The Mysterious Appearing Utley

Somewhere around December of last year, the Phillies changed the name of the franchise for the first time in nearly 130 years of existence. Since the New Year, they’ve been officially known in the future tense as “The Phillies, Once Utley and Howard are Healthy.”

Literature is littered with stories whose action is driven by a character who either never shows up or is only introduced at the very end. Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, for instance, or Gogol’s The Inspector General. I was beginning to have that feeling about the 2012 Phillies, that their story would be written in large part about the absence of Chase Utley. In the shroud of secrecy that characterizes the Phillies’ media department, it was beginning to look like Utley was not the character we’d wait all year to have introduced, but rather the one who, while absent from the storytelling itself, would drive many of the events of the story, like Emmanuel Goldstein in 1984. Every action, it seemed, was driven to compensate for Utley’s absence.

We’ve lived in a virtual purgatory all season, watching a revolving door of second basemen. Mike Fontenot, who can hit but can’t field. Freddy Galvis, who could field but couldn’t hit. Pete Orr, who couldn’t do either. And most recently, Michael Martinez, who not only can neither hit nor field, but fails to do so with a lack of self-awareness matched only by the douchebag who brings his acoustic guitar to a party, then plays Oasis’s “Wonderwall” until the only people left in the room are waiting for him to stop bogarting the guitar so they can play something not included in the “Teenager’s first open mic night” book of sheet music.

Billy Graham once said: “Have you ever seen God? I’ve never seen God… I’ve never seen the wind. I’ve seen the effects of the wind… but I’ve never seen the wind.” We could say the same about Utley. He wasn’t up to his usual standards last season, but he was still worth 3.9 fWAR in only 2/3 of a season. And with Utley back in the lineup, Hunter Pence moves back down to fourth or fifth, and maybe there’ll finally be someone on base for Carlos Ruiz to drive in. Suddenly, the pieces start to fit back together as bench players are taken out of the starting lineup and returned to their original and appropriate uses.

A friend of mine once explained how he eats at Five Guys every six months or so. Every time he eats there, he marvels at how tasty their burgers and fries are, and then spends the rest of the evening on the toilet as a pound and change of greasy, beefy glory result in crippling gastrointestinal distress. But a few months later, you forget about the aftereffects and begin to crave Five Guys again. Six months is just enough time to forget about the full Five Guys experience and go back again, more out of curiosity than anything else.

So too with Utley. It’s been so long since we’ve seen a truly great position player in a Phillies uniform that I’m starting to forget what one looks like. Utley says he’s in better physical condition now than he’s been in a while, but even so, we shouldn’t expect too much from him too quickly. If Utley comes back and is even a shadow of his 2007 self, I’ll be thrilled. If he’s anything more, I’ll be so happy you won’t hear from me again until the state troopers are chasing a man playing an accordion and riding a unicycle the wrong way down I-295. Because that’ll be me.

But with Utley back in the lineup, it feels like we’re at least a little closer to being whole, that things are at least a little closer to being okay again. And, most importantly, it means that Charlie Manuel can nail Michael Martinez’s ass to the bench and never think about him again.

We’ve missed you, Chase. It’s good to have you back.

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10 comments

  1. CF

    June 27, 2012 03:38 PM

    This post manages to mention a good number of my favorite things: Utley, Gogol, 1984, Five Guys and Michael Martinez not playing. Excellent.

  2. Chooch in Charge!

    June 27, 2012 06:26 PM

    how’s that for a start!?!? incredible.

  3. Mark

    June 27, 2012 07:22 PM

    I think I heard tell that the Phillies were known as the Philadelphia Blue Jays for awhile during WWII. Might not have been an official name change.

  4. LTG

    June 27, 2012 07:37 PM

    The Five Guys analogy is confusing. It would seem to be the exact opposite of Utley. By exact opposite, I mean the same in every way except the one that matters most (assuming GI distress is a bad thing). It’s like describing Superman by analogy to Bizarro Superman.

  5. Mark

    June 27, 2012 09:26 PM

    Thank you, sir!

  6. Ryan

    June 28, 2012 07:00 AM

    Hunter Pence has to be the worst situational hitter EVER. It’s almost to the point where I don’t want to see him come up with a runner on first. He’s guaranteed to swing at a bad pitch and either ground into a double play or strike out swinging on a pitch out of the strike zone. Does anyone have stats on this?

  7. Tom

    June 28, 2012 08:33 AM

    Seems to be all or nothing with Pence. He leads the team in GIDP with 10 but his split with men on is pretty similar to his overall numbers.

    Also, between baseball-reference.com, fangraphs.com, and texasleaguers.com you should be able to find just about any stat in existence.

    Has anyone mentioned how the Phils have been scoring runs at almost exactly the same rate as last year when they had a full season of Howard and 450 PAs from Utley? If the pitching was as dominant as last year they’d be fine. Unfortunately Kendrick and Blanton do not Roy Oswalt make.

  8. Greg

    June 28, 2012 11:12 AM

    Did Charlie give any reason for his all-bullpen strategy yesterday? I get the double header screwed up the rotation, but couldn’t they have called up a AAA starter? When the worst part of your team is the bullpen, using the bullpen the whole game might not be the best strategy.
    And honestly, is Chad Qualls surprising anyone with his performance? Wasn’t this the most predictable thing about this team this season? He stinks! This is ALMOST as bad as 2009 Brad Lidge, with the only difference that at least Qualls is coughing up gopher balls in the eighth instead of the ninth.

  9. hk

    June 28, 2012 11:32 AM

    Greg,

    J.C. Ramirez, is the only AAA starter on the 40-man roster, and I doubt they were ready to promote him as he’s only thrown 8 IP in AAA. Therefore, they would have had to either move a player from the 15 day DL to the 60 day DL or drop a player from the 40-man roster to call up a AAA starter other than Ramirez. Prior to last night, I would have been happy to see them dump Michael Martinez or Chad Qualls – which they did today – to do this, but they obviously felt that the all reliever approach, which worked against them Sunday, would work for them last night. Of course, the different outcomes were probably influenced by the fact that Joe Maddon was managing Tampa’s bullpen in the win on Sunday as opposed to Charlie Manuel managing the Phillies bullpen in last night’s loss.

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