Chase Utley and Accountability

Chase Utley has been the subject of many discussions lately, including two posts here and a Marcus Hayes tangent in an online live chat for the Philadelphia Daily News. Among Hayes’ many criticisms of Utley, he called the second baseman “seldom accountable” and then “condescending and rarely accountable”, adding that he “hides from criticism”.

It wasn’t something that I felt worthy of even a snarky remark, as I felt it was simply an irate journalist trying to sully the good name of an athlete who wasn’t making his job easy. And that was probably the case and it is the case a lot of the time.

However, David Hale wrote a fair assessment of Utley’s accountability to the media and to the fans. I urge you to read it.

What stood out to me:

During my 14 weeks on the beat, I covered about 60 games. I would estimate that Utley made himself available to the media after about five of those games. When he does talk, he says nothing. He is vague and unresponsive to even direct, legitimate questions. He doesn’t necessarily lie, but he certainly glosses over significant parts of the truth at times.

[…]

We asked Charlie throughout the postseason about Utley’s health, and Manuel’s only response was, “He tells me he’s healthy.” Not that Utley would ever say anything different.

And this is where Utley’s lack of accountability with the fans hurts him. He came back from a serious injury to his hand, one that directly impacted his swing, two weeks early. He never quite looked right at the plate after that. But he also would never let on that his hand was still hurting or that he was having trouble recovering and getting his timing and strength back.

While none of the above should surprise you, it should help you understand the writers more when they bring this stuff up.

Still, is it relevant or newsworthy? It was Utley’s quiet demeanor and play-through-everything mindset that endeared him to fans and the writers in the first place. It seems awfully convenient that, following a disappointing showing in the post-season (and a disappointing regular season), that these qualities are now detriments. Why, when the Phillies won it all in 2008, did the writers never complain about Utley not talking? When Utley hit five home runs in last year’s World Series against the New York Yankees, how come no one questioned his accountability then? Even during his injury-riddled 2010 regular season, no one spoke ill of Utley.

But once the Phillies were out of the playoffs, Utley became a huge problem.

People need a scapegoat for losing. The writers went to Ryan Howard first, for having no post-season RBI and for taking that called strike three to end the NLCS, but stopped upon realizing he was one of the better performers in the post-season. Placido Polanco? The expectations aren’t high enough. Shane Victorino? Same thing. Carlos Ruiz? Fan favorite and he was never supposed to be relied on for offense anyway. And he called Roy Halladay‘s no-hitter. Raul Ibanez is old and overpaid and everybody realizes it. Jayson Werth was awesome. Bench guys were irrelevant.

By process of elimination, Utley was made the scapegoat. His lackluster post-season wasn’t enough to send him to the gallows, though, so that’s where all of these extraneous details come into play. Utley becomes the tragic hero so the Phillies’ 2010 eulogy has an interesting hook, and so that writers have intriguing stories to help sell newspapers, increase listener- and viewership, and attract page views. The flaying of Chase Utley has little to do with his individual performance and personality traits, and a lot to do with his team’s overall finish. Had the Phillies won it all, Utley’s muted personality would instead have been described as “quiet leadership” or that he was “leading by example”.

In science, it is considered bad form to make a conclusion, then go back and do research and run tests to bolster that conclusion. It should be considered — and I would argue is — considered bad form in writing to have two different storylines mapped out for the same result.

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31 comments

  1. bsizzle

    October 29, 2010 02:31 PM

    The media loves to criticize players who don’t play ball with them. I think what perplexes them about Chase is that fans don’t perceive him as a bad guy like they did with other media unfriendly players like Bonds or Belle.

    My perspective is that they are accountable to fans, but only in that they owe their full effort every time they’re out on the field. That’s what they’re getting paid for. That’s what we’re paying to see. All the other media stuff? Eh. Chase doesn’t owe me a quote about how his hand is bothering him. It’s not like it affects me. But if he’s healthy enough to be out there, he’s healthy enough to give it his all, and he’s always done that. Thus – the fans are understanding, even when he fails.

  2. Richard

    October 29, 2010 02:32 PM

    The part I found interesting was in the bit you skipped over in your excerpt, where he, first, admitted that it’s accountability with the media that’s at issue, and second, basically equated that with accountability with the fans. The latter is highly debatable. But the former is the main point, isn’t it? Writers get annoyed when players don’t talk to them. Writers turn on them when the going gets rough, creating narratives that some fans buy into. Pretty silly.

  3. Bill Baer

    October 29, 2010 02:34 PM

    It was the same way with Werth earlier in the season.

