The end has come for “The Man.”
Chase Utley announced Friday he will retire following the 2018 season. When the Dodgers' season ends, Utley’s Hall of Fame clock begins. He’ll go on the ballot in five years and will subsequently have 10 possible chances to receive the 75 percent of the vote necessary for election.
From my perspective, Utley is the only Phillies position player of the 2007-11 golden era that has a chance for enshrinement in Cooperstown. Jimmy Rollins has an interesting anecdotal case but the numbers just don’t suggest Rollins is worthy of a call to the Hall.
Utley, however, not only deserves consideration but should be voted into the Hall of Fame.
The debate on Utley will ultimately hinge on how the voters interpret his numbers. His total counting numbers do not impress. Recording 3,000 career hits has been the automatic mark for induction. Utley will not even get to 2,000. He’ll likely finish his career in the neighborhood of 260 home runs and 1,035 RBIs. Both those totals are respectable, especially for a second baseman. But neither is eye-popping.
But when you look at Utley’s peak from 2005-11, the advanced metrics certainly play in his favor. The UCLA product finished top six among all MLB players in WAR in every season from 2005-09. During that span, Utley posted a .301/.388/.535 slash line while averaging 101 RBIs and 73 extra-base hits per season. Furthermore, Jay Jaffe’s JAWS metric, which measures a player’s Hall of Fame worthiness, puts Utley as the 10th-best second baseman of all-time between Ryne Sandberg and Frankie Frisch, both of whom are already enshrined in Cooperstown.
In his era, Robinson Cano is the only second baseman to post better numbers than Utley. But Cano’s recent positive PED test casts doubts on his entire career. So it’s not difficult to argue Utley was the best player at his position during his career.
Beyond the numbers, Utley has a very strong anecdotal case. If the Dodgers make the postseason this year, Utley will have made nine postseason appearances in his career. He’s been to three World Series, winning it all in 2008 with the Phillies.
Speaking of the Fall Classic, his five home runs vs. the Yankees in 2009 tie him with Reggie Jackson and George Springer for the most in a single World Series. In 2008, Utley’s Game 1 first-inning home run set the tone for a team looking to end a quarter-century of Philadelphia sports shortcomings.
Then in Game 5 of that series, with the Phils nursing a one-run lead, Utley authored the most important defensive play in the 135-year history of the franchise with his fake to first, throw to home that cut down Jason Bartlett at the plate.
Utley does have a lack of individual hardware during his career. His four Silver Slugger awards are it as far as end-of-season accomplishments go. That said, it’s noteworthy that Rollins’ 2007 MVP award was likely headed for Utley’s mantle if not for a John Lannan fastball that broke Utley’s hand in July of that season. That was the 100th game Utley played that season. At that point, he was on pace to hit 28 home runs and drive in 133 runs while hitting .336 for the season. Despite missing 30 games, Utley still finished with the fourth-best WAR in MLB that season (7.6), well ahead of Rollins (6.1).
Beyond those moments, there was the leadership Utley provided. We certainly march into a gray area when discussing that which cannot be quantified. But teammates both in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, almost universally, speak glowingly of Utley’s approach and how it positively impacts the teams for which he’s played.
I’ll never forget producing an interview with a key member of those great Phillies teams. During a break, the subject of leadership came up. Players on those teams publicly disdained speaking about who was the leader for fear of offending anyone. But with the cameras off, this player went into great detail about how Utley led the team, even laughing at the notion that there were any leaders on the team beyond Utley.
So if Utley’s career numbers leave his Hall of Fame case at a stalemate, everything else points in his direction. And it’s only fitting when talking about the best base runner of his generation that the tie go to the runner.
That’s my case for Chase.