Joel Youngblood

October 5, 2008
“. . . and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old . . .” – Jack Kerouac, On the Road

I can deal with Greats getting old. When I was a kid Old Greats shilled for coffee makers and lite beer on TV and showed up every so often at the ballpark to wave at the crowd, who roared with tears in their eyes at the Old Greats for their glorious pasts and for continuing to elude the grave. I learned that this is what happened to Greats: They became Old Greats. This prepared me for the subsequent graying and balding and widening and stiffening and bejoweling of Greats from my youth such as Seaver and Bench and Reggie and Schmidt. But when a member of the Cardboard God rank and file suddenly shows up out of nowhere looking old or, worse, dies (as, for example, Ed Brinkman did last week) I feel it a lot more intimately than when I see, for example, that Gaylord Perry has no hair.

So if you happen to know what Joel Youngblood looks like these days, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. To me he’ll always be like he is here, his helmet hiding his premature baldness and preserving his look of glowing youth and vitality. I guess he played for several seasons after this 1980 card, lasting all the way until 1989, but to me he was always one of my two or three favorite Mets during that time in the late 1970s when my affection for the Mets was at its height. As I’ve mentioned before, I always followed the Mets intensely for two weeks every summer during visits from Vermont to see my dad in New York. Dad kept his small black and white television in the one closet of his studio apartment, but he let us take it out to watch Mets games, and for some reason I always associate those viewings, the television propped on a wooden chair, my brother and me sitting on big pillows on the floor, Dad at his desk listening to Bach on headphones, his eyes closed, no interest in the game whatsoever, the three of us about as close as we’d ever be, with Joel Youngblood.

In this card Joel Youngblood wears the number 18, a number which, just a few years later, as it festooned the tight mid-’80s uniform of Youngblood’s number heir, would seem to be targeted for sure retirement by the franchise. If you ever sat in Shea and watched Darryl Strawberry blast a home run off the scoreboard in right field you know what I mean. He seemed to have an invincible talent. But nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody, and after years of drug addiction and legal problems for Strawberry the number 18 remains officially eligible for further use by the team.

I think Strawberry showed up last week for the closing of Shea Stadium. I’m not sure if Joel Youngblood did. It looked, just a couple weeks earlier, like the Mets would extend Shea’s lifetime beyond the end of the regular season by banishing the aftertaste of last season’s collapse with some playoff baseball. But you can never count on anything, so Shea’s last moment was not a playoff game but a bittersweet ceremony in the cold dusk featuring a gathering of Old Greats and Old Pretty Goods and Old OKs. The stands must have looked ragged, forlorn, many too disappointed to stay and watch. As the Allen Ginsberg stand-in in Dharma Bums put it, “It all ends in tears.”

* * *

(Note: The Griddle will be doing the game thread for tonight’s Angels-Red Sox game.)


  1. 1.  Poignant but frustrating closing ceremonies…
    Those being two emotions familiar to all Mets fans.

    No Youngblood, but we did get Doug Flynn and Dave Kingman representin’ from those frustrating late ’70s/early ’80s teams.

    And, poignantly, such cult hero-ish non-stars (but Old Greats) as George “Stork” Theodore, Art Shamsky, and Ed Charles.

    I could go on, but I don’t really want to talk about it.
    If you lived and died with the Mets you’ll understand why…

  2. 2.  1 Would you really call those teams “frustrating?” I suppose they were, but I always think of a frustrating team as a team that’s almost good enough to win something. The ’77-’83 Mets just stunk. I guess it started with the Seaver trade and ended with the Hernandez trade. I was always a Yankees fan, but those Mets teams were the first ones I ever saw live, and so I have special affection for them.

    Joel Youngblood is famous for playing for two different teams in a doubleheader, being traded between games.

  3. 3.  2_ .
    I concur…I guess a lot of the frustration stemmed from the fact that that the Yankees were so good, and it seemed as if suddenly EVERYBODY was a Yankee fan, while my loyalty to the Mets was rewarded with brief, unpromising anecdotes about Pete Falcone and Nino Espinosa buried somewhere beneath the Post’s coverage of drag racing and indoor soccer.

    People forget that Youngblood was acquired by the Mets from St. Louis on the same, awful day the franchise traded both Seaver and Kingman.

    We gave up Mike Phillips, and I think we got the best of that deal.

  4. 4.  That’s a beautiful card — one of the best you’ve featured.

  5. 5.  #2, what’s amazing about Youngblood’s 2 games with 2 different teams is that they weren’t playing each other.

    I don’t know how to link stuff(is it just html?), but here’s his game with the Mets vs. the Cubs in Chicago on Aug 4, ’82

    Here’s his game with the Expos Vs. Phillies in Philly on Aug 4, ’82

    What’s amazing is that he got a hit in both games!

  6. 6.  Josh, after the first game I realized I want the Red Sox to lose a whole lot more than I want the Angels to lose.

  7. 7.  My older sister thought Youngblood was cute and never believed me that he was bald. It always frustrated me how he would manager to keep his helmet/hat on the times when she was in the room watching the game with me.

  8. 8.  Ah, Joel Youngblood. Great athlete, tremendous arm, but cursed with versatility: They were always trying to make him play third base when he was really an outfielder. As I recall it he was hitting .350-something in 1981 then got hurt and wouldn’t qualify for the batting crown.

    I didn’t watch the Shea closing ceremony. The Mets have no idea about their own history.

  9. 9.  6 : I can relate. That’s how it’s supposed to be.

  10. 10.  9 With any luck, the Now-Exorcised Rays will beat the White Sox and then thrash whomever they face in the ALCS.

  11. 11.  In the early days of Topps Sticker albums, there wasn’t much innovation going on. Gold/silver foil stickers, and two stickers put side by side to form one big team shot, as in the ’80 World Champion Phillies, was about the extent of it.

    But when Youngblood played in two games for two teams in one day, wow. The gears in the minds of the young bloods at Topps went into overdrive. The result? A two-piece, vertical puzzle featuring a big Joel, and a smaller inset Joel to show him in each uni. Sort of a “pix-in-pix” concept.

  12. 12.  A few weeks back I went to a special “Shea Goodbye” program at the 92nd St. Y in which Darling, Darryl, and Keith spoke with Gary Cohen about Shea and, primarily, what Shea was like in 1986. Among the most interesting comments from the players was that none of them actually saw Mookie’s grounder go through Buckner’s legs live — Keith was smoking in Davey Johnson’s office, watching on TV; Darling had already been sent home to prepare for a possible Game 7; and I can’t remember where Darryl was, but he missed it too.

    The closing ceremonies at Shea were actually pretty cool, as a parade of former Mets walked down either the first-base or third-base line and touched home plate. The Stork and Buddy Harrelson jumped onto the plate, Willie Mays bent down and touched it with one finger, and among the others were Carter, a slim El Cid, Al Jackson, Cleon Jones, Jesse, Wayne Garrett, an obese Rusty Staub, the original Frank Thomas, and a host of others.

    In the end, Seaver and Piazza walked side by side from the plate to the centerfield fence, which they walked through, then closed up, ending another chapter of Mets history.

  13. 13.  12 : “a slim El Cid”


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