So Long, Mr. Utley

I hesitate to write about Philadelphia sports here because my partner in crime is a New York fan (Mets, Rangers, Jets, Knicks). But since I just learned that John Muether was at the game in Philadelphia last night where Chase Utley may have put on a Phillies uniform for the last time, all restraint is off.

This has been a bad year for Phillies fans. It’s not as if we haven’t been here before. After all, the Phillies have the most losses of any team in professional sports. The problem is that for a brief time, between 2008 and 2010, Phillies fans were tempted to think that a new era had dawned. This was going to be a time when the Phillies vied with the Yankees and Red Sox for talent and post-season victories. And so the organization doled out all sorts of money on pitching talent, all the while forgetting that the starting rotation for the 2008 World Champion Phillies was Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer, and Brett Myers. BRETT FRIGGIN’ MYERS!!! If you can win with one lefty that gets hot in the playoffs, then why not keep adding bats to your line-up and forget pitching.

One of the Phillies’ big bats was Chase Utley who now will play with former Phillie, Jimmy Rollins, for the Los Angeles Dodgers (a team that haunts any Phillies fan from the 1970s who had to endure that rain-soaked Dodgers defeat of Steve Carlton while the commissioner of baseball — Bowie Kuhn — looked on and refused to call the game). I had the pleasure of meeting Chase Utley in January of 2006 while both of us waited for a plane at LAX. Of course, he was seated in first class. I wasn’t sure whether to acknowledge his presence; as a fifty-year old man I didn’t think being a star-struck fan would necessarily be fitting. But I summoned up some courage, went over to Chase who was seated with his wife, stuck out my hand and while shaking his said, “Mr. Utley, I hope you stick around with the team.” That was a time when contract negotiations were ongoing and he subsequently signed a seven-year deal.

I should be sadder to see him go. I did enjoy the way he played the game and kept it at that. The sports-talk station in Philadelphia to which I listen (and that drives the missus nuts) has a fairly moving audio montage of Utley’s career. It did bring back some great memories.

But the truth is, I have felt like Utley has been gone for a while now. He has had at least three injury prone seasons and has not played at the level that characterized his early career. If truth be told, I wish Chase would have retired at least two years ago so that fans would not have to see him in decline. Here the gold standard for me as a Phillies fan is Mike Schmidt. In 1989, seemingly out of the blue, Schmidt retired only forty games into a season when he was only batting .203 but still had the hotter months, when he generally flourished, ahead of him. But because he could not perform up to his own perfectionist standards, he stepped down.

I sort of wish Utley would do that. I’m sad to see him leave Philadelphia. I’ve been even sadder to see him get old.

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39 thoughts on “So Long, Mr. Utley

  1. Yeah, but did you happen to catch that July 25 game where Hamels pitched a no-hitter against the hapless Cubs (who incidentally were swept by Philly during that 3-game series)? So impressed was the Cubs play-by-play radio announcer, Pat Hughes, that by the 7th inning it was difficult to tell which team he was rooting for. In fact, many Cub fans in the stands were applauding Cole’s work that day. Now THAT’S baseball at its finest!

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  2. D.G.,
    I understand the feelings expressed. I experienced those feelings for the first time when the Phillies traded away Johnny Callison. Watching him deliver in the clutch along with watching the then Richie Allen hit a home run out of Connie Mack stadium are two memories that will stay with me for life.

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  3. 1975 world series…
    I was in 8th grade…
    My best friend was a Reds fan…
    I was a die hard Red Sox fan…
    Our other friend was a Phillies/ Mike Schmidt fan.

    When the series was all over, I dreaded going to school the next morning; I was traumatized.

    My best friend was extremely merciful and shook my hand…
    I was greatly relieved that there would be no ribbing…
    My Phillies friend silently stood by, witnessing the moment.
    Then we all sat down and ate breakfast.

    Baseball is great. Yet painful.

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  4. Rarely do you see a player play for one team as many years as he did. Not sure what use the LAD are going to get out of him. At least for Chase it looks like he’ll maybe finish his career in his hometown?

    “Made up my mind to make a new start, Going To California with an aching in my heart”
    – Led Zeppelin, “Going to California”

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  5. In 1989, seemingly out of the blue, Schmidt retired only forty games into a season when he was only batting .203 but still had the hotter months, when he generally flourished, ahead of him. But because he could not perform up to his own perfectionist standards, he stepped down.

