Chase Utley Shows the Proper Way to Deal with Injuries

In macho sports culture, it is considered an attribute if you’re willing to play through an injury, even one that debilitates you enough to hamper your performance. If a player sits out a game with an illness or light soreness, he is lambasted on sports talk radio for being wimpy and effeminate. Teammates, themselves ascribed to macho sports culture, grow weary of players who take games off with minor ailments and wear their own injuries as badges of honor.

What players, and the culture at large, never seem to learn — after reaggravating an injury, making a current injury worse, or creating a new injury due to overcompensation — is that it never pays to play through pain. Kirk Gibson moments are incredibly rare and never worth the otherwise poor performance caused by the injury.

Chase Utley, though, is smart. You have probably gathered this with the precision with which he steals bases, the way he positions himself at second base to have more opportunities to make plays, and his prowess at the plate. It has been unfortunate that we haven’t been able to see him play as much over the last four years due to his knee problems (patellar tendinitis and chondromalacia). Now 34 years old, the potential Hall of Famer will likely miss some more time, now with a midsection injury. Via Matt Gelb:

Chase Utley swung for the first time in batting practice Tuesday and it did not feel right. He took a second hack, then another, and one more. That is when he went to Charlie Manuel and told him his right side hurt.

[...]

Utley consulted with teammates, past and present, who suffered similar injuries. Their advice was consistent.

“The main thing they said was, ‘Don’t rush back,’ ” Utley said. “That’s when you can make it worse and prolong the time you’re out.”

[...]

“I think it was a smart thing to do,” Utley said of informing Manuel. “You want to be careful with these things because they could linger and get worse if you try to play through it. I think we caught it early enough, but it’s hard to know until we have some imaging on it.”

From 2005-09, Chase Utley averaged a 135 adjusted OPS. Since 2010, when injuries started affecting him, his adjusted OPS has only been 116. Add in a midsection injury and you have to wonder just how productive he could have been in all facets had he not alerted his manager to the issue. Instead, Utley will likely recuperate while his vacant spot is assumed by Freddy Galvis, one of the few bright spots thus far in 2013. With his usual great defense, Galvis has also thrived offensively — an unexpected bonus from a player who slugged .321 in the Minors.

Hopefully, Utley’s judgment is seen and respected by other players across the league and the hard shell that is macho sports culture starts to erode. And players will stop foolishly putting their health on the line in a selfish attempt to be seen as manly and tough by their peers.

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20 comments

  1. Evan

    May 23, 2013 07:51 AM

    “Now 34 years old, the potential Hall of Famer will likely miss some more time, now with a midsection injury”…I think with the injuries that have occurred over the last few years, any discussion about Chase and the HoF can be thrown out the window. Still an interesting discussion though.

    Funny how he s playing it safe in a contract year when he could and should have done this last year.

  2. Evan

    May 23, 2013 07:52 AM

    Also, where is the write-up on the game Delmon Young had last night?!? I’m pretty sure everyone’s head exploded and people are taking their time to recover….

  3. TomG

    May 23, 2013 08:01 AM

    While I agree in large part with the sentiments in this post, and I really do hope that the fact that Utley smartly opted to admit to and deal with this injury right away rather than try to play through the pain means he’ll be back sooner and in better health than he would have had he kept the injury to himself for, say, a week or two, still … I can’t help but feel that the implicit contrast to Utley, here – whether intended or not – is Roy Halladay and his latest injury, which he opted to try to play through – to pretty much disastrous results.

    Because I’m of two minds about that, and I’m not even sure if I can resolve the disparate ways I view Doc’s actions. I don’t get the sense he was trying to be macho, a man’s man who plays through the pain because even Amazonian anacondas flee when I, Roy Halladay, come putt-putting by in my fishin’ boat. I get the feeling Doc really thought what he had was just a nagging pain that he could gut his way through, the way he did with that groin injury in game 5 of the 2010 NLCS.

    Foax loved him when he did that because, well, we tend to judge these things based on outcome, and the outcome of game 5 was good for Phillies fans, and when people found out Doc did it injured, it made them admire him more. I sure did.

    The outcome of the last game Doc pitched, against the lowly Marlins, though? Not so good.

    Sure, there’s a difference when the (possibly merely nagging?) injury happens mid-game as opposed to between games/starts. Maybe you’re less likely to want to pull yourself mid-game and maybe we’re more indulgent toward that instinct to paly through the pain? But it – pulling yourself from a game due to injury – can and does happen. Hell, it happened last night, with Slowey. Still, I’m happy Doc didn’t pull himsled back in 2010.

    So I’m not angry, as some fans are, that Doc kept his latest injury to himself for (arguably) longer than he should have.

