Five former Philadelphia Phillies superstars have their numbers retired by the club – Richie Ashburn’s No. 1, Jim Bunning’s No. 14, Mike Schmidt’s No. 20, Steve Carlton’s No. 32 and Robin Roberts’ No. 36. Two more – Chuck Klein and Grover Cleveland Alexander – were honored in 2001 with what was essentially a number retirement ceremony, but since they didn’t wear one number consistently, the “P” logo that was used during their career went on their retirement patch.
The common theme between all six? They are all in the Hall of Fame as members of the Phillies. It’s entirely possible that Chase Utley is eventually elected to the Hall of Fame, at which point the Phillies would retire his number. But while his peak dominance should propel him to the Hall of Fame, there’s no guarantee that he will be elected. What should be guaranteed is that no other Phillie ever wears No. 26 again.
While all six who have numbers retired by the Phillies are Hall of Famers, there is precedent for the Phillies retiring numbers prior to players being inducted.
Sure, Robin Roberts was a lock to eventually be elected to the Hall of Fame, but the Phillies didn’t even wait until his career concluded to retire his number. Roberts’ final season in Philadelphia was in 1961, the Phillies retired his No. 36 in 1962, four years before his major league career ended.
Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton? Like Roberts, they were locks for the Hall of Fame. But while the Phillies waited for their respective careers to be over to retire their numbers, they didn’t wait for them to become eligible for the Hall of Fame before retiring their numbers. Carlton had his No. 32 retired in 1989, one year after the final season of his career. Schmidt’s No. 20 was retired in 1990 – he retired on May 29, 1989.
For as much of an icon as Richie Ashburn is in Philadelphia, he wasn’t a lock to be elected to the Hall of Fame. Heck, Kenny Lofton fell off the Hall of Fame ballot in his first year of eligibility, and you could make a case he had a slightly better career than Ashburn. In any event, Ashburn was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1995 – 16 years after the Phillies had retired No. 1 in his honor. Are we to believe that if the Veteran’s Committee didn’t ultimately elect Ashburn to the Hall of Fame that the Phillies would have unretired his number?
Jim Bunning was the only Phillie whose number was retired after he was elected to the Hall of Fame (we’re excluding Klein and Alexander, because they didn’t have a specific number retired). Like recent cases with Vladimir Guerrero and Andre Dawson, there was some grey area on what team Bunning should go into the Hall of Fame with. Bunning spent nine seasons with the Detroit Tigers and six with the Phillies. However, his peak three-year fWAR stretch came between 1965 and 1967, when he was with the Phillies. So he’s in the Hall of Fame as a Phillie, and as such, his No. 14 is retired by the Phillies.
But is anyone going to make the case that Bunning was a better Phillie than Utley? It may be the recency bias, but is his No. 14 more iconic in Philadelphia than Utley’s No. 26?
Despite the fact that he’ll fall short in counting numbers, Utley has a higher War-7 and JAWS than the average Hall of Fame second baseman. Between 2005 and 2012, Utley graded out as the best fielding second baseman in baseball and the sport’s third best overall fielder. Even though he didn’t play more than 100 games in a season until 2005, FanGraphs says that Utley was the 18th most valuable offensive player between 2000 and 2009. Some of the names that he’s above are pretty incredible: Manny Ramirez, Jorge Posada, Adrian Beltre, Miguel Tejada, Jeff Kent, Jim Thome, Jason Giambi and Jimmy Rollins.
Utley should be a Hall of Famer. But independent of that, he was the most dominant player during the greatest five-year run in franchise history. No Phillies player should ever wear the No. 26 again.