In a few weeks, the names of Phillies legends and longtime teammates Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard will appear on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for the first time ever. The Phillies could have had 3/4 of their star-studded infield on the ballot in 2022, but Chase Utley had to ruin it by playing all the way until the 2018 season.
“It’s really cool,” Howard said in Atlanta near the end of September. “Chase messed it up because he was playing like five or 12 years after us.” Utley is Hall of Fame eligible for the first time in 2024.
Utley, who had one of the best years of his career in 2008, needed to make a Hall of Fame play to keep Game 5 of the 2008 World Series tied in the top of the seventh. With two outs, a runner on second and a run in, Akinori Iwamura hit a sharp ground ball up the middle. Utley played the lefty Iwamura in the hole and ran to his right and backhanded the ball. He deked a throw to first, then realized that he had a play at the plate with Jason Bartlett rounding third.
Utley’s momentum carried him away from first base. Iwamura, who isn’t exactly a speedster, would have easily beaten the throw to first. Utley threw a one-hopper to Carlos Ruiz at home near the path of the runner Bartlett. Ruiz, who was in perfect position to the left of the batter’s box, applied the diving tag on Bartlett for the out.
Maybe an inexperienced second baseman tries to air out an impressive throw to first base. An infielder that wasn’t blessed with Utley’s range probably doesn’t even get to that ball. Ruiz’s positioning and tag on the play shouldn’t be overlooked.
“That kind of knowledge of knowing what you’re going to do, that’s a split second decision,” Howard said. “Not even. Because the ball is back up the middle, he’s got no shot trying to get [Iwamura] at first. But to fake the throw, because I think [Bartlett] thought it was going through, and get him out at home plate, there’s not too many guys that are making that kind of play.”
Howard, Utley and Rollins laid the foundation for the Phillies’ most successful period to date. Rollins didn’t have a flashy play in the ’08 World Series like Utley did, but Howard pointed out just how good of a defender J-Roll was during the run.
“With Jimmy, again, his knowledge and understanding of the game, the plays he would make,” Howard said. “Another guy, if he’s going in the hole. He would always tell me prior to ‘Hey, be ready because I’m gonna skip it.’ If the grass was just a little bit wet and he had to go toward that third base hole and shortstop hole, he wouldn’t go try to air it out. He’s just going to try to give me a good, nice long bounce. Guys like that, knowing prior what they were going to do, I didn’t play with too many guys that have that kind of knowledge.”
A couple hundred tenured baseball writers get to decide whether any or all of the trio of beloved Phillies infielders are worthy of having their day in Cooperstown. No matter what, fans can agree that you can’t tell the story of the Philadelphia Phillies without Rollins, Utley and Howard.
“Jimmy and Chase were the smartest, most intuitive players that I ever played with,” Howard said.
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