I’m all for loyalty and storybook endings and even just the dedicated prudence of sticking things out, but the ceaseless, nonsensical link between Chase Utley and much of the Phillies fan base reeks of unhealthy. It has for years.
Fresh off the disabled list following a six-week stay for who knows what ailment since the list appears to be never-ending for a player of diminishing bones and joints the last decade, Utley delivered a game-clinching two-run double in the eighth inning Sunday at San Diego and then proceeded to smile – yes, that’s right, an Utley smile – at his teammates in the dugout. Sadly, all that will do is prompt the preponderance of “gotta keep Chase” chants among Philly sports fans, media and within the organization who will tout his happiness, his rebirth, his meaning to the franchise, his positive impact on the young kids in the locker room, his renewed value, etc.
Please, everyone, once and for all, accept reality – it’s over. The Phillies need to move the guy, if at all possible. Yes, he’s 4-for-10 since returning to the team. Great, that’s wonderful. It’s also going to be a short-lived mirage for a guy batting .189 on the season and – news flash – who has been fighting a steep decline since 2009 to no avail.
At his very best post-2009 World Series, Utley has been average. Nothing more, nothing less. When he hasn’t been at his best, he has been much, much less. Let him go, once and for all. Savor the memories, but let him go.
In his prime, he was the best player in baseball. The 2007 MVP year for Jimmy Rollins, that was the height of Utley’s powers. He had reached a quality, high quality, level of defensive play at second base, which, combined with his excellence at the plate, made him, truly, the most well-rounded talent in the game. He was better than Rollins, better than Ryan Howard. Better than anyone. By a lot. In tangible and intangible terms.
A broken hand halted his crowning as the National League’s preeminent performer and paved the way for Rollins to receive the honor. It didn’t stop Utley from being a great player another couple years, but it did signal his fallible side, that he was prone to getting hurt, that he was breaking down, that he only had a couple years remaining as a great player.
For the hero-worshippers out there, it’s never registered. They always believe that their second baseman will return to form. They alter their measuring standards, and produce a sliding-scale of acceptance that stretches beyond any attachment to reality. That’s all normal stuff.
In Philly, though, not only did fans do it when it came to Utley, but the media, too – and the organization derailed itself in refusing to see what was obvious … in 2010 … 2011 … 2012 … 2013 … 2014.
It’s only now, in 2015, that serious talk has arisen about trading him, or – gasp – hoping he retires.
The truth is, Utley hasn’t been a top-flight player since the final game against the Yankees six years ago. He’s been a depleted version of himself. Once on the fast track to the Hall of Fame, he has been an albatross, along with several others, to the team’s evolution as fans, media and franchise decision-makers who should have known better.
Putting all cards on the table, he is the best Phillies player I’ve ever seen. I’ve witnessed his red-pinstriped contemporaries, not to mention Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton … and none of them, for me, matched what Utley was from 2005 through 2009. But he hasn’t been that player since then. He hasn’t even been a reasonable facsimile. He has been, and performed like, a player whose body is far “older” than the years on his birth certificate would state he is.
It is time for him to go. In fact, it was long, long ago.
Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org