There was a time when Chase Utley was the best baseball player in Philadelphia.
And there was a time when Chase Utley was the best second baseman in baseball.
There was a time, oh there was, when Chase Utley was arguably one of the best five players in the entire sport, and for a number of years, consecutively.
Those times, my friends, are long gone.
Like ankle inflammation, Utley’s last days in Philadelphia were at times painful, uncomfortable and annoying. We remembered the better player, the sweet-stroking hitter who could rip extra-base knocks with the flick of his wrist. The hustling lunatic who stretched singles into doubles, and who somehow scored from first base on balls hit in the infield. We remembered a ballplayer who swatted what seemed like a dozen home runs as the Phillies frantically tried to keep up with the Yankees in the 2009 World Series.
What we got, however, was a .217/.284/.333 triple-slash line, five home runs, a -0.5 WAR and an awkward situation at second base.
To say Utley started the season poorly would be a lie; he was atrocious, sitting at .180 with a .255 on-base percentage and just 10 extra-base hits on May 24. Despite this showing, manager Ryne Sandberg opted to stick with Utley at second base, making Cesar Hernandez and his slightly better .240/.356/.307 line sit on the bench. Utley finally forced Sandberg’s hand by hitting the disabled list with ankle inflammation on June 22.
This is where the story gets great: Utley told reporters his ankle had been bothering him all season. Sandberg, meanwhile, expressed shock that Utley – a lifetime .281 hitter who in 2014 had a solid bounce-back season – was hurt and needed to rest.
So Sandberg dealt with the news like any good manager. He slotted Hernandez in the batting order. Four days later, he quit.
When Utley returned on Aug. 7, he had a new manager – Pete Mackanin – who just like Sandberg, decided to start Utley over Hernandez at second base. This time, however, there was a purpose: Get Utley playing time to show off skills for teams interested to make a trade. Fans figured Utley’s days in Philadelphia were numbered, as did Utley, and thankfully he gave us a few nice parting memories: In his eight-game stint between DL and LA, Utley hit .484/.485/.742 with six extra-base hits. His final home run as a Phillie came Aug. 15 against Milwaukee, a trademark liner over the right field fence.
On Aug. 18 Utley played his final game as Phillie, going 2-for-5 in a loss to Toronto. The next day, rumors of a trade to the Dodgers circulated. As the rumors were confirmed – Utley plus cash to the Dodgers for Darnell Sweeney and John Richy, the Phils and Jays played at Citizens Bank Park. Utley was in uniform but never got into the game; he acknowledged the fans as the game ended.
And that was it.
Chase Utley didn’t do anything else in 2015 after that.
Sure I could give Utley an F, and honestly, he deserves it because he played so poorly. However, that stretch before being traded bumps him just a smidge. He deserves that minus, because at least he could sense the moment. He always knew how to sense the moment.