Aug 242016

chase-utleyOkay, so some of you had to know this one was coming.

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.             

  25 Responses to “Kevin’s Conversations: Only Jesus Bats 1000”

  1. The title is in need of a moved decimal, pretty sure Pedro Ciriaco once batted .1000 for the Pirates.

  2. Wow, bad memory while trying to be clever. Ciriaco had a pretty decent small sample size batting line with the Bucs.

    OK, I’m done now.

  3. Ok, now that I’ve read the article, the church in many corners could learn from major league baseball, after that slide last year and another that hit a little closer to home, a sports organization that prides itself on tradition said, “you know what it doesn’t matter how long we have played the game this way, it is dangerous, and people are getting hurt” and they adjusted the way they do things.

    Maybe it’s because we don’t see children, women and men carted out of the pews when they get hurt, that we don’t take quite as simple of a note from the harm done.

    Maybe the church could use a Mahaney rule or a Driscoll rule etc to go along with baseball’s Utley rule.

  4. The best thing about sports is that our heroes fail in front of us…and still remain our heroes.

  5. Pushes the envelope? That’s a very nice way of saying “dirty player”…….

  6. See, a Mets fan with a differing opinion. 🙂

  7. The slide only became an issue because it was the World Series with a large TV audience. That slide happened all the time during the regular season, oh for maybe the past 100 years.

    Culture changes the rules with no notice – which is the reason that ‘same sex marriage’ has changed the slide rules with no notice. Not too long ago you could voice your opinon about same sex marriage and it was no harm no foul – just your opinion. Today, well the instant replay will hound you for life.

  8. MLD, this is getting away from the metaphor, but I think the slide rule is probably a result of instant replay. Middle infielders can no longer bail the way that they used to when turning the double play, and since they have to stay closer to the bag it makes sense to reel in the range of the takeout slides too.

  9. MLD,

    Utley was initially suspended a few games for that slide. However, the takeout slide rule had always been vague and rarely enforced. Utley and his team of representatives sent video to MLB of Utley executing similar slides plenty of times before, never a time in which it was ruled illegal by the umpires on the field or that MLB ever said anything to him about it after the fact. MLB basically had no leg left to stand on and dropped the suspension.

    Of course, because of this high profile incident, they did firm up the rule and enforce it quite strictly now.

  10. Pivoting off of what Michael said about sports heroes failing in front of us, being a child of the steroid era in baseball it is definitely harder to look back on those times and see success on the field being tainted by failings behind the scenes. That is definitely a lesson we can carry out into the world with us.

  11. Dallas,

    Your analogy of the sports world reacting to an injury and changing the rules to protect players in the future versus the church failing to take action to do the same is quite apt, at least in some situations. Some churches/denominations/etc. that see a weak spot will take action to try to protect those who truly need the protection. Others, not so much.

  12. All I can say is that all who love Jesus in this crazy world today had better start wearing a batting helmet and a cup.

  13. KevinH, true. I guess my thought is that so many of these things come to light very publicly do that there is no excuse for anyone to have to make the mistake themselves to learn the lesson. When MLB makes a rule change, they will implement it at every level. There are some in the church that remind me of those who reacted to player safety rules in the NFL, by saying that they should start a new league where they will play real football.

  14. Batting helmet if salvation, and cup of truth?

  15. I used to watch a lot more sports. Life and ministry, my kids, followed by my hobbies, have put it way in the back of the line.

    But a couple of these 30 for 30 stories by ESPN have me ENTHRALLED!

    OJ’s America is fascinating…

    I love someone who can tell a good story. With a good story, I regularly find the Gospel, including the enemy, every time.

  16. OJ shared credit with his teammates. Wow. Awesome.

    OJ could talk his way out of trouble a gazillion times. Huh…

    OJ ignored racial politics for what benefitted him and him only…

  17. OJ’s America was really, really good. I was riveted to every episode.

  18. *by* every episode?

    *to*? *by*?


  19. Ty Cobb supposedly sharpened his spikes to inflict injuries when he was on the base paths. Mickey Mantle went to the plate hungover and hit a home run.

    My hero was Steve Garvey. Clean cut guy who never missed games and played the game the right way although he didn’t have much of an arm. I was bummed when his consecutive game streak ended on a slide at home plate. Our infield of Garvey, Lopes, Russell, and Cey played together forever and did good things.

    Later the truth came out about his personal life and I’d see bumper stickers declaring Steve Garvey is my father. That was my reality moment.

    I’ve gained a ton of perspective through the years of watching the might fall in the church and in the world.

    Where it hurts the most is when these things take place with people you know and are close to. That’s real pain and emotional angst. The other stuff is important and interesting but really has no impact on me.

    More than anything I’ve tried to learn to be more concerned about myself because nobody knows me like I do. Like you I’m capable of bad things and it’s only by the grace of God I haven’t crossed bad lines through the years.

    Finally as a Dodgers fan I didn’t like the Utley slide as I thought it crossed the line and injured another player. I was also never impressed with what Pete Rose did to Ray Fosse in the all star game. He took a free and cheap shot at a defenseless catcher in a game that didn’t mean a thing. Heck! I could talk baseball forever! Thanks Kevin!

  20. I like Chase Utley….now that he’s a Dodger.

    ^^ That is a multi-layered Philosophical statement with much meaning underneath the first level LOL

  21. Erunner, we had season tickets (split 4 ways) during those Dodger years. What was also great is other teams like the Reds had the same roster each year too. All catchers should have taken lessons from Steve Yeager or get out of the baseline.

    My favorite was Cey more than Garvey. So my shattering image moment was when he became a TV huckster for some ambulance chasing law firm advertising on daytime TV.

  22. My favorite was Joe Ferguson.

  23. “What was also great is other teams like the Reds had the same roster each year too”

    Agreed, that was a great Era. Free Agency killed Major League Baseball…and most professional Team Sports unfortunately.

  24. My fav was Scioscia, that dude blocked the plate like Gandolf or that goalie for the US Men’s soccer team. “None. Shall. Pass!” LOL

  25. Steve, I forgot about those Cey commercials. Thought I saw him with Dionne Warwick on a few of hers as well! 🙂

    Baseball was a different game then. I was totally impressed with Tony Gwynn who had all the talent in the world but he decided he wanted to remain a Padre for life. He didn’t define his career by rings. The game has passed me by! 🙂

    Scioscia blocked the plate like nobody’s business.

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