    Of course, part of that is cos he’s Doc and I’m almost as irrationally indulgent toward his foibles as I am toward Utley’s.

    Note: The above sentence should not be read as an admission that Chase Utley has any foibles. Because he doesn’t. Unless “foibles” is somehow synonymous with AWESOMENESS. Because that he has – in spades!

  4. hk

    May 23, 2013 09:09 AM

    Evan,

    I’m sure that most people on here are fans of the team and were happy to see DY contribute to the last two victories. However, most will not get too excited over an extremely small sample size (8 PA’s) that helped raise his triple slash (in the small sample size of 69 PA’s) to .233 / .304 / .450 and his WAR to replacement level.

  5. NickFromGermantown

    May 23, 2013 09:53 AM

    I think that this article needs to be tempered a bit since it comes off as Utley adoration. Historically, Utley has one of the worst offenders of not reporting injuries until it was too late. Chase Utley is one of my favorites, but he doesn’t get a free pass for this.

  6. SteveH

    May 23, 2013 09:53 AM

    I miss the days of a good play being a good play. Don’t get wrong, I follow the numbers too since I do play fantasy baseball, but D Young did have a good game. Here’s hoping Utley isn’t out too long and that D Young gives us some more good games, or at least he doesn’t cost us any games.

    @TomG….At the end of the day when it comes to the injury hiding or playing through situation the only thing we as fans care about is results. Halladay is a hero for Game 5 but we look at him less now because he pitched so many awful games this year and was not honest up front. We still love him, but we know deep down we might be above .500 if he admits being hurt sooner.

  7. Ryan

    May 23, 2013 09:54 AM

    hk,

    I also wouldn’t get too excited about DY performing poorly so far in such a small sample size. It goes both ways…whether he does well or poorly.

    I think that the bottom line with playing through injuries is to be smart. Tell the management/training staff and get their input as to whether it’s something that you can play through. The timing is also a big deal. Chase might’ve been smart to keep playing if this were the NLCS or World Series, but it makes no sense in May. Halladay had an injury that was most likely OK to play through and chose the right time to do so in the playoffs…not so much with his injuries during the regular season.

  8. Evan

    May 23, 2013 10:03 AM

    @hk…small sample size sure and I’m not talking about his overall box score numbers, I’m talking about the infield single and his ‘rocket-like’ throw to nab Coughlin going from first to second. We see plenty of his blunders in the OF (again, a small sample size as we are treated to the same 2-3 .gifs in regards to his OF prowess or lack thereof), so to see him make a play that is beneficial, all I am saying is lets spread the love out a bit.

  9. Evan

    May 23, 2013 10:11 AM

    Brad Lidge’s arm was hanging by a thread for most of ’09 and he never did anything to help himself or the team about it and what proceeded was a train wreck of a season. For that alone, some of the fan-base vilifies him for ruining the 09 season. He should have said something about his arm sooner rather than later, but also this falls on the management for giving out too much trust to the players.

    In regards to Ultey, yes, its better that he is telling everyone now that he is hurt and wants to take some time off to recover, because he is thinking about the long haul. But where was this last year , when he waits until the last week of Spring Training before coming out and saying that he won’t be ready for the start of the season and then some. If he is honest and up front, and puts some pride aside, then maybe RAJ goes out and gets a legitimate bat for the lineup, instead of using Galvis who was in over his head for the most part.

    Utley right now is looking out for Utley. He wants to come back this year to help the team and good for him. But he is also looking to get a team to bite on a 3+ year deal for him instead of having to settle for 1, maybe 2 year deals.

  10. Rei de Bastoni

    May 23, 2013 12:39 PM

    There’s a big difference between Doc pitching one playoff game hurt, and Doc pitching half the regular season hurt.

  11. hk

    May 23, 2013 12:43 PM

    Evan,

    The problem that I have with DY’s small sample size so far this year is that it is very similar to what he has done throughout his career. After two good games against the Marlins, his wOBA is .324, .003 above his career wOBA while his fielding and base-running remain below average at best. If DY has “performed poorly so far” and his 2013 numbers are similar to his career numbers, can we agree that he has “performed poorly so far” throughout his career? If so, what makes you think he will perform better going forward?

  12. KH

    May 23, 2013 02:49 PM

    Too bad Utley hasn’t always dealt smartly with injurues in the past. He probably learned from the mistake of trying to play through his knee problems in the past.