    From Mandy Housenick:

    On Friday night after Ryan Madson gave up a game-winning home run in the eighth, Madson answered reporters’ questions. My understanding is it wasn’t a long interview (everybody can’t be as professional and cordial as Brad Lidge), but Madson stood there and did his job when I’m sure it was the last thing he felt like doing.

    The same can’t be said for Werth.

    He walked by the crowd of reporters, including Ryan Lawrence from the Delco Times, who had just spoken to Madson and said, “Nice interview, guys.”

    Nice attitude, Jayson.

    […]

    He can’t be bothered. It’s not the first time he’s been nasty to reporters or made unnecessary wise cracks.

  4. hk

    October 29, 2010 03:04 PM

    I agree with Richard that David Hale is way off base if he thinks Chase’s accountability to me (as a fan and paying customer) has anything to do with his willingness to speak to the media. Like all players, Chase’s accountability to me is the effort he gives between the white lines.

  5. Jeff

    October 29, 2010 03:28 PM

    “But what the media should be is a conduit between the fans and the team…”

    Yea, that’s what it should be, but it isn’t. This is why we have twitter now, because we’re all sick of out-of-context quotes and the media trying to spin something because they have nothing else to talk about.

    I mean really, reporters try to provoke athletes with antagonistic questions, and then they turn around and complain that they won’t talk to them… duh?

    Oh, and then they kick them while they’re down by claiming that no one else is kicking them while they’re down because of their skin color.

  6. Phylan

    October 29, 2010 04:06 PM

    My perspective is that they are accountable to fans, but only in that they owe their full effort every time they’re out on the field. That’s what they’re getting paid for. That’s what we’re paying to see. All the other media stuff? Eh. Chase doesn’t owe me a quote about how his hand is bothering him. It’s not like it affects me. But if he’s healthy enough to be out there, he’s healthy enough to give it his all, and he’s always done that. Thus – the fans are understanding, even when he fails.

    This and the bit Bill wrote about this same stuff being to Utley’s credit before a down season is exactly what I was going to come in here and post, so I’ll just echo it instead of typing more words

  7. JE

    October 29, 2010 04:26 PM

    Well it is a legit concern since for about 3 Septembers in a row he’s been lackluster and really the last 3 years in the 2nd half he’s been lackluster. In 2008 and 2009 he had great first 2 months and then below average the rest of the year.

    If he’s playing hurt alot or wears down for whatever reason it’s a factor. Charlie should sit him more often then. I’d rather him get 20 games off a year than play every day and have to go on DL for 20 games at some point. Every year Manuel says he is going to rest his regulars more so they are fresher later in the year and then he never does.

    Utley is a much better player so this analogy doesn’t quite work, but in some ways he reminds me of Jim McMahon. He was a top 10, top 12 QB in his prime when he was totally healthy…which was like 8 games a year. The other half of the year he was either out or playing thru injuries and not playing as well.

  8. Scott G

    October 29, 2010 04:49 PM

    I’m definitely seconding this additional rest, or the fact that he’s playing injured more than we think. I just looked at Utley’s career numbers by month. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he has his highest OPS in April/May. His HR/PA is the highest then, also. His Apr/May BABIP is also one of his lowest by month. His July BABIP is outrageous .376 (career .314 overall BABIP), and July is his second best month. August and September are his worst months.

  9. Pi

    October 29, 2010 06:51 PM

    Last time I checked, I see more folks wearing Chase Utley jerseys than Marcus Hayes or David Hale jerseys. not that I think the media doesn’t have a hard job but perhaps they reap snarky because they sow snarky.

  10. Bill Baer

    October 29, 2010 06:55 PM

    If it wasn’t clear, I wasn’t criticizing what Hale wrote. It seems like his account of Utley is genuine and as impartial as can be, which I really appreciate.

    What Hale did that Hayes did not was prevent Utley’s lack of talking affect his writing. Hayes took it personally, resulting in his tirade in that Daily News live chat.

  11. Dukes

    October 29, 2010 09:03 PM

    I agree with Bill, I found Hale’s writing refreshing. Actually, I’ve been following his blog since he came on and I think he’s terrific. I think some folks who posted here only read the part that Bill copied over. Go and read the entire thing, it’s honest.

  12. Mike

    October 29, 2010 09:43 PM

    Bill – Hopefully Chase has read your blog and ignored the other sensationalist crap. It would break many of the true fans’ hearts if he ended up leaving because of the (unfair,IMO) criticism. Thanks for defending one of our own!

