There are few players I hate more than Chase Utley. This man has caused us all plenty of pain over the last 15 years.
Goodbye and good riddance. On Friday, Chase Utley announced he would be retiring at the end of the 2018 season. After mulling that information over for about two seconds, I began to celebrate.
But when I sat down to write this column, my mood dropped. Having to rehash some of the darkest Mets moments of the last 15 years was not a pleasant exercise. To put it in the simplest terms possible, Chase Utley makes my blood boil.
In 2001, The Ringer’s Bill Simmons authored a seminal column about Roger Clemens. His editor tasked him with a simple assignment – explain to the world why Boston fans believe that Roger Clemens was the antichrist.
“And that’s what makes Clemens so unique, the fact that he keeps chugging along in his late-30s, pitching as well as ever … and yet nobody cares about him. He’s like the Wolf in ‘Pulp Fiction’ — no attachment to anyone or anything, a hired gun, a means to an end. Red Sox fans loathe him. Blue Jays fans despise him. Yankees fans tolerate him, but they haven’t embraced him and never will, not with his Boston connections.”
Chase Utley is my antichrist. This man has brought me so much pain and suffering in the last 15 years that my view of baseball has been irrevocably changed.
Plenty of players have earned the moniker of “Met Killer” over the years. One could make the argument that Utley has no business being anywhere near the top of that list, not with the likes of Chipper Jones and Ryan Howard still living and breathing.
But Utley brings an added dimension to tormenting Mets fans that Jones and Howard did not. He’s a scumbag. It’s one thing for people to hate you because you’re good. It’s another when you intentionally break Ruben Tejada’s leg. I’m totally not bitter or anything.
I like to believe that no player sets out to be infamous. I also like to believe the New York Knicks are a competent franchise. The clear lesson here: you can’t always get what you want. Let’s dive into the evidence.
The Slap in the Face
I’m jealous of any individual that gets to inhabit the parallel universe where Placido Polanco was never pushed out as the Phillies second baseman. Instead, I’m stuck here with Utley.
Polanco was shipped off to Detroit during the 2005 season, and Utley emerged as Philly’s everyday second baseman and perennial thorn in my side. From 2004 to 2006, Utley absolutely raked against the Amazins’.
Across those three seasons, Utley accumulated 155 at-bats facing New York knocking 48 total hits, 11 doubles, seven home runs and 19 RBI. His .412 OBP during that time still makes me nauseous on occasion. You almost have to marvel at a guy who cemented himself as public enemy no. 1 in only 155 at-bats.
The Kick in the Gonads
I really do hate saying this, but while Mets fans (including myself) were experiencing delusions of grandeur, Philadelphia was quietly building a juggernaut in the mid 2000s. At the detriment of my physical and emotional health, I’ll admit it’s generally overlooked just how good the Phillies were after Chase Utley arrived.
Utley and the Phils’ snaked the Mets out of what should have been a glorious run featuring multiple division titles and possibly a pennant. Coming off the heartbreak of 2006, expectations were sky high for the Amazins’. And rightfully so. Then Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and public enemy no. 1 cut their knees right out from under them (foreshadowing something Utley would literally do nine years later).
Utley aside, the collapse of 2007 was one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever had to deal with. What kind of team blows a seven-game lead with 17 left to play? (Spoiler Alert: It’s the Miracle Mets.)
One more victory. That’s all this club needed. If they had picked up one more in the win column, the 2007 National League East championship would have been theirs. You could go back to almost any moment during that season and place blame. But no matter how hard I try, I cannot get their August 30 contest at Citizens Bank Park out of my head.
Orlando Hernandez toed the rubber for the Mets, facing Kyle Lohse in what you can already guess wasn’t a pitchers’ duel. Tied at ten, Utley stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning.
With runners on first and second, Billy Wagner grooved an 89-mph slider right down main street and Utley, who else, laced it past a diving Carlos Delgado into right field. Endy Chavez fielded it quickly and fired a throw home, but famed horse racing analyst Paul Lo Duca was unable to handle the two-hopper.
