When Johnny Pesky passed away last month, the string of tributes for the former Red Sox player, coach, minor and major league manager, executive and broadcaster included words like "icon" and "ambassador." It was said that he defined the franchise. One press-box poet proposed that he was more than the face of the ballclub: "He was the heartbeat of it."

The rightfield foul pole at Fenway Park is named after him. The team retired his number. The title of his biography is "Mr. Red Sox."

Which got the crack research department here at SportsWeek thinking.

If Ernie Banks is Mr. Cub, and there's even a Mr. Marlin (Jeff Conine), then who represents the Phillies? Who, when you think of the team, is the first person who springs to mind?

Let's face it. Figuring out who the face of the Phillies should be isn't easy.

After all, there's a generation gap. An older Cardinals fan, for example, would probably pick Stan Musial. A middle-aged one might take Bob Gibson. The younger fan would most likely say Albert Pujols . . . or would have until Pujols took the money and ran to Anaheim.

So we decided to make a case for some of the usual suspects. Just a couple ground rules. The person must still be living. That precludes Rich Ashburn and Harry Kalas, who otherwise would have been obvious candidates. He must be primarily associated with the Phillies. Roy Halladay, for example, will almost certainly go into the Hall of Fame as a Blue Jay. Jim Thome will enter Cooperstown as a Cleveland Indian.

Beyond that, everybody's entitled to an opinion. With the help of some folks who have been around this franchise for decades, here are some thoughts to get the debate started. The face of the Phillies' franchise is . . .

Mike Schmidt

It would be hard to go wrong with Schmidt. He spent his entire career with the Phillies. Nobody played in more games (2,404). Nobody hit more home runs (548). Nobody won more MVP Awards (three). Nobody had more at-bats, more hits, more walks, more runs scored, more RBI, more total bases. He's in the Hall of Fame and considered by many to be the greatest third baseman ever to play the game.

Rich Westcott has written eight books about the Phillies, including a biography of Schmidt. He's currently working on a book about the 50 top ballplayers in Philadelphia history encompassing not only the Phillies but the A's, the Negro Leagues and native sons. His vote goes for Schmidt. "You look at his record," said Westcott. "He's a Hall of Famer. He led the league in homers eight times, 10 times a Gold Glover, three times an MVP. Nobody on the Phillies ever did that. He played for the first Phillies world championship team. So, to me, he's the face of the Phillies.

"When you talk about Mike, it's such an interesting story. I mean, not too many people know it but here's a guy who was a switch-hitting shortstop with two bad knees who liked basketball better and who wanted to be an architect. And look what he became.

"If I was doing a book and needed a picture of one Phillies player on the cover, it would be Mike Schmidt. Mike Schmidt is the Phillies. When you think of the Phillies, you think of Mike Schmidt."

Con: Since retiring in 1989, he hasn't been associated with the Phillies that much. He flies in for ceremonial occasions, does a stint as a special instructor in spring training and spent a year managing Class A Clearwater.

Pro: There is no doubt that, as Westcott said, he's is the best player in team history. And that counts for a lot.

So Mike Schmidt is the face of the franchise. Unless it's . . .

Ryan Howard

Yes, Mike Schmidt hit more home runs over the course of his career than Ryan Howard. But he hit 45 or more just twice. Howard hit 45 or more in each of his first four full seasons in the majors, including 58 in 2006. That's 10 more than Schmidt had in his best season.

Skip Clayton got his nickname, "Memory Lane," from Kalas because of his faultless recall of what is now six decades of Phillies baseball. When he's not at Citizens Bank Park, he can often be found covering motor sports and hosts a show called "Racing Wrap" on Monday nights from 5 to 6 on WBCB (1490-AM).

And he gives the nod to Howard, based largely on the wow factor. "Not only has he hit a ton of home runs, but he hits them so far. I love to watch Ryan Howard. When I was down there a lot, I never left the press box if he was coming up. To me, he's one of the most exciting players the Phillies have ever had," he said.

In fact, Clayton argues that Howard's can't-miss at-bats make him the logical choice to be the face of the franchise.

"Schmitty might hit a home run. But he wasn't hitting you the 450-foot home runs. Same thing with Mickey Mantle when he played. You didn't go to the concession stand. He might put one up in the third deck at Yankee Stadium. And I'd say Ryan Howard is the same kind of hitter in that he keeps people in their seats."

He went so far as to say that Howard's presence is a big reason the Phillies draw as well as they do. And it's widely conceded that Howard is the best first baseman the organization has ever had.

Con: It's hard to compare eras, especially power numbers from the 1970s and 1980s to those from the mid-1990s until now.

Pro: It's also hard to think of many Phillies players who could make more impact with one swing of the bat.

So Ryan Howard is the face of the franchise. Unless it's . . .

Jimmy Rollins

Everybody has heard the stat about how good the Phillies' winning percentage is when J-Roll scores at least one run. And nobody can forget how he raised the bar in 2007 by declaring before the season that the Phillies were the team to beat in the National League East, even though they hadn't been to the postseason since 1993 . . . and then helped make it happen with an MVP season.

He has his critics. Occasionally issues bubble to the surface when he doesn't run out a grounder or a popup. At the same time, he plays with such a flair that he creates unforgettable images when he goes deep into the hole to field a grounder, spins all the way around and then pegs a strike to first. Or when he hits the ball into the gap and winds up hugging third after another triple.

