Ron Costello

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Long Live Chase Utley

Baseball players like Chase Utley come along once in a lifetime.

The longest-tenured sports figure in Philadelphia history — 13 years, including a World Series Championship and parade. Then a near miss in '09, losing to the Yankees in six.

A storied career interrupted by two severe — often career-ending — injuries most folks never heard of: Patella tendonitis, where the patella tendon, which connects the kneecap to the shin, gets inflamed from overuse. AND, Chondromalacia patella, when the cartilage under the knee cap gets inflamed.

Chase had them both!

Activities, like turning a double play or rounding third — hell bent for home— aren't recommended. These are serious, painful problems you wouldn't wish on your worse enemy.

Following the chronic injuries — which never went away, he just learned to deal with them — Chase's production wavered. At times, he seemed unable to drive the ball deep in the allies or into the right field upper deck, with that sweet left-handed swing that Little League kids fantasize about.

Then something else happened — he got old. Or, more respectfully, he got older, in a game dominated by youthfulness (I.e.,., under 32 for an infielder.)

The Phillies started down hill faster than a soap box derby-chuggy, built in the backyard, and team payroll rose through the roof, loaded with mind-boggling salaries to a half dozen aging stars.

Suddenly, with sellout crowds shrinking like a wool shirt in hot water, and losses piling up, Junior was in trouble. The players he could unload had to go, including the handsome left handed, home grown ace.

Chase Utley could no longer take playing time away from the young and promising Cesar Hernandez, who needed game experience at second — vital to a young team in 2016.

Something had to give.

Several teams were interested in Chase, but none wanted to give up 'can't miss' talent for a second baseman with wobbly knees and ankles, who recently found his stroke. But for how long? He could easily self-destruct like he had in the past.

The Dodgers held a two-game lead over San Francisco in the NL West, and if the Giants overtook them, a strong hold on the second wild-card spot behind Pittsburgh.

Last season the Cardinals knocked the Dodgers out of the NL Division Series, and  in '13 were again defeated in the NL Championship Series by the Cardinals. The three years prior, the Dodgers watched the postseason at home.

The Dodgers' 2015 club payroll is a whopping $271.6 million — the highest in baseball. The controlling partners, including former Lakers star Magic Johnson, Guggenheim CEO Mark Walter, and Mandalay Entertainment Chairman, Peter Guber, want results, not Division Series punch-outs.

Nothing short of a World Series Championship will do.

It could be the Dodgers' year. In today's game of free agency and player contracts — shedding salary to get younger — they may not get this close for a while.

Who knows?

To get Utley, the Dodgers gave up a utility infielder/outfielder and a low minor league pitcher. They get an experienced post season gamer and fan favorite, a leader and clubhouse presence, with still a few dozen hits left in his yellow Rin Tin Tin.

All at a discounted rate of $2 million (Phillies pay the other 4.)

For the Phillies, it clears second for Hernandez, lowers payroll, and is yet another step from the "glory days," fast becoming a faded but exhilarating memory in the city's consciousness. Next season the club will be young and hungry like it was in '07 and '08.

For Chase Utley, it's another chance at a ring, with his compadre in arms Jimmy Rollins. Another opportunity to play exciting, winning baseball, on a team loaded with talent, in the City of Angels.

But for the faithful, it's nothing short of sadness.

Goodbye and good luck Chase Utley, you will forever live in our dreams.

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