Did Phillies Fans Cheer Too Much for Chase Utley?
It wouldn’t be a sporting event in Philadelphia without a fan controversy.
This one was different, though. Instead of an incident involving a boorish fan that people needed to condemn — or explain — Philly fans are now in trouble for cheering too much. Cheering too much! This was a weird one.
It involved Chase Utley. He made his return to Philadelphia for the first time since the Phillies traded him to the Dodgers last season. Utley is no longer the player he once was; he’s been a below-average hitter this season. But against the Phillies last night, he looked like the Chase of old. He hit two homers, including a grand slam, in the Dodgers’ 15-5 destruction of the Phillies.
And, after both home runs, he was cheered. Extensively. And got a curtain call out of the dugout each time. It caused a bit of concern. Analyst (and former player) Marlon Anderson said on the postgame show it was disrespectful to Phillies pitchers to cheer the opposition so much. “Was it OK to cheer?” was the topic of discussion on Breakfast on Broad. Sports talk radio is buzzing. People are talking about it on Twitter. Was the cheering too much?
This wasn’t the first time an opposing player was cheered in Philadelphia. Sixers fans cheered Charles Barkley so much during his return with the Suns in 1993 a fan ran out onto the court to hug him. Mario Lemieux was, famously, cheered extensively by Flyers fans when he returned from cancer treatments. Michael Jordan was cheered over the Sixers during the 1990s, and celebrated extensively during his last game at what’s now called the Wells Fargo Center. Just last year — and despite my best efforts — Kobe Bryant was greeted with a hero’s farewell in Philadelphia. I remember being at a game at the Vet in 2000 when Sammy Sosa, a few years removed from the home run chase, was cheered more than the Phillies were.
It’s not new. Opposing players don’t even have to come back from cancer to get cheered extensively in Philadelphia. They can just hit a bunch of home runs.
I was at last night’s game. It was weird cheering an opposing player, and it was weird seeing Utley do a pair of curtain calls out of the visitors’ dugout. But Utley is the most beloved player from the team that won five straight division titles, two pennants and only the second World Series in Phillies history. It was weird! But it kind of made sense. And it’s not like people were just cheering Chase Utley. They were cheering the memories of when the Phillies were good.
Walking into Citizens Bank Park last night, I noticed the jerseys and t-shirts people wore were almost entirely from players who weren’t Phillies stars anymore. There were lots of Chase Utley shirts, sure. But there were also lots of Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz shirts, plenty of Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels merchandise. I saw more gear for any of those players than I did of any current player on the Phillies.
And I saw a bunch of people I hadn’t seen in a while last night, too. Not just Chase Utley, but lots of other friends and acquaintances who were at the game to see Utley’s return. Except for the fact that the Phillies lost by 10 runs, it felt like old times. The Phillies’ run wasn’t great just because they won games and we got to celebrate. Lots of friendships were made and strengthened over that time. It’s still fun to watch the Phillies with friends, but it was a lot of fun when they were good. Last night was kind of a memory of that.
The players seemed to get it, too. “I thought it was very classy by the fans. … It was awesome,” Ryan Howard said afterward. “It was awesome to see that kind of respect given back to him. It’s great to be a part of.” Pitcher Vince Velasquez wasn’t fazed, either: “I understand. He’s a legend here.”
You didn’t have to cheer Chase Utley after his homers — after all, he does play for the Dodgers now. But, last night, it sure was fun.
Follow @dhm on Twitter.