Chase Utley: The Perfect Philadelphia Athlete
Chase Utley had doubled, knocking in a run. The National League still trailed in the 2014 All-Star Game, but the team had finally scored. Utley, on second, went into his trademark celebration: Hands on his hips, staring forward with a small smirk on his face. It’s as if Utley were a baseball-playing robot, thinking “my programming helped me achieve that positive baseball result” to himself.
The only other Philadelphia athlete in recent memory that attracted the kind of universal adulation as Chase Utley is Brian Dawkins. Utley appeared to be designed in a factory designed to produce the kind of athlete designed to appeal to every Philadelphia fan: He kept his head down and didn’t say much. He went 100 percent at every opportunity. The blue-collar fan stereotype is overblown, but there is a segment of the Philadelphia fanbase that likes guys who play hard and keep quiet. They can pretend it’s them out there, just doing a job.
Utley put up solid numbers every year. He had nice arms. He would show up at, like, the Morning Glory diner. He and his wife had a charity, anti-animal abuse, that everyone could agree with. His swing reminded people of Ted Williams. He tied a World Series record held by Reggie Jackson. Both of his famous quotes involve him dropping an F-bomb. How could anyone not like this guy? The only other Phillie possibly beloved as much as Utley was Richie Ashburn.
The prototypical Utley regular season play is the one that spawned his nickname: The Man. It came on August 9th, 2006. The Phillies trailed the Braves, 3-2, but had loaded the bases in the top of the seventh. Utley cleared the bases with a double to give the team the lead, then was such a good baserunner he scored from second on Ryan Howard’s groundout. “Chase Utley,” Harry Kalas screamed, “you are the man!” He celebrated by literally putting his head down and walking to the dugout.
It’s weird, perhaps, to celebrate Chase Utley’s blandness in a celebration of his career as a Phillie. But some of the guys on the team are allowed to keep their heads down and not make a scene outside of the field. A guy like that allows fans to pretend he could be your friend. It’s no surprise Utley was the guy who Mac on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia wrote a love letter to.
Dee: “Did you write a love letter to Chase Utley?”
Mac: “In a lot of ways, yes, I do love him.”
This is why a lot of people took Utley’s trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers yesterday harder than the others. Utley hadn’t faltered until this year. He was never really booed. The only complaint people had about him was that he sometimes played too hard, and was injured as a result.
He may never have won MVP, but he was the best player on the teams that won five division titles, two pennants and a World Series from 2007 to 2011. It will be a long time until a player Philly fans like as much as Utley comes along again.