I’m probably not the right person to write this- I don’t love Chase Utley as much as many of you. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the greatest second baseman in Philadelphia Phillies history. A huge fan. I could sing his virtues all day. I just don’t quite qualify as a fan club President contender.
There’s too many great things for me to remember them all about Chase. There was his epic first hit, and first grand slam. There was the back-to-back homers with Ryan Howard in the 2008 World Series. There was his epic 2009 World Series performance. There was Harry Kalas saying “Chase Utley, you are the man!” There was his fake throw to third and throw home to gun down a runner in the 2008 World Series. There was his “hot mic” insult for New York at the 2008 All-Star game. There was all the home runs at Citi Field, and the big ones at both Citizens Bank Park and Shea Stadium to torture the 2007 and 2008 Mets. Yes, there was absolutely his beloved 2008 World Championship parade speech. I could go on and on. In fact, I could even talk of how much I’ve enjoyed his torture of the New York Mets since leaving Philadelphia. I love it.
With all of that said, I was more than ready for Chase to go last season. It was time to move on, and frankly I thought it was time to move on as early as 2013. Whatever fans think of younger players like Cesar Hernandez, the 2008 team was really not a competitive team anymore after 2012, and the players should have been sold off when they had value, rather than waiting until he was in the midst of his worst professional season. For as much as I like Utley, and as much as I grant he’s easily the best second baseman we ever had, I also find myself laughing at the fans who want to re-write his legacy to make him second to only Mike Schmidt in Phillies history, as though he’s a first ballot lock for Cooperstown. Again, I love the guy, but let’s be a little more realistic.
So far though, it is worth noting that the Utley trade has been one of the least impactful of all the trades made by the Phillies recently. Darnell Sweeney is struggling in AAA, and John Richy is not yet an impact pitcher in the plan. Utley, meanwhile is enjoying a bit of a bounce-back year, posting a .252/.326/.379/.706 slash line with 8 homers, producing 1.1/1.6 Baseball Reference/Fangraphs WAR so far (by comparison though, Hernandez is at .289/.349/.377/.726 slash line with 2 homers, and 1.3/2.1 Baseball Reference/Fangraphs WAR). While the Utley trade has not worked out so far for the Phillies, it did make room for Hernandez, who at least has shown he has the physical ability to play in the majors.
Utley’s return will obviously be one of the highlights of the season in Philadelphia, where the team after Utley has been surprisingly better than expected, but is still not a contender to make the post-season. Utley on the other hand is in a pennant race, and has a shot to get that second ring that he deserves. While I don’t regret the Phillies trading him, and was ready for it for a while, I do look forward to the large ovation he’ll receive tonight. The Phillies have turned the page on the 2008 group, and will formally end that process when Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz’s options are bought out after this season (or earlier if either is dealt), but some day Utley will come back for his Wall-of-Fame ceremony at Citizens Bank Park and be remembered as one of the best the franchise has ever produced. That honor, as well as the excitement around his return tonight, was well earned, and well deserved.