In a time where more often than not, players are in passing more than in place, Chase Utley was Philadelphia’s constant. He was an identifiable presence, although from a much different place, but one who became synonymous with the greatest era of Phillies’ baseball, while naturally embodying everything that the city he made his baseball home embodied.
Now a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers and chasing a chance to play in another World Series, these are words from our Philly brethren, who lived, died and lived again on the second baseman’s every double and double play. – Matt Whitener
When I was a kid, I owned a VHS called “The History of Baseball.” It was an MLB-produced documentary that covered the history of the game from 1869-1993, a very poor man’s Ken Burns’ “Baseball.”
At any rate, one scene from my thousands of viewings of this tape stood out. Joe Morgan, the Cincinnati Reds Hall-of-Famer turned ridiculed broadcaster, assesses the greatness of Pete Rose by basically saying he wasn’t very good at anything. I’m paraphrasing here, but Morgan’s pontification went something like this: Pete Rose was not a great player. He could not hit for power, he didn’t have a strong arm and he couldn’t run fast — but he always ran as fast as he could. But if you look at all of those things together, he was great.
In other words, Rose was the consummate ballplayer even if he was obviously flawed. I feel the same way about Chase Utley. He has an ugly, short swing that produces tremendous power. He throws with a herky-jerk motion, using all his might to even get the ball to first base. He runs like there’s a foot of snow on the ground, kicking his knees high and pumping his arms around the bases.
And yet, like Rose, Utley is great. It’s surely been beaten into your skull by this point (I’ve added to it as well), but I’ll reiterate for old time’s sake that baseball is a sport of failure. The best players exploit the little wrinkles that the game allows. For Rose, it was his insatiable drive epitomized by his barreling into Ray Fosse, breaking the catcher’s collarbone, to score the winning run in the 1970 All-Star Game. For Utley, it’s his unrivaled acumen.
Take 2009, for example. Utley put together a typical Utley season. He hit 31 home runs, drove in 93 and slugged .508. But two stats in particular jump out — Utley led the league in hit-by-pitches for a third consecutive year, and he stole 23 bases without being caught. It was a perfect reminder of what we all knew about the greatest second baseman in Phillies history. At his peak, he figured out more ways to beat an opponent than any other player in baseball. And he always gave full effort, even when rounding the bases after a home run.
Rose said he’d walk through hell in a gasoline suit to play baseball. Utley would sprint. — Dillon Friday
In 2008, the Phillies were back in the World Series for the first time since 1993. There hadn’t been a championship in Philadelphia since 1983, and the city was ready to erupt. The Phillies jumped to a 3-1 series lead and were poised to end the drought in front of their home fans. In a tied Game 5, Utley made one of the iconic plays of his career.
With the go-ahead run on second base, a ground ball was hit up the middle. Chase ranged to his right, fielded the ball and pump-faked a throw to first base, goading Tampa Bay’s Jason Bartlett to break for home. Utley fired to the plate to nail Bartlett and keep the game tied.
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The Phillies went on to win the game and clinch their second World Series title, and without Chase’s deke throw, things could have turned out very differently. It’s the kind of heads up and gutsy play that Utley has become known for, a microcosm of why Utley is one of the most beloved Phillies of all time.
Another play symbolic of everything Chase Utley is occurred in 2006, a late summer game in Atlanta which produced another iconic Utley moment. This was the day that Utley scored from second base on a 1-3 put-out. Yes, Chase Utley scored from second base on a ground-out to the pitcher. Chase’s incredible hustle led the late, great Harry Kalas to proclaim, “Chase Utley, you are the man!” — a quote that will forever stick with the Phillies great. — Josh Naso
It’s only fitting that Chase Utley is heading to Los Angeles to join forces once again with Jimmy Rollins, the greatest double-play duo in Philadelphia Phillies history reunited out west. It just never quite felt right seeing Utley line up next to Freddy Galvis, just as it’s been oh so foreign to see Jimmy Rollins without his All-Star partner.
While it’s going to be admittedly unsightly to see Utley join Rollins in Dodgers’ blue, that sight will never be able to take away what Chase Utley meant to the Philadelphia Phillies. He wasn’t just a fan favorite; he was the fan favorite, and it’s easy to see why.
There are plenty of reasons that Chase Utley embodies everything the City of Brotherly Love, well, loves. The man is the definition of hustle, the type of player who always busted it down the line, tried to take the extra base, laid out for a grounder or liner, and never left fans wanting for more. You knew each and every day, Chase Utley was bringing his best and hardest work ethic on every single pitch.
He is also beloved for seemingly always making the right play. Blessed with a lightning-quick bat and short, compact swing, he was a force at the plate, one of the best hitting second basemen in history. But perhaps even more impressively, Utley turned himself from a shaky infielder as a youngster to a borderline Gold Glove candidate on a near yearly basis. Despite an average or even slightly below arm, there wasn’t a double play ball he failed to turn or a ball he couldn’t range to get, and it was so impressive because he wasn’t the naturally gifted fielder of, say, a Roberto Alomar.
He is also beloved because he was good. How good? So good that he was, for a solid six-year stretch, considered hands down the best second baseman in the National League and arguably all of baseball, at least for a few years. He also happens to be the greatest second baseman in Phillies history, which doesn’t hurt.
Of course, Chase Utley is the man because the legendary Phillies Hall of Fame announcer Harry Kalas told us he was the man, and Utley proved that 1,000 times over. He did it by forcing a move for Gold Glove second baseman (and third baseman) Placido Polanco to start forming the core — along with Pat Burrell, Rollins, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels and Brett Myers — that would turn the Phillies around. He helped propel Philadelphia to the playoffs in 2007 and continue to become one of the favorites in the National League.
And then there was 2008 and everything that came with it. Without Chase Utley, the Phillies don’t end their World Series drought, don’t become the big spenders they became, and of course, without Chase, my favorite moment never happens.
Another reason Chase Utley is so beloved is due to his understated attitude. He is the farthest thing from arrogant, the type of player who shies away from the limelight. He’s always been soft-spoken — a player who lets his play do most of his talking for him.
And that’s what made Chase Utley’s proclamation that the Phillies weren’t just World Champions, but World Fucking Champions, my favorite moment ever.
These aren’t words you’d normally hear from Utley — OK, there was that whole, “Boo? Fuck you,” moment in New York at the All-Star Game, but those instances were a rarity.
But on that fateful fall day, Utley unleashed the words every Philadelphia Phillies fan had unleashed at some point after Brad Lidge threw one last perfect pitch. This is Philadelphia. We don’t see champions often, so when we do, they are World Fucking Champions.
Chase Utley is not the player he once was. He may not even be an everyday player, particularly on a talented team like the Dodgers. But Chase Utley is a world champion, and he’ll forever be Philadelphia’s World Fucking Champion. — Joe Boland
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