Chase Utley, You are the Man

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Wednesday was a bittersweet reminder about the state of modern sports. Rather than one of the greatest players in franchise history donning a Phillies uniform for his entire career, Chase Utley gets shipped to the Dodgers for a pair of C-level prospects in Darnell Sweeney and John Richy. The twist is that this is generally seen as a good move for all parties involved.

Within the past couple months, the Phillies have at long last realized they need to overhaul the roster and restock the farm system. While they’ve made a few good moves, they’re still a couple years away from even thinking about contention. This way, Chase gets to play his last year-plus of baseball in meaningful games for a team with World Series aspirations, rather than slog away for a cellar-dweller. The fact that he gets reunited with double-play partner Jimmy Rollins in LA is a nice bonus.

Second basemen who hit over .280 and average over 20 home runs and 15 stolen bases per year just don’t come along every generation. His peak 5-year stretch from 2005-09 where he hovered around .300 with about 30 home runs per year was nearly unparalleled for the position. While he never won a Gold Glove, (and we could have a whole series of articles on how that’s an imperfect process), Chase always rated highly in advanced defensive metrics. Utley also did the less quantifiable things well, possessing a terrific batting eye and a great sense of timing on the base paths. In fact, it was his heads-up base running which led to Harry Kalas’ famous ‘Chase Utley, you are the man’ line.

Chase’s place in franchise history goes without saying, but just take a look at where he stands within the top-10 for the Phillies in nearly every offensive category: Games Played (8th), Plate Appearances (7th), At-Bats (9th), Walks (10th), Hit-By-Pitch (1st), Hits (9th), Extra Base Hits (7th), Total Bases (6th), Home Runs (6th), Doubles (5th), Sacrifice Flies (2nd), Runs (6th), RBIs (7th).

He won 4-straight silver slugger awards, given to the best offensive 2nd baseman in the National League, and was a 6-time All-Star. He also put forth some memorable postseason performances. Utley went 6-17 with a .522 OBP in the 2008 NLCS against the Dodgers. Then, while he cooled off a bit that following World Series, he still hit two homers in the series and gunned down a guy at home to end the Rays rally in the 7th inning of Game 5.

The next World Series he was even better, hitting 5 home runs in a losing effort to the Yankees in 2009. Even in his final postseason series as a Phillie, Chase went a strong 7-16 in the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals.

More so than what a great player he was, Utley was the heart and soul of the team for a generation of Phillies fans. Hamels only pitched every 5th day, Rollins occasionally said the wrong thing or didn’t hustle down the first-base line, and Howard struck out too much and was then tied down by an albatross contract. Chase was Mr. Reliable on the field, providing steady production from the 3-hole of the line-up and a consistent presence out there at second base. The only time he really popped up off the field was when he and his wife wanted to promote their Animal Foundation. That wholesome image and his good looks only added to the appeal of ‘Saint Chase’ for fans in the tri-state area.

Back when I was still young enough for people to ask me who my favorite player was, Chase Utley was always an easy answer. When I bought my season tickets back in winter of 2007, I decided I needed to buy the cream-colored Utley jersey to go with them, and that’s what I wore most often at games over the next 7 years.

My fiancée, who went months without knowing Michael Carter-Williams was traded despite the fact that I write about the Sixers almost daily, saw Utley was traded on Facebook yesterday and immediately called me to see if I was okay. Yes, I said, I think it was best for everybody. But sometimes what’s best can still feel kind of awful. Thanks for everything, Chase.

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