    I sort of wish Utley would do that. I’m sad to see him leave Philadelphia. I’ve been even sadder to see him get old.

    He thinks he has some baseball left in him and it certainly wouldn’t do to have him sit around and watch his lesser successor Cesar Hernandez.

    FTR, Schmidt said he didn’t walk away from very much money, whereas Utley’s still owed $4M or so just for the remaining 40 games. In that respect at least, it’s a different ballgame.

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  6. Curt, well, Dick Allen’s departure and nothing in return — thank YOU Curt Flood — was my first encounter with the hell that is Philadelphia sporting life.

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  7. D. G. Hart
    Posted August 20, 2015 at 4:25 pm | Permalink
    vd, t, say it ain’t so. Chase playing for the money?

    I think he wants to play. He could have refused the trade and sat on the bench and watched the kids play for the money. But playing for the money beats watching for the money.

    But no, he wasn’t going to walk away from the money, as Schmidt did. $4M for sitting on your ass? Hell, we do it for free!

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  8. Darryl, maybe we Phillies’ fans have had to live with a lot of loss, but we have the comfort of belonging to the warmest, most consistently supportive, and positive fans anywhere! Just ask Allen and Schmidt…

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  9. You Phillies fans had the rare privilege of seeing the man who I consider to be the most dominant left handed pitcher to ever play. I saw Carlton at least a dozen times in the 70’s, including 1972, in Atlanta Stadium, so it was easy to get a seat just a few rows behind home plate. His slider was, consistently, essentially unhittable, even by good right handed hitters. When he was on– and I think I only saw him get hit hard a time or two– it was obvious from batters facial expressions and body language that they really would just as soon have not been in the lineup. The only other pitcher I have seen who so intimidated hitters before they even got in the box was Bob Gibson.

    Utley is a fine ballplayer. Hope he has something left in the tank, I suspect he does

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  10. I don’t know about greats wanting to continue. Keith Hernandez the other night was talking about his last year in Cleveland and how he knew he couldn’t play the game anymore after a few weeks and was miserable because he had just signed a three year deal. He packed it in in late July.

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  11. Dan, that was the one of the few times that the Phils got the better of the deal. Maybe the Cards took Rick Wise to make up for the Curt Flood-Dick Allen snafu.

    One of my few brushes with greatness was waiting on Carlton at Frog restaurant. It was a trendy place back in the early 80s, he and Larry Christiansen came back early from the road for a home series, and I got their table.

    Never met Schmidt or Allen, though if not for another event, I could have heard Allen speak at a Kennett Square sports club back in 2005.

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  12. ADD made me think of Pedro in his prime. I’ve never seen a pitcher mesmerize such body language into hitters. It was like “I know I’m not getting a hit…I knew I wouldn’t get a hit.”

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  13. Never came close to meeting or even walking by any sports heroes. Shook hands with Brubeck one time and walked by Michael Douglas. Other than that, the only famous people I’ve met are activists.

    However, we did have a student at WTS when I was there who did resemble Mike Schmidt. In the student orientation softball game, he hit two hard comebackers to Clair Davis who was pitching. He then worried about what his church history grade would be.

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  14. The paradox of getting every game available that I want on TV and radio and I find myself watching about 1.2 games a day (with a PVR) and not remembering a thing about great careers like Utley, Chipper Jones, Biggio and the like in the NL.

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  15. DGG, the trade for Rick Wise looked more even at the time. I saw Carlton once or twice when he was with the Cards, and if he threw a slider, it was nothing like the one he came up with in 1972.

    In 1982, the Atlanta Braves had an old timers game honoring the 1957 world champion 1957 Milwaukee Braves. The fan club had a luncheon in their honor at one of the hotels. All of the team members were seated towards the front, and we (my mother, dad and I, two friends from law school days, and a man from Long Island who, like me, was seven years old that magic year and had brought his teenage son to see the players he had heard about all his life) were seated at a table in the back with an empty chair or two. Just as they were starting to serve the meal, up walks Lou Burdette and asks “Mind if I sit here?” My mother, who had no earthly idea whose presence she was in, was the only one who had the presence of mind to say “you would be more than welcome.”. Very personable guy, still coy about whether or not he threw a spitter.

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  16. DGH, yes, but with the other players at the front of the room. I had met him long enough to get his autograph, first in 1961 when my Dad took me to Cincinnati for a four game series between the Braves and the Reds– my first live MLB exposure. Got him to autograph a ball later on in Atlanta. He and Burdette were my favorites.

