Last week, I was having a discussion with an old friend about the upcoming Phillies season when he posed a question to me: Do you re-sign Chase Utley after 2013?
“Ask me in six months,” was my concise, detached response.
This type of exchange is not exclusive to my friend and me. All over the Delaware Valley, people are asking the very same question about Utley. Most Phillies fans have had the same uncertain response I did about whether to bring the long-time second baseman back.
There’s still time to decide and no reason to rush it.
But the common uncertainty surrounding Utley forces everyone to ask themselves the uncomfortable question: Is 2013 the last time we’ll see Utley in red pinstripes?
The thought causes a stir in me. It makes me reflect on the last decade watching Phillies baseball.
A part of me feels like we, as a fanbase, took Utley for granted in his prime. It’s been stated ad nauseum just how good he was from 2005-2009 (the best second baseman, and arguably the best position player, in baseball). It’s of no fault of ours. Many times you don’t recognize how good things are until they’re gone.
So when Utley began to decline suddenly in 2010, crippled by a chronic knee condition many of us had never heard of, we wondered how the glory days could have flown by so fast. After the 2009 season, when he posted a .905 OPS and hit five home runs in the World Series, Utley looked like he had at least five good years left in his future Hall of Fame career.
How popular was Utley in Philadelphia at that time?
I attended a game in 2009 with my uncle who is not much of a baseball fan. He’s an older guy known for his deadpan, no holds barred remarks.
As we walked through Ashburn Alley to our seats, he turned to me and said, “Jesus Christ, doesn’t anybody own a jersey for someone besides this Utley guy?”
I couldn’t help but laugh. But as I scanned the crowd, I noticed he was right–I couldn’t locate a single non-Utley jersey around us. The guy was royalty as far as this fanbase was concerned.
Suddenly, like his future with the Phils, Utley’s Hall of Fame chances are in doubt. And while he’s been an above average player in his decline, he’s been about half the 7.0 to 8.0 fWAR player he was in his heyday. Still, even the player he is now will be viewed as a valuable commodity on the open market, especially with American League teams that can provide respite by DHing him occasionally. With about $105M already committed to just a handful of players in 2014, and with the cost-effective Freddy Galvis, who the organization seemingly loves, waiting in the wings, one has to wonder how likely it is the Phils can retain Utley’s services.
So as the season gets set to kickoff, it’s important to cherish these moments with The Man. He’s been a key player for this team for a number of years, and an absolute joy to watch, even when he’s doing his version of scuffling. His hustle and his work ethic have been second to none. He, as much as any athlete I can remember watching, encompasses what Philadelphia looks for in its athletes–no flash, no guff, all business, all effort.
As we move into the regular season, remind yourself, with the trade deadline in July, we’re only guaranteed three more months of this. Remind yourself of that the next time you hear Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” blare over the PA system at Citizens Bank Park. Remind yourself of just how much this player meant to the Phillies in their greatest era. Because after 2013, we may never have the pleasure of seeing him play for our city again.