This was Chase Utley unplugged. One of the most intense players in the history of the game was obviously at peace with his decision to call it a career at the end of this season. The greatest second baseman in Phillies history admitted that this three-game series at Citizens Bank Park was on his mind before he announced his upcoming retirement July 13 out in Los Angeles. He wanted the people who adored him for so long to know this was going to be their last chance to see him in a place where he produced so many magical moments, including the most unforgettable defensive play in Game 5 of the 2008 World Series.
"I thought it was important to let the Philadelphia Phillies fans know that this is going to be the last time that I'm going to have the chance to play in this ballpark," Utley said. "So, yeah, that was a huge factor in the timing of the announcement."
The Phillies undoubtedly appreciated the heads up because it should give them a bump in attendance for the three-game series against the Dodgers. It was also clear from the moment that public address announcer Dan Baker first announced Utley's name on this humid Monday night that this would be a series to remember for the man the late Harry Kalas used to call "The Man."
Utley received a standing ovation and emerged from the visiting dugout to say thank you. A second standing ovation came before he batted in the second inning and this time he acknowledged the crowd by removing his blue LA helmet, which revealed that his receding hairline is entirely gray. Time always wins in the end, but it cannot erase the memories. It cannot change what Chase Utley did here.
Early next month, many of Utley's teammates from the 2008 World Series club will gather here for the 10-year reunion of the Phillies' second world championship.
"Yeah, I'm disappointed that I'm not going to be there with all the guys," Utley said. "I've seen a handful of guys more recently. There are a handful of guys that I haven't seen since that year. I do look forward to sitting down and talking to them to see how they're doing in their life. We'll find a place for that."
The 2008 team will be celebrated again in the future and one day Chase Utley will join the other franchise greats on the Wall of Fame. There will be more standing ovations and probably even some tears. What the rest of Utley's life holds remains to be seen. He admitted he wants to remain in the game in some capacity, but he's unsure how.
Another unsure thing for Utley is how the Hall of Fame voters will view his career resume. At the very least, he deserves serious thought, especially when you hold him under the light against the 21 second baseman who are already in the Hall of Fame. The five most recent second basemen voted into the Hall of Fame by the baseball writers are Joe Morgan, Rod Carew, Ryne Sandberg, Craig Biggio and Roberto Alomar.
Utley's career .825 OPS is higher than all five of those players and his 259 home runs rank fourth on that list. There is not a single second baseman in the Hall of Fame who you can say has superior numbers to the ones that will be next to Utley's name when he is done playing.
Given what we know here about Utley, it would be interesting to pose this question: If you were starting a team today, would you rather have a young Chase Utley or a young Ryne Sandberg? A young Chase Utley or a young Rod Carew? It's worth debating.
Two unfortunate things might be working against Utley when he becomes eligible for Hall of Fame voting in 2024.
One is that the voters do not seem to be in love with Jeff Kent's career even though he was the greatest offensive second baseman of all-time. Kent, who has not received more than 16.7 percent of the Hall of Fame voting since becoming eligible in 2014, was a terrible defensive second baseman and a bit of a clubhouse crank. Utley, on the other hand, became a solid second baseman, a great baserunner and a quiet clubhouse leader. Modern metrics are kinder to Utley, who has a 65.7 career WAR compared to 55.7 for Kent.
Utley's Hall of Fame case might have also been solidified if his career had started a little sooner. The five Hall of Fame second basemen mentioned above all started their careers at the age of 22 or younger. Utley, as we all remember, got a late start to his career, playing 271 games at triple-A before finally making it to the big leagues for good in 2004. Injuries, of course, also cost him huge chunks of time later in his career.
"I never played this game for awards," Utley said when asked about his potential Hall of Fame induction. "To be honest with you, I feel like if you do that you're not really doing what's most important. I played a while. I had some really good years. I had some not-so-good years. That's not really for me to determine."
Regardless of his Hall of Fame outcome, Chase Utley will always be "The Man" around here and they'll be paying tribute to that fact for the next two days at Citizens Bank Park.
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