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.