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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

It’s hard to say goodbye

Posted by Eric Fisher On August 20

Fisher column logo2Tom Petty may have been wrong. The waiting isn’t the hardest part. The hardest part is saying goodbye.

The Phillies have certainly had difficulty saying goodbye to the members of their 2008 World Series championship team. They seemed to be waiting for one last run by the core of the championship team. The wait was in vain.

Belatedly, the Phillies started to disassemble the core of their championship team. Fans who had been clamoring for the Phillies to turn the page got what they wanted.

But wanting players to leave and seeing them leave are two different stories, accompanied by different emotions.

Many fans thought it was time to move on from Chase Utley, especially when the greatest second baseman in franchise history batted .179 during the first half of the season. When Utley was traded to the Dodgers on Wednesday night, though, many fans seemed to suffer from separation anxiety.

Utley embodies all the qualities fans, particularly Philly fans, value in our athletes. He works hard. He hustles. He’s humble. He doesn’t call attention to himself. And he plays the game “the right way.”

Utley’s first major-league hit (in 2003) was a grand slam. We remember Utley, on another occasion, hustling around the bases for an inside-the-park home run. He came through in the clutch, hammering five home runs during the 2009 World Series.

Speaking of clutch, remember the play he made in Game 5 of the 2008 World Series? With the Rays’ Jason Bartlett on second base in the seventh inning, Akinori Iwamura hit a grounder up the middle. Utley made a terrific play to backhand the grounder and then leapt in the air as he threw to first base – only he didn’t throw to first base. Utley faked the throw to induce Bartlett to try to score from second with the go-ahead run. Utley threw Bartlett out at the plate, setting the stage for the championship-clinching victory.

The figurative bookend for the play in the preceding paragraph was Utley racing around to score from second base as Ryan Howard bounced out to the pitcher. Utley’s hustle, intelligence and determination all came into play as he scored, causing Harry Kalas to famously declare, “Chase Utley, you are the man!

The qualities Utley demonstrated during his 12-plus-years with the Phillies make him one of the most popular players in franchise history. He deserves to be in the conversation with Richie Ashburn, Steve Carlton, Larry Bowa and Darren Daulton when people discuss the most popular Phillies.

Jimmy Rollins was popular, but his trade to the Dodgers last winter was viewed as the overdue first step toward dismantling an aging club. The trade of Cole Hamels last month was largely viewed as necessary to jump-start the Phillies’ rebuilding process. The trading of Utley, however, is different.

Unlike the Hamels trade, the Phillies didn’t get a huge return for Utley (although they got more than expected because Utley went 15 for 31 since coming off the disabled list). In fact, the Phillies had to pay the Dodgers, the wealthiest team in the National League, $4 million to cover part of Utley’s salary for the remainder of the season and a potential $2 million buyout.

Unlike Rollins, whose attitude sometimes rubbed people the wrong way, Utley was almost universally admired by Phillies fans.

That’s why the trade of Utley seems to resonate more with fans than the trades of Rollins and Hamels and more than the eventual departures of Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz.

Utley never said very much. He let his actions do the talking. And through his actions, he established a powerful bond with Phillies fans.

It was time for Utley to go. It’s good that he is receiving another opportunity to win a championship.

The brain says trading Utley to the team he rooted for as a kid and giving him another chance for a championship – while reuniting with Rollins – was the right thing to do.

The heart wishes he would have finished his career as a Phillie.

The two preceding sentences referred to the hearts and minds of Phillies fans, but my guess is the sentiments expressed also reflect the divergence between Utley’s heart and mind.

 

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