And then there are the numbers. He reached 2,000 hits and 400 stolen bases. He has steadily risen toward the top of the leader boards in many of the team's career categories: Doubles, triples, extra-base hits, runs and games as well as hits and steals. With 2 more years and an option on his contract, he could land at the top of some of those lists before it's all over.

He passed Larry Bowa this year for most games played at shortstop. And even Bowa, who used to be considered the finest Phillies shortstop of all-time, long ago passed the baton to Rollins.

"It's unbelievable where he's going," said Phillies alumni relations vice president Larry Shenk, who joined the organization in October 1963. "As we all know, he's kind of a complex player. Some people think he doesn't walk enough or that he hits too many flyballs. But he produces."

Con: He can be a little too cool for some people's tastes.

Pro: He's a red-light player who draws your eye and, more often than not, is right in the middle of the action.

So Jimmy Rollins is the face of the franchise, Unless it's . . .

Chase Utley

Chris Wheeler has worked for the Phillies since 1971. Larry Andersen first pitched for the team in 1983 and has also served as a minor-league pitching coach and announcer. And, on this subject, the two broadcasters are on the same wavelength.

"Chase Utley, for me." Andersen said. "That's who I think of. Just because of the way he plays. Respecting the fans, respecting the organization and the players. And I think Chase Utley personifies that in the way he respects the game and how it's supposed to be played and how he plays it."

Agreed Wheeler: "In my opinion, the face of the Phillies is Chase Utley. That's because he totally personifies what the fans here like in a baseball player. He's blue-collar, he's a hardass, he takes the extra base, he's got the dirty uniform, he's got that kind of scowl. Now, when I was a kid, I always thought the face of the Phillies was Richie Ashburn. But right now, with all of the success this team had had in the last 5 or 6 years, it's Chase Utley."

Ruben Amaro, whose father played and coached for the Phillies, declined to nominate one player. He mentioned Howard, Rollins, Utley and Cole Hamels. But the general manager did have an interesting observation. "We've done a bunch of studies over the years, for a variety of reasons, whose uniform sells the most. And I think, I'm not positive, but I think Chase Utley over the last 10 years or so is still the most popular in terms of sales," he noted.

And, like Howard and Rollins, there's little argument that he's the best at his position in franchise history.

Con: Of the Phillies homegrown stars, he's the only one without a regular season or postseason MVP on his resume.

Pro: Would Kalas have made this unforgettable call on any other current Phillies player: Chase Utley, you are the man!

So Chase Utley is the face of the franchise. Unless it's . . .

Charlie Manuel

Think about it. Baseball has done a good job over the past several years of managing the way news is disseminated. Players can go days at a time without being quoted. So, for most teams, it's up to the manager to be the spokesman for the club.

Manuel talks before almost every game. He conducts a postgame post-mortem. In many ways, he's the most visible of the uniformed personnel.

Which wouldn't matter if his players didn't win, of course. But they have. In fact, Manuel has more wins than any manager in Phillies history. He has more first-place finishes and more trips to the World Series. He has one of only two world championships in franchise history.

Con: His association with the Phillies is relatively recent, going back to 2003.

Pro: The numbers don't lie.

So Charlie Manuel is the face of the franchise. Unless it's . . .

Dallas Green

Can we even imagine how the history of this franchise might have been different if the Phillies hadn't won its first world championship in 1980?

But they did, and Green gets a full measure of credit for whipping a talented-but-underachieving team through September, for orchestrating a tempestuous NLCS win over the Astros, for bringing it all home against the Royals in the World Series.

One of his pet commandments - "Look in the mirror" - retains the same authoritative demand for accountability that it did more than 30 years ago.

He began his career as a player in the Phillies' system in 1955. These days, he continues to provide his insight as a senior adviser. He's been a minor-league coach and manager. He was the assistant farm director and minor-league director at a time when the nucleus of the teams that became so successful in the late 1970s was put together.

And he's still around the team.

Con: He was manager for only two full seasons before leaving the organization to become president and general manager of the Cubs and later worked for the Yankees and Mets before returning to the Phillies in 1998.

Pro: The first time is always special.

So Dallas Green is the face of the franchise. Unless it's . . .

The Phanatic

The big, green, furry guy has been a hit ever since being introduced in 1978 and was been named the No. 1 mascot in sports by Forbes in both 2008 and 2011.

The Phillies have had some good seasons during his career and a lot of not so good ones. But the Phanatic has been consistently popular no matter what the standings said.

Talk about visibility. There have been books and videos about the Phanatic. He appears at hundreds of events around the region. There is an entire shop at Citizens Bank Park devoted to Phanatic-themed memorabilia.

Con: OK, so he's not actually a player or manager.

Pro: Who's been more consistently popular over the last 35 years?

So there you have it. The face of the franchise is the Phanatic. Or Dallas Green. Or Charlie Manuel. Or Chase Utley. Or Jimmy Rollins. Or Ryan Howard. Or Mike Schmidt.

Unless, of course, it's Larry Bowa or Darren Daulton or Lenny Dykstra or Greg Luzinski or Steve Carlton or John Kruk. Or somebody else all together.