No ifs, ands or bleeps, Chase Utley salutes 'the best fans in baseball'

No ifs, ands or bleeps, Chase Utley salutes 'the best fans in baseball'

Chase Utley was thrilled when his old friend Greg Casterioto of the Phillies communications department called last winter to see if he’d be OK with the team holding a little retirement celebration for him during the season.

“I’ll be there,” Utley said enthusiastically.

Casterioto informed Utley that the little celebration really wouldn't be so little and that he’d be expected to say a few words to what promised to be a big crowd at Citizens Bank Park.

There was a pause on the phone.

Microphone. Big crowd. Speech.

“Are you sure you want me to do that?” Utley asked Casterioto.

Utley brilliantly recounted that conversation during the retirement celebration Friday night and the sold-out crowd loved it. The fans were in on the joke, of course, because no one will ever forget the first time Utley addressed a big crowd at Citizens Bank Park.

World (bleeping) Champions!

Seems pretty tame since Jason Kelce blew it all out of the water in February 2018, but Utley’s moment of unfiltered euphoria lives on in the memory of all Philadelphia sports fans and now in the form of the bobble figurine that was given to all fans in attendance at Friday night’s game. The keepsake features Utley in jeans, a warm coat and a stocking cap — his attire on the day of the Phillies' World Series parade October 31, 2008 — holding a microphone in his hand and, of course, grinning like a man who owned the town.

Though he finished his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Utley still owns a piece of the town. He remains one of the most popular Philadelphia athletes ever and the fans rose and saluted him with several standing ovations.

Utley singled out a couple of folks during his remarks to the crowd.

“David Montgomery,” he said of the former club president who died in May. “I know he’s up there looking down on us and is proud of this turnout. He was a man I looked up to and learned from. Treat people with respect no matter who they are is something I will always think about and remember.”

Utley then saluted Charlie Manuel, manager of the 2008 World bleeping Champions.

“I played for some great mangers, but Charlie — cream of the crop, my man,” Utley said. “Thank you for believing in me and instilling confidence in me.”

Utley expressed his gratitude to a few more folks.

“People still say thank you for 2008,” he told the crowd. “You know what — thank you, Philly fans, for motivating me, for picking me up when I was down, for being loyal — a bit crazy at times — thank you for being so passionate.

“Just thank you for being the best fans in baseball.”

Utley was joined by his wife, Jen, and two young sons, Ben and Max. He pointed to Phanavision after highlights of his career were shown.

“Ben and Max, you saw the highlights up there, right?” Utley asked his boys. “So when I’m teaching you a few things, please pay attention.”

The celebration ended with Utley donning his old No. 26 and taking his old position at second base. His old walkup music, Led Zeppelin's Kashmir, played over the sound system. He waved and ran — of course, he ran — off the field to the sound of cheers one final time.

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The DH sucks but would undoubtedly help the Phillies

The DH sucks but would undoubtedly help the Phillies

The designated hitter coming to the National League is an inevitability. To some, it's a welcome inevitability. Personally, I hate it, but I acknowledge I'm probably outnumbered.

It's not about watching pitchers hit. That is the over-simplified one-line response from DH proponents. It is about many additional elements of strategy not having a DH adds. If you're a pitcher, it affects how you approach the 6-7-8-9 hitters. There is more thinking ahead. 

That goes for managers, too, who face the difficult of question of, "Do I pull Jacob deGrom with two outs and two on in the bottom of the sixth inning in a scoreless game for the extra offense?"

That doesn't happen in the AL. The Justin Verlanders of the world pitch until they're no longer effective. There is no difficult decision for the manager. 

There is also less need for a bench. AL teams sometimes run three-man benches. And plenty of AL bench players exist only as defensive replacements and/or pinch-runners.

But whatever. It's probably coming. Could be coming as early as 2021, according to Jim Bowden.

It would actually benefit the Phillies, though. The Phils face a potential logjam in the corner infield with Rhys Hoskins, Alec Bohm, Scott Kingery and Jean Segura. Only one of them can play third base. And Hoskins or Bohm would be at first base. If the DH came to the NL in 2021, the Phils could just slot Bohm into that position.

They could also use Hoskins, who isn't exactly an above-average defensive first baseman, as the DH. And toward the end of Bryce Harper's 13-year contract, his days of effective right field defense could be over and that may be the ideal spot for him.

It will be an adjustment when the NL rules change, and there will be some hard feelings, but the baseball world will probaby get over it within a few years. MLB has already adopted the three-batter rule for relievers, altered active rosters to 26 and prevented teams from utilizing their entire 40-man roster in September. These changes, in conjunction, are pretty significant too.

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Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

AP Images

Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

Most of the baseball world agrees that the Phillies are improved with the additions of No. 2 starter Zack Wheeler, shortstop Didi Gregorius, and the new contingent of manager Joe Girardi, pitching coach Bryan Price and hitting coach Joe Dillon.

The question is how much improved?

The Phils won 81 games last season, a year after winning 80. Both years, they totally collapsed in September. Both years, a good number of players were simply playing out the string, though the effort level was more questionable in 2018 than in 2019.

Even though the Phillies were quiet this offseason after their two big signings, and even though the NL East is still a beast, they should still exceed 81 wins. If they don't, there's a serious problem. If they don't, the GM probably won't be here to try to rectify things next offseason.

The over/under win totals are out and the Phillies' number is 85.5 at FanDuel and 84.5 at DraftKings.

I'd go over at 84.5. Think about how many injuries the Phillies suffered last season. Think about the talent gap between Wheeler and every Phillies starting pitcher behind Aaron Nola last season. The impact of Girardi, Price and Dillon won't be all that quantifiable, but it is realistic that this revamped coaching staff can conjure a few more wins out of the 2020 Phillies, whether it's in-game decision-making or better instructions given to young players who underperformed last season.

At DraftKings, the Mets' over/under is a game better than the Phillies' at 85.5. The Braves are at 90.5 and the Nationals 88.5. The Marlins are at 64.5, higher than only one team, the Tigers.

Much more surprising are the Phillies' World Series odds. They have the sixth-shortest odds to win it all. Seriously. They're +1800. Here is the Top 10:

Yankees: 3.5/1
Dodgers: 5/1
Astros: 6/1
Braves: 11/1
Nationals: 14/1
Phillies: 18/1
Mets: 20/1
Twins: 20/1
Red Sox: 22/1
Cubs: 22/1

Apparently, the expectation is that the NL Central will be bringing up the rear in 2020. Really, the only NL Central team that improved was the Reds. The Cardinals lost Marcell Ozuna, the Brewers lost Yasmani Grandal and the Cubs didn't spend money on a single major-league free agent.

Four of the top seven teams being NL East teams just shows you how much of a battle these next seven months will be for the Phils.

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