One of the most iconic plays in Philadelphia Phillies history came on Sept. 27, 2008, the second-to-last day of the regular season. Phillies closer Brad Lidge had converted his first 40 save opportunities of the season, but found himself in a bit of trouble as he attempted to secure the Phillies second consecutive National League East title. The Washington Nationals had loaded the bases up, and with just one out, Ryan Zimmerman, the team’s best hitter, was at the plate.
By now, you know how the Phillies got out of this dilemma. Zimmerman hit a sharp ball up the middle, only for Jimmy Rollins, en route to his second of four Gold Glove Awards, to make a diving stop, flip to Chase Utley at second, who fired to Ryan Howard at first base to clinch the National League East title.
With all three franchise icons now retired, the Phillies announced Tuesday that they plan to hold ceremonies to honor each of the three at Citizens Bank Park next summer. Rollins will be honored on Saturday May 4, in the midst of a weekend series against the Washington Nationals. Utley’s ceremony will be held on Friday June 21, which will also be the first night of a three-game weekend set with the Miami Marlins. And finally, Howard will have his retirement ceremony on Sunday, July 14, the final game of a weekend set against the Nationals that will kick off the second-half of the 2019 season.
Rollins, who last played with the Chicago White Sox in June of 2016, hadn’t formally retired yet, so this would seem to signal an official retirement. During his 15 seasons with the Phillies, Rollins made three All-Star appearances, won four Gold Glove Awards, led the National League in stolen bases in 2001, won a Silver Slugger Award and was named the 2007 National League MVP. The 2,306 hits that Rollins collected during his time with the Phillies are the most in franchise history.
Utley just concluded his career, spending the last three-and-half seasons of his illustrious 16 years in the majors with his hometown Los Angeles Dodgers. While the 2000 first-round pick out of UCLA is the only of this trio never to win a league MVP, he was perhaps the most dominant at his peak. Despite not playing in more than 100 games in a season until 2005, Utley finished the 2000s with a 40.2 fWAR, a higher mark than Manny Ramirez, Adrian Beltre and Jim Thome, among other Hall of Fame caliber players. And it was Utley – not Jeff Kent, Alfonso Soriano or Placido Polanco – who Sports Illustrated named as the second baseman on their 2000s All-Decade team, despite Utley having received over 1,000 less plate appearances in the decade than each of the aforementioned trio. Utley never won a Gold Glove Award, but FanGraphs says that between 2005 and 2012, he was the third best fielder in baseball at any position. For SportsRadio 94 WIP, I recently spoke to Hall of Fame voters Jerry Crasnick and Danny Knobler about the complicated Hall of Fame case of one of the most beloved players in the history of Philadelphia sports.
Howard, meanwhile, formally announced his retirement in an article on The Players’ Tribune in September entitled “Thank you, Philly.” Though he spent time in the minor league systems of the Atlanta Braves and Colorado Rockies in 2017, Howard never reached the major leagues with an organization other than the Phillies. That means that “The Big Piece” spent his entire 13-year career with the Phillies, who drafted him in the fifth round of the 2001 MLB Draft. At his peak, Howard was one of the most dominant power hitters that the game has ever seen. Howard followed up winning the National League Rookie of the Year in 2005, by smashing a franchise-record 58 home runs and driving in 149 RBIs in 2006, a season in which he would be voted National League MVP. Between 2005 and 2011, Howard went on one of the most prolific home run hitting stretches in baseball history, with 284 home runs in a seven-season stretch.
Most importantly, all three, along with Carlos Ruiz and Cole Hamels, were core members of the most successful stretch in franchise history. Between 2007 and 2011, the Phillies won five consecutive National League East titles, appeared in the NLCS three times, won two National League pennants and of course, the 2008 World Series.
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