The end is near.
While Phillies fans, and the franchise itself, embrace the idea of a rebuild, it necessarily means the sun is setting on the team’s championship nucleus.
Jimmy Rollins is already gone. Cole Hamels is available for the right bid. Ryan Howard is available for any bid. Carlos Ruiz is a 36-year-old catcher with two years left on his deal. You see where this is going.
While the citizens that packed the ballpark to see these players in their collective primes lament the idea of saying goodbye, my sense is that the majority of the fan base would be willing to see them go if it means hope for a brighter future.
Then, there’s Chase Utley. He’s different.
While I decline to speak for everyone in the interest of maintaining the façade of intelligence, I do think a sizable percentage of Phillies fans would be just fine with Utley playing out the string in red pinstripes regardless of the return that the six-time All-Star could provide in a trade.
Since Utley has a full no-trade clause as a player with 10-5 rights, that is a discussion that begins and ends with the Phils' second baseman. And if the past decade is any indication, that will not be a long conversation.
But to the point at hand: Why is Utley viewed differently than the rest of his championship teammates?
Hamels has a World Series MVP. Utley doesn’t.
Rollins has a regular season MVP. Utley has never finished higher than seventh for that award. (Granted, Utley may have taken the award from Rollins in 2007 if not for a John Lannan fastball that put our protagonist on the shelf during that season.)
Howard posted numbers from 2005 to 2011 that are without peer in franchise history. You get the point.
It’s also not like Utley has been warm and cuddly. While his charitable work has been well documented, he is not the type to jump through a TV screen and win you over with charisma, like Rollins or Howard. His most famous sound bite involves a certain seven-letter word said in front of thousands of children.
The unfailing support of Utley could be a nod to his consistency, both at the plate and in the community. It might be about the quiet swagger he carries from the dish to the diamond. Or it may just be the commitment to approaching every play as if it’s all that matters in the world. Injuries be damned.
Those are all factors. But there might be something more, something deeper in the subconscious of Phillies fans.
Chase Utley is the last link to Harry Kalas.
The legendary Phillies broadcaster, who passed away six years ago next month, sat behind the microphone and detailed the on-field exploits of all of the players previously mentioned.
But everything changed with a steamy Atlanta afternoon in August 2006.
Utley did Utley things. Scoring from second base on a chopper between the pitcher’s mound and first base.
Then, Kalas did Kalas things. Exclaiming as only he could, “Chase Utley, you are the man!”
He may have been the “voice of the Phillies.” Yet, as the years passed, Kalas really became much more than that. He was the collective conscience of the fan base.
Mick-ee Mor-an-dee-nee continues to resonate in Philadelphia because of Kalas. The 1993 Phillies handed Philadelphia its most devastating defeat. Yet, the sentiment surrounding that team remains positive, in large part because Kalas embraced them as his favorite “band of throwbacks.”
Parting with Utley would extend well beyond acknowledging the end of a championship era. It would mean saying goodbye to the last tangible connection to the man that was as synonymous with summer as sunshine.
So Utley didn’t just score an insurance run that day. He received a blessing. One that he will carry with him forever in his adopted baseball home.
Chase Utley, you are the man. Because Harry Kalas said you are.