Chase Utley, No Longer a Phillie
Well, the player who most fans would name as the heart and soul of the recent Phillies Golden Age has moved on, traded to the Dodgers. Most people knew it was going to happen, especially when he caught fire at the plate after his return from the DL. Because of this, I wanted to have a post ready to go when the Phillies and Utley did go through with the trade, but I was on vacation when it happened with no time to write anything. Jim Salisbury, as usual, did a fine job in his Utley farewell piece. I don’t know what more I can really say, but I will try.
One thing that seemed to bother people about Chase Utley was the “pass” he seemed to have gotten from the fans here. In other words, Utley was rarely, if ever, booed in a town that is known for doing that, even to its star players. And, really, it was true. You almost never heard someone boo Utley, or maybe even more rare, you almost never heard a called slam him on talk radio. Why, exactly, was Utley so loved in Philadelphia? Part of the reason, I think, is that the fans got the impression that no one worked harder at his craft than Utley, something Salisbury alludes to in his article. In an era where some people have questioned the need or utility in running every ball out, especially when that player is a veteran, Utley did that. But it can’t just be that, because there have been other players who were known to be hard workers, but were booed unmercifully. One name that comes to mind is Pat Burrell. However, it does seem like Utley’s work ethic and approach to the game was at a level that is rarely seen. He was very well-respected by other players and ex-players, too.
So what else? It’s interesting that so many fans had such a strong affinity for Utley when he almost never showed any emotion on the field or even in interviews. Philly fans tend to like players to show emotion. The only other player that is on the same level as Utley in terms of fan devotion is Brian Dawkins, the legendary Eagles safety, and he was all about showing emotion. Mike Schmidt never showed much emotion and he had a combative relationship with the fans until the end of his career. However, unlike Schmidt and some other players, he never publicly criticized the fans, so that could be a part of it too. On the other end of the spectrum, an overly emotional player like Gregg Jeffries was criticized by the fans for just that reason. He was known for slamming his helmet down on the ground every time he made an out (which was quite often during his time in Philadelphia). So Utley was able to be cool, but still able to connect with the fans. While there were times I wanted him to argue balls and strikes (even giving the umpire a look was rare for him), I also liked how he never blamed anything or anyone for a poor performance. While some players would roll their eyes after a called third strike, that’s not something Utley would do.
Lastly, and probably most importantly, Utley was a very good player and was part of a World Series team. Being humble about his success helped, too. You can be hard-working, but not produce and the fans aren’t going to like you. More than two years ago, I argued that Utley could be approaching a Hall of Fame level, an idea recently confirmed by the well-known statistics website, Fivethirtyeight. Along with being an excellent player, Utley did some things that elevated him to an almost mythical status. The original “Chase Utley you are the man” play was probably the start , but then you have the fake-to-first-throw-to-home play in the 2008 World Series, and then the five home runs in the 2009 World Series, too. You can watch all of those below. And here are some audio highlights to listen to.
So, if you can’t tell by now, there really isn’t any easy answer to why Chase Utley was so beloved by the fans. He was my favorite Phillie. It was a combination of factors and all the cosmic tumblers clicked into place for him, to paraphrase Field of Dreams, to make him possibly the most popular Philly athlete of all time. A combination of skill, work ethic, humility, team success and notable moments. And maybe some luck too. I still think Utley has something left. I think that showed when he came back from the DL. His short swing will be an advantage for him as he continues to age as it may compensate for lost bat speed. If he can pad his career numbers, he just may wind up in the Hall of Fame.
Chase Utley, you are the man:
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Fake to first, throw home:
Utley in 2009 World Series