three runs to take a 5-3 lead. In the top of the seventh, Youngblood came to the plate with two outs for his ninth plate appearance against Carlton in 1982 and his 52nd in his career and hit an infield single up the middle that was knocked down by second baseman Manny Trillo.

He was already only the third player to play for two different teams on the same day — on May 30, 1922, Cliff Heathcote and Max Flack had been traded for each other between games of a doubleheader between the Cubs and Cardinals — but he became the first player ever to get a hit for two teams in one day. (Flack and Heathcote had both gone hitless in the first game of the doubleheader in 1922.)

Flack, Heathcote, and Youngblood remain the only three players to play for two different teams in one day, but Youngblood stands alone in his accomplishment of actually getting a hit for both teams. That both hits came off of Hall of Famers is just icing on the cake.

With the relative dearth of doubleheaders in today’s game, it seems unlikely that anyone will take the Flack/Heathcote route to playing for two teams in one day, and Youngblood’s was such a rare turn of events that it seems unlikely to be replicated. And that is how a relatively obscure outfielder set one of the most unlikely records in baseball history.

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