  13. Jake

    October 30, 2010 07:01 AM

    Blaming utley and his quiet demeanor is a product of exactly what bill points to- nobody else to flog. It’s pathetic. The guy is a warrior and leads this team with his intensity and hard work. His teammates- the ONLY ones whom his leadership affects say as much.

    As for Mr. Hale…he covered 60 games..wow…that’s 1/3 of the season. OMG. It’s like he was on the team. So I’ll follow up with this. Which 60? The 60 where they stunk in June and July and NOBODY on that team was in a talking mood?

  14. Bill Baer

    October 30, 2010 07:50 AM

    Don’t misinterpret Hale’s article as an affront to Utley. What he’s written is factual. As I wrote above, the difference between him and the other writers is that he doesn’t take it personally.

  15. hk

    October 30, 2010 08:37 AM

    Bill,

    I agree with you that Hale’s piece is fair, but I disagree with Hale that Utley’s lack of accountability with the media hurts Utley with the fans – unless the fans are weak-minded enough to buy into media-created blame.

    As you’ve stated before, just because Mike “But, he’s the preeminent slugger of our day” Missanelli believes that Ryan Howard is worth his contract extension and that Chase Utley should be traded, doesn’t make it so and hopefully fans who can’t form their own opinions and jump on Missanelli’s bandwagon will remain in the minority. More importantly, let’s all hope that RAJ recognizes Utley’s value (despite his proud proclamations that he ignores advanced statistics).

  16. Richard

    October 30, 2010 09:48 AM

    Yeah, Hale’s piece is only partly factual–the parts that are, I have no trouble with. But his introduction of the word accountability is ideological and his conflation of talking to the media with accountability to the fans is, as I and others have said, dubious.

    You’re right that he doesn’t seem to take it personally, and in that way it is refreshing when compared to much of the sports media. That said, he still buys into the questionable paradigm of accountability.

  17. Dan

    October 30, 2010 10:38 AM

    I liked the article. It was honest, which is definitely a refreshing thing to see in the media.

    About Utley leaving because of criticism, whether unfair or not, it’s never gonna happen. Utley is a tough guy, and the fans love him. We know that, the Phillies organization knows that, and Utley himself knows that. If the FO dealt Utley, almost the entire fan base would be screaming for their heads. And Utley, he’s not going to ask for an out. He’s a Philly. He’s always BEEN a Philly. If he was going to ask for an out, it would have been before all of our current success.

    And finally, as per Utley’s performance going down as the season progresses. It’s been pretty obvious to fans for a while know that it happens. The problem is, we are never sure things in September, and even a slumping Utley is better than anyone we have to replace him. It’s easy to say “Utley should have some rest.” But when you need to win, who can replace Utley? Absolutely no one.

  18. franklin

    October 30, 2010 09:23 PM

    The voice of reason. Amazing that these journalists write about sports for a living, and therefore should be dedicating at least 40 hours a week to learning the trade, and manage to make short-sighted, irrational comments on a regular basis. I mean come on Hayes, Utley is a terrible defender? Even if you don’t agree with sabremetrics, at least aknowledge their existence. His straightforward assertion that Utley lacks defensive skill indicates that he doesn’t simply ignore the stats, he doesn’t know they exist. No wonder the newspaper industry is dead, the INTERNETS have created an open market and the readers flock to the best. Nice work Bill!

  19. David Hale

    October 31, 2010 08:58 AM

    First off, thanks for the link, Bill. I appreciate you directing some attention to my post.

    Second, I just wanted to point out that I wasn’t personally criticizing Utley’s accountability. Do I wish he was more available? Obviously. That’s my job. But I also understand it’s his choice how he wants to handle his public image.

    All I was trying to do in my post was shed some light on exactly why a somewhat significant contingent of fans/media are portraying him in less than flattering terms right now.

    Everyone will judge that differently, and I think that’s great. My biggest concern though was to try to offer some behind-the-scenes of how things transpire in the locker room. In my opinion, transparency in reporting is essential.

    And, FYI, the 60 games I covered were the last 60. I didn’t start the job until the end of July.

    Again, thanks Bill, and keep up the good work with the blog. I enjoy your perspective.

  20. Dan

    October 31, 2010 02:30 PM

    Don’t worry Dave, we think you did a fine job. We’re not happy with Marcus Hayes, though.

  21. Greg Martin

    October 31, 2010 03:11 PM

    I think interviews with players should be outlawed. They have nothing to say and aren’t trained in how to say something if they did. They’ll get skewered if they screw it up so mostly repeat meaningless sports cliches. Last night I even heard a reporter feed them the cliche when she asked “how did you manage to play inside yourselves tonight”.
    I don’t even know what that means.

