“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” -Benjamin Franklin
The uncertainty of sports is what makes following any and all of them so wonderfully exciting. The idea of a Bill Murray-esque existence from the movie Groundhog’s Day terrifies me more than snakes, clowns and the thought of dying during coitus. Certainties and guarantees are great for services and items we purchase, but in the pantheon of professional sports, there are few other absolutes. Trade for a marquee player and there are no certainties that he will ever play up to contract. Draft a top prospect out of college and he could just as easily decide he wants to become a professional macrame artist. In the 2001 MLB draft, the Philadelphia Phillies drafted, unbeknownst to them, a future certainty.
Chase Cameron Utley, the Phillies starting second basemen for the last decade became a certainty for our team and for our city. Bogged down under the presence of Placido Polanco early in his career, Utley is the kind of ballplayer that in his first major league at-bat, belted a grand slam. Welcome to the majors, kid.
Twelve years after Chase started his career in Philadelphia with a grand slam accompanied by the dulcimer tones of Harry Kalas taking a three syllable name and turning it into the preamble, we say goodbye to a player that loved baseball the way Philadelphia loves its sports teams; with nothing less than everything that we have.
The statistician fans will rifle off all the accolades and numbers, highlighting and detailing the argument of why Chase should end up in the Hall of Fame some day. Why should Chase be in the Hall? That’s an argument for another day; today is about respecting the career of one of the best second basemen baseball has seen in the last thirty years. This is the guy that contributed to the Phillies becoming “World F&*$#’ing Champions.” The quietly peculiar second basemen with a penchant for stoicism on the field and a tight lipped approach post-game proclaimed the unforgettable quote that is, for all intents and purposes, a page ripped out of the “How to be a Philadelphian” handbook.
The hard-knocked gristle of the Philadelphia narrative draws from the aura and mystique of sports players that make us proud. Tiptoeing on the precipice of idolatry, Chase Utley quenched the thirst of sports fans that appreciate different elements of a baseball player’s acumen. A smart player that understands the game, Utley satisfied the baseball fundamentalist. Unafraid to lean into a pitch or to run out every hit regardless if it looked like a routine out or not, Chase satiated the hunger of Phillies fans that longed for a tough, no-holds-barred player.
When the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series in 2008, those of us born in 1980 or later had very little to remember in terms of a Philadelphia sports team winning a championship. We were close a few times for those of us thirty-five years old and younger. The 1993 World Series left one person I know (me) crying in his bedroom closet after Joe Carter crushed a homer and the dreams of the entire Phillies nation. Allen Iverson, a consummate Philadelphia sports warrior, took the Sixers to the Finals in 2001 and the emblematic aroma of wafting cheesesteaks found itself replaced by the faint smell of a possible championship. Again, we came up short.
2008 will be the defining year for the career of Chase Utley. All the accolades, all the records and acknowledgments, and all of the highlights and All-Star appearances are trumped by the winning of the World Series. Sure, Chase Utley tied Mr. October for the most home runs hit in World Series games, but Mr. October never won a World Series for the Philadelphia Phillies. Chase was ours for more than a decade and in that time, Philadelphia had that player. Chase, now a Dodger, can put on that uniform for however long, but he will, regardless of the outcome of his stay in LA, always be a Phillie.
In a city that finds part of its identity in our sports teams, the players are brand ambassadors. Their play on the field, at least for many everyday Philadelphia sports fan, is part of the Philadelphia mystique. Chase Utley, for many years, remained a silent and sometimes aloof player that rarely spoke up or out about anything. His declarations and responses to questions took place on the field. The 90 feet he shared between first and second base with the oft-ridiculed Ryan Howard is where Chase held his press conferences. The tough, unanswered questions were answered at the plate.
Statistics aside, Chase Utley is the guy that kids today will talk about when they have children some day. Greatness exists in two realms; stats and character. When we reflect upon our sports fanaticism through the years, we often find that the players that stand at the top of our own pantheon are those that had the “numbers” but did so with the kind of character the City of Brotherly Love reveres.
Decades passed as all Philadelphia sports teams pursued a championship. We longed for the jubilation, the elation of finally earning the chance to proclaim, “We are World “F’n” Champs.” In our chase for our championship, we learned to appreciate and value the thrill of the Chase.