On August 19, 2015, the Philadelphia Phillies traded beloved second basemen, Chase Utley, to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Utley was nearing the end of his career and his performance was not nearly to the level that it had been several years earlier when he was one of the best players in baseball.
However, he still showed signs of having something left and could be useful to a team like the Dodgers who were competing to make the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Phillies had become the worst team in baseball and were badly in need of a rebuild with some younger blood for the future. So the Phillies, with Chase’s blessing, traded him to his hometown Dodgers for a couple young minor league prospects.
Last Tuesday, some 363 days later after the trade, Utley made his return to Philadelphia with the Dodgers for the first time. To say that it was a lovefest is an understatement. As his signature walk-up music rang out and the P.A. Announcer emphatically articulated his name, the crowd in Philadelphia rose to its feet to welcome back Chase Utley in his first at bat. A standing ovation, joined with applause from both the Phillies and Dodgers players and coaches, lasted for almost a minute and a half. Chase was compelled to twice step out of the batter’s box and acknowledge the crowd with waves and pats to the heart before he could start his at bat.
Chase was cheered as he was announced for each of his successive at bats. In his at bat in the 5th inning, Chase hit a home run and the outpouring of love continued as the crowd gave him another standing ovation and wouldn’t relent until he popped out of the dugout to acknowledge the curtain call. And then he did it again in the seventh inning, but this time was it not only a home run but a grand slam. Once again the crowd showered him with an ovation, louder than even the previous one, and continued on until Chase once again recognized the curtain call.
What other opposing player could ever receive not just one, but two curtain calls when hitting home runs against the hometown team in the feisty and hardscrabble town of Philadelphia?
Chase Utley played 13 seasons for the Philadelphia Phillies. In a stretch for about 5 of those seasons, Chase was one of the best players in all of baseball, and probably would have been longer if not for a pair of bad knees. He was part of the 2008 World Series champions. The Phillies have only won 2 World Series in their 134 years of existence. So winning the one in 2008 was a really big deal.
But beyond his great performance on the field and parallel success of the team, Utley became endeared to the fan base for other reasons. Chase approached every game, every at bat, every ground ball with a fierce intensity to compete and win. His hard-nosed style of play and all-out hustle were clearly evident in nearly everything he did on the field and in preparation to getting on the field.
But not only was it his physical play on the field, but his smarts, too. Chase was a very heady player who was seemingly often a step ahead of most others and always knew the right play to make. This was exemplified in Game 5 of the 2008 World Series, the clinching game for the Phillies, when Chase fielded a ground ball up the middle of the field and faked out the third base coach of the opposing Tampa Bay Rays who sent home the baserunner from third base. Subsequently, Chase was able to throw home to get the baserunner for the final out of the inning and prevent the Rays from scoring the go ahead run. This is not a play executed in the spur of the moment. It is something thought through ahead of time. This is how Utley approached the game of baseball. Seemingly always.
Philadelphia is a town that is notoriously tough on its sports teams and athletes. Yet, it can also really appreciate and adore them at the same time. If you want to win Philadelphia’s heart, you need to do 3 things: 1) Win, 2) Always Play Hard, and 3) Play Smart. Chase Utley embodied these 3 things to a greater overall degree than probably any other athlete in Philadelphia history.
So you probably get it by now that I and most others in Philadelphia love Chase Utley. 🙂
However, as much as I love Chase Utley, there are others who feel quite differently about him. Because the man has his faults, too. As much as he is loved by many in Philadelphia, there are those who he has irritated and offended because he almost always keeps everything close to the vest. He is often quite stoic and can come across as stand-offish and can frustrate interviewers and sometimes even fans by rarely saying anything of significance and speaking primarily in overused clichés.
Much bigger than this problem, however, Utley is sometimes hated by other teams and their fans. You see, in Chase’s intense drive to win he sometimes pushes the envelope with the rules of the game to try to gain every possible advantage he can. Sometimes that pushing of the envelope even places the safety of opposing players at risk. Just ask any New York Mets fan about Utley’s take-out slide in the playoffs last year.
And so, even though I dearly love Chase Utley, I recognize that he has his faults. And I need to realize that those faults can cause problems with other people who may have a distinctly different opinion of the man. These are only the faults I know about. While I wish it to be unlikely and would hope it never to be true, there could be some deep dark secrets about Utley that someday could expose him to be a terrible man. And if that were ever to happen, I would need to accept it, despite my reverence for the man.
We all have those we admire. Some that we really, really admire. And yet, every one of those individuals is fallen. Every one of them has their flaws and weaknesses. Some to a greater degree than others, but all have shortcomings, nonetheless.
This does not mean we should never admire anybody. But it is healthy to maintain perspective. Yes, it will hurt when those we admire fall, but we should allow for the possibility. We should not live in denial. Because when we live in denial, that is when we create the environment for even more harm to be done. How many times on this blog have we bemoaned pastors and other Christian leaders who have gotten away with far more harm than they should be able to because they haven’t been properly held to account? A good deal of that can be attributed to people who seemingly believe that their pastor or leader or friend can do no wrong. Even when presented with the evidence of wrongdoing, at least in public, they will refuse to see the wrongdoing or take any action on it.
Even for an admired one who generally is a good person and usually carries themselves in an honorable fashion, they can have moments or areas of weakness where they treat others wrong. So even if I and many others think that Mr. X is a great guy, there could be some others who have had bad experiences with Mr. X and we shouldn’t just discount their experiences because we think we know better.
I think Chase Utley is and has been a great ballplayer and his play on the field and approach to the game is to be admired. The Mets’ fan has a wholly different opinion. In the whole scheme of things, this difference of opinion on Chase Utley is probably not going to cause many problems of significance.
But when the circumstances shift to arenas where people have real power and influence over others, admiration, if wrongfully applied, can have dire consequences.
We all have those whom we hold in high regard. This can be a good thing. But we also all are susceptible of allowing that fondness to skew our judgment. There is only One who is worthy of unqualified admiration. For everyone else, let’s try to achieve a healthy balance.