    My relationship with my father was by no means immune to the normal stresses that happen when boys are becoming young men, but baseball kept us very close until he died in 1985. The pleasure I get from the game today (which is considerable) pales in comparison to the times we shared.

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  17. Burdette’s contribution to ecumenical relations:

    “If I made any motion to my mouth,” he continued, “they became suspicious. So I’d go through my ritual, going to my hat and then crossing my chest. I got so many Catholic medals and Sacred Heart medals in the mail. I had a whole drawer of mementos which fans sent to me ‘from one good Catholic to another.’ I was a Southern Baptist.”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/07/sports/baseball/07burdette.html?_r=0

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  18. From the Tiger side, I’m happy that Utley rose in the Phils organization as it made Placido Polanco expendable back in 2005 with the Phils gaining in return… drum roll… Ugie Urbina.

    I fell in love with Polanco shortly after the Tigers got him as he hit a walk-off HR vs. the Giants on Father’s Day 2005. He spent a solid five years in Detroit with his best season being 2007 when he collected 200 hits, batted .341, and fielded 1.000 at second base. Though the Tigers would eventually lose him back to the Phils, it was Utley’s emergence that allowed him to become a Tiger. Credit Dave Dombrowski for a killer trade that helped build a pennant winner as the Tigers surprised everyone by reaching the Series in 2006.

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  19. And I’m not happy BTW that Dombrowski is in Boston.

    Feel your pain about Utley.. Carlos Guillen was a Tiger equivalent strictly with respect to the injuries. He came the year before Polly but after a few .320 seasons followed by three or so years of injuries one of his last moments of glory was glaring back at Jered Weaver, spitting after launching a go-ahead homer off of him. Weav was ticked thinking that Magglio Ordonez showboated circling the bases on an earlier homer, and completely came unglued as he threw at the next batter’s head and got tossed. Carlos was a totally classy ballplayer otherwise. At this point you may say ‘whatever’ again.

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  20. Dan, from one of the comments:

    I don’t want my post to get deleted, so I can’t use the words I really wanna use for Chase Utley. That was a bush league dirty slide, I don’t care what anyone says. It was a very late slide, and he didn’t even make an attempt to touch 2nd base. Utley better watch out the next time he comes to the plate, that’s all I can say.

    No worry. Utley won’t be in the line-up.

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  21. Borderline but in. Umps reviewed it. Could have called automatic DP if they thought he went out of basepath. He will play. Already was on agenda to review the rule during off season.

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  22. Predictable. The wussification of America marches on.

    BTW, early this year, Met David Murphy goes even farther out on Dodger SS Jimmy Rollins.

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  23. More a NY baseball writers/commentators induced frenzy. Interesting to see if the Players Association steps up. Given that it was already on the agenda to collectively bargain changing the rules to give more protection to the middle infielders, this seems anticipatory. If Marvin Miler was still around, he’d say “No Utley, no playoffs.”

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  24. it was not on the sabbath

    What do the Jesuits say about watching on other days professionals who play/work on the sabbath?

    if the magistrate is to enforce both tables, he needs clergy to tell him the rules/ application

    Crawford Gribben —This reading of Rutherford’s Free Disputation, set in the context of its times, challenges any idea that the modern, politically passive Presbyterian main- stream can be identified with the theology of the Westminster Confession. Rutherford’s commitment to shaping an entirely Presbyterian world, where public deviations from orthodox faith or practice should be met with the most severe of legal consequences, is a world away from the political complacency of modern evangelicalism and the self- justifying myth it sponsors of pluralistic benevolence ,,,,

    “Samuel Rutherford and Freedom of Conscience,” Westminster Theological Journal, 2009, 372

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  25. (A different) Dan
    Posted October 11, 2015 at 10:22 pm | Permalink
    More a NY baseball writers/commentators induced frenzy. Interesting to see if the Players Association steps up.

    The wussocracy–and quite right, the East Coast chattering class elite.

    One broken leg in since 1875 and now we need slide control.

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  26. TVD, the rule was going to change anyway. Player safety=$ when long term contracts, free agency and arbitration get involved, plus the fact that middle infielders now comprise a lot of baseballs younger rising stars. Long term, it is all about the Benjamins. Short term, it is a function of the MLB offices being in NY where what they hear every waking moment is the voice of the herd.

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