The Top 50 Mets of All Time: #43 Joel Youngblood

Originally selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the second round of the 1970 amateur draft, Joel Youngblood was traded to the Mets by the Cardinals on June 15, 1977, in exchange for middle infielder Mike Phillips. The acquisition was mostly an afterthought on a day in which the Mets shockingly unloaded Tom Seaver and Dave Kingman, though it turned out to be a nice little trade for that particular last place team. In an interesting side-note, Youngblood's arrival marked the end of Joe Torre's playing career, as he removed himself from the active roster to make room for Youngblood and became "manager Joe Torre" instead of "player-manager Joe Torre".
Year  Age   PA  XBH  BB  AVG/OBP/SLG   EQA  WARP3   VORP
--------------------------------------------------------
1977   25  197   12  13  253/301/324  .226    1.1   -3.2
1978   26  287   27  16  252/294/436  .270    2.9    9.3
1979   27  665   58  60  275/346/436  .281    6.4   17.6
1980   28  577   36  52  276/340/381  .270    5.9   10.4
1981   29  161   16  12  350/398/531  .324    3.3   14.8
1982   30  216   15   8  257/302/361  .240    0.5   -2.1
Youngblood did little to distinguish himself from the utility player chaff in his first partial season with the Mets in 1977, hitting for very little power and showing unimpressive strike zone judgment, as he walked just thirteen times while whiffing forty times in 197 trips to the plate. He was also just one-for-four in stolen base attempts, so even when he reached base he occasionally did a lousy job of staying there.

Youngblood returned with the Mets in 1978, appearing in 113 games all over the diamond. He played fifty games in the outfield (7, 14 and 33 games in left field, center field and right field, respectively), 39 games at second base, nine games at third and one game at short. Early in the season he was used mostly as a pinch hitter/pinch runner and a late-inning defensive replacement, but he started 41 games from August through October. His batting average and plate discipline didn't improve much in sporadic action, but his slugging percentage improved by more than 100 points as he collected seven homeruns, twelve doubles and eight triples.

After losing his salary arbitration case in February of 1979 (he asked for $91,000 but settled for the Mets' offer of $78,000, still a substantial raise from the $44,000 he earned in 1978), Youngblood headed into the season as a possible candidate for a starting outfielder spot. With Lee Mazzilli entrenched in center field and Steve Henderson starting in left, Youngblood was fighting for playing time in right. He began the regular season on the bench, but when regular right fielder Elliott Maddox jammed his left foot against the outfield wall in an April 12 game against the Phillies, a window of opportunity opened for Youngblood.

Youngblood hit .287/.363/.482 as the regular right fielder from April 15 through July 31, at which point he switched to left field to replace the injured Henderson. He would play the majority of the remainder of the season in left field, but struggled quite a bit at the plate, hitting just .252/.320/.685 the rest of the way. Overall his season was quite productive, though the lack of consistency -- he played one half at an all star level and the other at replacement level -- was definitely discouraging.

Youngblood signed a three-year deal for around $900,000 prior to the 1980 season, a year that saw the Mets experiment with Mazzilli at first base, shifting Youngblood to center early on. He would eventually switch back to right field full time when the Mazzilli experiment ended, and appeared in 21 games at third base and another six at second. He maintained the solid batting and on-base rates he established in 1979, but his power stroke all but disappeared as he managed just 36 extra-base hits all season.

Tired of jumping from position-to-position and eager to shed the "supersub" title which had been affixed to him, Youngblood arrived early to spring camp in 1981 and informed still-manager Joe Torre that he would like to play strictly in the outfield. Torre was non-committal, but when the regular season rolled around Youngblood saw no infield action whatsoever. The outfield suited Youngblood just fine, as he recovered nicely from a brutal April to hit .396/.430/.625 in May before injuring his left knee sliding into third base in a June 6 game at the Astrodome. He was leading the league in hitting with a .359 average, but was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a ligament sprain and was expected to miss two-to-three weeks. Six days later marked the beginning of the 1981 players' strike, a work stoppage that was good for the players in general but bad for Youngblood specifically.

Play resumed on August 9 with the All Star Game, with Youngblood the Mets' sole representative. Despite making his first and only all star appearance, Youngblood had no assurances that he would even have a starting job with the Mets once the break was over. Ellis Valentine had taken over in right field when Youngblood hit the disabled list, and despite uninspiring results at the plate, Youngblood fell victim to his own versatility, as the Mets didn't feel inclined to give him a starting outfield job straight away. He did appear in five games in left field before re-injuring his left knee on August 14 in a game against the Phillies. Expected to only miss a few games, Youngblood was placed on the 15-day disabled list five days later and would wind up missing the remainder of the season.

Youngblood asked for a trade following the 1981 season, and there was some speculation in spring training prior to the 1982 season that he might be shipped to Toronto in exchange for starting pitcher Dave Steib. That deal never materialized, and Youngblood began the year as the Mets' Jack-of-all-trades once again. He was hitting .257/.302/.361 on August 4 when he was shipped to the Expos for Tom Gorman, and wound up making history by becoming the first player to record a hit for two different teams in two different cities on the same day.

Youngblood would finish the season with Montreal before signing with the San Francisco Giants and playing mostly part-time there for six seasons. He finished his career in 1989 as a role-player with the Reds. With the Mets, Youngblood was a nice player for a few years and a great player for one half-season, and there is no telling how he would have finished that 1981 season were it not cut short by injury and labor strife.

Sources

Joel Youngblood at Baseball-Reference.com
Joel Youngblood at Baseball Prospectus

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