    Players are not politicians, they are employees of the club. They don’t owe reporters anything, they owe it to their management. If they want to talk, so be it. If not, well, get lost.

  22. Dr. Charles Stevens

    October 31, 2010 10:44 PM

    Chase Utley is the second best Phillies position player of all time. I, Dr. Charles “Stevens,” agree with previous posters – this “accountability” issue is coming up now only because the Phillies lost.

    -Dr. “Charles” Stevens

  23. bill

    November 01, 2010 08:28 AM

    It’s kind of adorable how much the media thinks we (fans) care about stuff like “accountability.”

    Everybody knows “accountability” is code for “this guy won’t give me a good sound bite.”

  24. Heather

    November 01, 2010 08:48 AM

    The relationship between media and players is symbiotic. The 24 hour coverage of the ESPNs, and Foxsports and even the beat writers and the like are what helps to bring sports to our public consciousness in ways that would have been unimaginable 30 years ago.

    The benefits and the detriments of this have been explained by persons far smarter than I, but, to my understanding, part of the benefit to the players is far greater salaries and endorsement deals.

    I don’t blame media members for getting a little angry for the players not “playing the game”…and by that I mean not the game on the field but “the game” of the sports/media juggernaut that constantly feeds and creates our appetites for more.

    It is on the back of these media that sports have become as large and lucrative as they are today and the players benefit from this.

    If you are going to claim the benefits from playing in an age with 24 hour media coverage of you and your sport, but you refuse to be accountable to the media, then I find that questionable at best and hypocritical at worst.

  25. srt

    November 01, 2010 08:52 AM

    Marcus Hayes:

    ‘Player valuation is a fraudulent. nerd-bases entity. What’s Cody Ross’ player valuation, pal? ‘

    He can’t possibly be serious.

    That being said though, part of your job as a MLB is dealing with the media. Doesn’t have to be 100% of the time but it does play into your responsibility as a ball player.

    Utley has no excuse for shirking that responsibility.

  26. Scott G

    November 01, 2010 09:35 AM

    Does anyone really care about what athletes have to say, Heather?

    Explain to me why I watch 90% of the innings played by Phillies each year, and then 99% of the time immediately change the channel after the final out?

  27. Heather

    November 01, 2010 09:44 AM

    Scott G: Apparently a lot of people care what athletes have to say. Either that, or the exponential growth of sports media over the last 20 years is merely a figment of my imagination.

    Actually, now that you mention it, it would be reassuring to know that in an alternate universe, Chris Berman does not exist and ESPN stands for the European Society for Paediatric Nephrology.

  28. Dan

    November 01, 2010 10:03 AM

    @Heather and srt,

    Utley, Werth, and every other baseball player have absolutely NO responsibility to the media, or even us, to give a quote. hey are paid to play, so they owe it to the organization and the fans to play their absolute best. Utley brings that to the table every day.

    Players who give out quotes and are viewed as nice and likable people (because the media portrays them in that way for being so easy to quote) are rewarded by the fact that they get more endorsement deals than their counterparts who are not so easily accessible to the media. Ryan Howard makes the most money on the Phillies team, both in contract and in endorsement deals. Meanwhile Utley, easily a more important player to our organiztion, makes much less from his contract and has very few endorsement deals. Howard is rewarded for his openness to the media, Utley is not. And I’d be willing to guess Utley is fine with that.

    Oh, and if fans were so upset with Utley for never giving quotes, I’m fairly certain you wouldn’t see so many #26 jerseys wandering all about Philly all the time. Utley is an extremely popular player here in Philadelphia, and he has never given quotes. The fact of the matter is that the media needs a scapegoat, and they chose Utley. They chose poorly.

  29. Heather

    November 01, 2010 10:15 AM

    Is that the player’s absolute right to ignore the media, and/or act like a jerk to the media? Certainly. I would never deny that.

    “Should” they act like that, given the mutual beneficial nature of the player/media relationship? I personally don’t think so, but I guess your mileage depends on your viewpoint of biting the hand that feeds you.

  30. srt

    November 01, 2010 10:31 AM

    I disagree that players have absolutely NO responsibility to interact with the media.
    That and I know if I was one of the handful of players who made myself available (either after a win or a tough loss), I wouldn’t be too happy shouldering some of that responsibility while the same guys never did, night after night.

    There have been many stories printed concerning club houses with players getting on their own teammates for doing this.

    For those that do feel this way, you’re entitled to your opinion. I’m not going to try and talk you out of it.

    For the record though, I think Hayes’ use of the race card is utterly ridiculous.

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