  13. Evan

    May 23, 2013 03:08 PM

    @hk…I may have not been clear! I DON’T think DY will be worthwhile going forward, and in fact, would rather see Brown in RF and Ruf in LF, or at the very least, platoon Young. What I was hoping to see were a few .gifs of the infield single (because for a guy being on an all-scrapple diet, he moved pretty nimbly down the line) and a .gif of the throw to get Coughlin trying to tag. We see plenty of .gifs of him messing up (the same 2-3 on a nice rotation), so lets see a few of the good ones from time to time

  14. Phillie697

    May 23, 2013 03:46 PM

    @Evan,

    And therein lies the problem with “spreading the love,” as you advocated. The more “love” we spread, the more likely people think we should keep playing DY. F that shit.

  15. Go Go Freddy G

    May 23, 2013 04:57 PM

    I think people forget that to play sports, at any level, is a balancing act between the normal pain that is to be expected from pounding/twisting/throwing motions which are hard on a body and you have to live with in order to perform and the pain which is not expected or is abnormal. One of the differences which separates a world class athlete and many of those players we label AAAA(not just a baseball level)(JD Drew) or not quite ready for stardom, is the ability to continue to perform at a high level when not at 100%. Roy Halladay(2012/13) and Chase(2011/12) believed that they could work through the pain and it would normalize to a tolerable level, unfortunately, they were wrong in their judgement. I believe this is where the Phillies system failed. An MRI over the winter for Doc may or may not have revealed the problem, it depends on whether they could have identified the areas to scan. On the other hand, if you are spending 20 million on a Pitcher of Roy H’s calibre, wouldn’t it have made sense to perform a scan in the areas that are usually the most susceptible shoulder/elbow/rotorcuf…. In fact, one thing I believe most teams are lacking on is foresight. If, when they signed CH to a 120 mil contract, they stated, we want a baseline MRI of these areas and each year we will revisit this, would you not have the ability to possibly head off some of these issues for pitchers. Would we have seen the breakdown in Doc’s shoulder compared to 2010? Is anyone a medical doctor who could explain whether an MRI of a non problem area would allow you to see issues developing when compared to future MRI’s of the same location? I wouldn’t recommend this for any joe blow player, but the elite that your team counts on could be a benefit. I know I’ll get blasted for this as big brother but.

  16. Go Go Freddy G

    May 23, 2013 04:58 PM

    I know JD Drew was star quality but he was labelled oft for always being hurt

  17. Phillie697

    May 23, 2013 05:02 PM

    @Go Go Freddy G,

    I think the jest of the article is that we should trust athletes more and stop ridiculing them for speaking up about being hurt. Yes it is a balancing act, but since they ARE world-class athletes, I would hope they have good enough judgment to know when they should or should not keep playing, and that can only be efficient when people don’t judge them for speaking up. The current culture forces them to err on the side of playing hurt, to the detriment of themselves AND the team.

  18. ICR

    May 23, 2013 06:08 PM

    I think lots of people are forgetting that they took an MRI of doc’s shoulder last year that revealed “changes” in his rotator cuff. They could have had his shoulder cleaned out then, instead of letting him gut it out until he had no choice.
    Howard’s MRI revealed that he also has “changes” in his meniscus. As someone who only has half of their meniscus, there are only 2 states a meniscus can be in: intact or torn. Howard’s cortisone shot certainly relieved some inflammation and it is no surprise he is hitting better since the shot but it is likely he is also making the “changes” worse (remember, he’s had knee pain since the end of spring training). In most cases he could get the torn part of his meniscus removed and be back with the big club in 2-3 weeks. It’s incredibly short sited of the team to not investigate surgery and it’s surprising that Howard even let’s them near him with a cortisone shot considering the disaster that his achilles treatment was. There is a real possibility that Howard will be getting surgery on his knee in the off season if not sooner, the only question is why not do it as soon as possible when the rehab is the shortest. Perhaps they want to wait til Chooch and Utley are back in the lineup?

  19. LTG

    May 23, 2013 10:12 PM

    Chase Utley shows proper way to deal with injuries… by going on the DL. YAY! I wish all the Phillies could be as good at injuries as Utley!

    (Sorry, BB. Yours is a real point. Mine is a pity party.)

  20. GB

    May 24, 2013 12:29 PM

    I think Evan and KH nailed it…Utley has been “dumb” according to the OP’s perspective in the past by playing thru injury, saying nothing and not being able to deliver the last several years…now he is smarter because he knows he is 34, has gone thru several injury-riddled seasons and is a pending FA…he knows the Phils are on the brink of re-tooling/re-building whatever you want to call it and they will likely approach him on a short-term lower cost contract to stay…thus he’s got to show he is healthy, productive and reliable if he wants to either stay or cash in somewhere else for what is likely his last big deal of his career…smart is right

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