It is very unusual that a broadcaster can sum up a fan bases feeling's towards a player with just 6 words. But we are not talking about just another broadcaster or just another player. It was the legendary Harry Kalas whose 6 words hit the nail on the head and described exactly how we phans thought about Chase Utley. During a game on August 9, 2006 against the Braves, Utley came all the way home to score from 2nd base on a ground ball that stayed in the infield. Harry amazed by the hustle and smart baseball could say nothing but “Chase Utley, You are the man!” His chronic knee problem may have dropped him significantly down the rankings but Chase “You are the Man” Utley still makes our list at number 17 on our countdown.
Number 17?!? Chase Utley is number 17? It seems strange to me to as well. Chase has dropped all the way from number 2 last year to just making it in the top 20. Believe me, it was very difficult for us here at BLN to drop one of the most popular players in the team’s history this far down the list, but this list is not about what you have done in the past, it is what you have done in your most current or present season.
When spring training arrived last season, we were led to believe that Chase’s injury was just a minor injury and that they were just being cautious. But as days turned to weeks we started to learn the seriousness of his injury. Not only was Chase going to miss significant time during the season, some thought that he may not even return at all in 2011. Obviously we know now that he did play in 2011 but one can argue that it was not the #26 we were all used too.
As a team, the Phillies were successful during Chase’s absence but the lineup just didn’t have the same pop as it did in years past. When his return was announced, the phans hoped number twenty six would give life to previously sputtering lineup. The Phillies were shutout in the game before Chase returned and had just scored 14 runs over their last 8 games (1.75 per game).
BLN giving Chase a Standing O during his return!
Charlie did his best to try to ease Chase back into the struggling lineup. On that May night Chase was not batting in his normal spot, Charlie decided to bat him 2nd to take some of the pressure off of him. As soon as Kashmir began playing, the phans stood and gave their hero an enormous standing ovation. Chase didn’t have a great individual game, but he showed what his presence means to this team. The Phillies exploded for 10 runs on 14 hits including a 7 run 4th and won in a 10-3 blowout.
“It’s great to see (Utley) out there and to have him back in the lineup,” Former Phillie Raul Ibanez said after the game. “He’s a huge part of our team. We definitely missed him. “
After his return Chase was supposed to get days off often but that is easier said than done with a player like Utley. At first Charlie would give the veteran 2nd baseman some days off but as the season progressed, that rest become rarer and rarer. As the season continued it became clear that this was not the same player we had grown to love. His bad knee limited his power as he was forced to generate most of his power with his upper body. Despite battling the injury, Chase put together a solid year. And even better when you consider he plays a position where offensive output has historically been limited.
He ended the year playing in just 103 games, his lowest total since his rookie season. Chase batted .259 with 11 homeruns, 44 RBI’s and 14 stolen bases. Those numbers don’t look great but they were lowered by his poor finish to the season which may have been caused by the lack of off days. In June he hit 2 homeruns and had 14 RBI’s while posting a line of .297/.473/.859 (AVG/SLG/OPS). The next month was even better for Chase; he hit 5 home runs, had 16 RBI’s and had a line of .293/.545/.915. Both of those months are just as good if not better than his career line of .290/.505/.882.
Chase and the rest of the Phillies celebrating a walk-off win.
As we saw in the first game of Utley’s season, his value to this team is a lot more than offensive numbers. The Phillies finished the season just 7th in the NL in runs. But after Utley’s return in late May, the team was third in the league in runs. And they scored more runs than any other National League team after July 1st. His teammates know that his presence alone gives them a boost. His hardnosed style of play rubs off on his teammates and his manager definitely notices.
“I think his hustle, determination and Pete Rose style make people look to him as a leader, and as a vocal leader.” Manger Charlie Manuel
So what Chase Utley should be expecting to see in the 2012 season? It’s hard to tell because he hasn’t appeared in a Grape Fruit League game yet this spring. But he is clearly ahead of where he was at this point last season.
“It feels significantly better. Last year it was very uncomfortable, especially for the first week. I think I’m in a good place,” Utley said earlier this spring. “The goal for me is to kind of stay in the same place and improve in small increments and not try to irritate it to the point where I have to slow down.”
He later went on to admit that he didn’t have the same power in his legs that he has had in past seasons. The injury didn’t allow Utley to strengthen his legs and he attributed this for his lack of power. He has worked hard over the offseason to strengthen his legs without doing the intense lifting he used to do. Chase knows the injury won’t let him to do the heavy lifting he has done in years past but he still thinks he can be the player he once was.
It may be unrealistic to expect Chase to ever be the same player he once was. During his prime he was arguably the best hitting 2nd baseman of all-time. But even 90% of that player is still one heck of a baseball player. He may not be the same player but I believe he still has the ability to be a perennial all star player.
His leadership and intangibles alone will allow him to be a successful major league player for many more years. Then you add his great eye and lightning quick swing and you have a scary player for opposing teams. He will never be outworked or out hustled by any player and you cannot help but absolutely love that kind of player. For the 2012 Phillies to be successful they are going to need Chase to inch closer to the player he once was. Chase’s leadership, hustle and sweet swing ranks him at number 17 on BLN’s 2012 Best Athlete in Philadelphia. And Chase Utley, you are STILL the man!