Thursday, August 20, 2015

Why we loved Chase Utley

And then there were two.

Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz are all that remains of the greatest era in Philadelphia Phillies history.

That's because Chase Utley is no longer a Phillie.

The greatest second baseman in team history - his current .217 batting average notwithstanding - is now a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, ironically reunited with his running mate for all those years, shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

After weeks of rumors on whether they would deal Utley, including a statement just Wednesday morning from G.M. Ruben Amaro Jr. that Chase likely would be with the team for the rest of the season, the Phils pulled the trigger on the deal that sends the face of the franchise to the West Coast in return for two players and cash considerations.

Utley was the most popular Phillie on a team that steamrolled to five straight National League Eastern Division crowns, and of course that unforgettable 2008 World Series championship.

Late last night, after the Phillies beat the Toronto Blue Jays with Utley safely ensconced on the bench, listening to Utley you got a feel for why he was so beloved in this town.

The iceman, the quiet guy who did most of this talking on the field, opened up - just a bit - about what the city that took him to heart meant to him.

It was clear the feeling was mutual.

"I'm not necessarily an emotional guy," Utley said minutes after he tipped his cap to the crowd in his final appearance in a Phillies uniform. "This city's meant a lot to me over the years ... I feel pretty fortunate to be a part of this organization during this special time."

It was the way Utley played that solidified his relationship with the fans.

This was a head-first, run-through-the-wall guy. A lunch pail, blue collar ball player.

In other words, tailor-made for Philadelphia.

Utley paid a price for the way he played the game. His career no doubt was cut short by nagging injuries, in particular balky knees that drastically reduced his effectiveness the last few years.

None of that dims what he meant during that five-year span when he was hitting .301, averaging 29 homers and 101 RBIs in the five-year span from 2005-2009. That includes those five division crowns, two National League pennants, and of course, a parade to remember after the Phils beat the Tampa Bay Rays for the 2008 World Series championship.

It was Utley's daring play, faking a play at second then firing home, that helped cement the win.

It was classic Utley, a heady, gutsy play.

Two days later, the city erupted in joy, gleefully kicked that 'loser' tag to the curb, and united on Broad Street, a million strong thanking Utley and his teammates for making us winners.

It was left to Utley to deliver one of the most famous - and decidedly off-color - quotes in Philadelphia sports history. He declared us world champions, separated by a word that cannot appear in newspapers.

The crowd loved it. They loved Utley. They stood by him even when his legs failed him, when the bottom fell out of his body - and his his stats. We loved that team - Utley, Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz, and their down-home manager Charlie Manuel. They made us winners. They gave us a parade. If case you haven't noticed, those are a pretty rare thing in these parts.

Utley never got onto the field last night, offering a simple tip of his cap after joining his teammates in celebrating the win, then heading for what he knew would be his final press conference as a Phillie.

That's actually incorrect. Chase Utley will always be a Phillie.

In the words of Harry Kalas, Chase Utley, you're still the man.

He'll always be a World Bleeping Champion to us.

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