Thankfully, I don’t really have furniture in my apartment right now, so nothing was broken as I re-watched this video 25 times.
Tadahito Iguchi scored (now that’s a name drop if I’ve ever seen one), the Mets lost, and the Phillies completed a four-game sweep. Absolutely crushing. The Phillies would go on to sweep the Amazins’ again in September and you know how this story ends. Utley broke their back. Looking back, the only surprising thing is that Utley actually didn’t intentionally injure anyone. That miracle doesn’t exactly make me feel better.
Revisionist history shows us that the Mets really had a three-year window to get the job done, and the emergence of the Phillies steamrolled that opportunity. What’s funny is that Utley’s cumulative numbers against the Mets in 2007 and 2008 (.237/.333/.496)
weren’t even that impressive. Instead, he just decided to kill them in the situations that mattered most. In 2007 Utley batted .364 against the Mets in high leverage situations, or what Baseball Reference believes are more pivotal moments than others.
I find it fascinating what sports memories stick with us throughout our lives. I would be remiss to go one column without some sort of gambling reference, which is why it’s always good to look to Rounders (1998) for help.
“In ‘Confessions of a Winning Poker Player,’ Jack King said, ‘Few players recall big pots they have won, strange as it seems, but every player can remember with remarkable accuracy the outstanding tough beats of his career.’ It seems true to me, cause walking in here, I can hardly remember how I built my bankroll, but I can’t stop thinking of how I lost it.”
Mike McDermott (portrayed by Matt Damon) sums it up pretty accurately. You forget all of the good stuff, while all of the bad stuff sticks. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that this holds true in both gambling and sports.
I personally believed 2008 would be different. I was wrong. Rather than re-establishing themselves as a contender, the Mets found themselves shafted by the Phillies. Again. Go figure.
Philadelphia had the division locked up, but one more win meant a one-game playoff against Milwaukee for the Wild Card. If 2008 had the same rules as today, the Amazins’ actually would have qualified as the second Wild Card team.
That brings me back to this oddly specific memory that never seems to dissipate.
With Johan Santana on the mound in July 2008, the Mets took on Philadelphia at Shea Stadium. Tied for first place, the Mets entered the bottom of the seventh up 5-2. With the bases loaded, the Amazins’ pinch-hit Fernando Tatis for Marlon Anderson. Tatis smokes a J.C. Romero’s pitch towards right field. Has to be a hit? Right? Wrong. Utley glides five or six steps to his left and lays out. Naturally, the ball falls right into his glove and ends the inning.
This would have been all fine and good except for the fact that the combination of Duaner Sanchez, Joe Smith, and Pedro Feliciano went full Chernobyl and blew the lead. You know something is severely wrong when Aaron Heilman has the least runs allowed in a Mets box score.
Utley commits highway robbery, the Mets lose, and they fall one game short. Again. I really hate this guy if you haven’t figured that out already.
The Ultimate Violation
And here we are. The culmination of all of my Chase Utley hatred came in 2015, during the National League Division Series.
For anyone who believed Utley’s history of dirty play began and ended with the 2015 Ruben Tejada slide, you are sorely mistaken. This scumbag has a long history of chippiness.
Ironically, it wasn’t even the first time he took out Tejada. During Tejada’s rookie year, Utley momentarily forgot who he was and thought he was Hines Ward trying to chop block a linebacker on a kickoff. You be the judge.
Oh, and if that wasn’t convincing enough, Utley pulled this same crap on Ryan Theriot in the 2011 NLDS.
And last, but certainly not least, let’s not forget when he almost picked up the first ever red card on a baseball diamond.
Video of Utley slide in a game a month ago pic.twitter.com/A0FhNRMbp0
— Mike Rosenberg (@ByRosenberg) October 11, 2015
But 2015 was the pinnacle of Utley’s dirty play. If they handed out Oscars for illegally breaking up double plays, then he just might have found one in his trophy case after this one.
Utley blatantly slides past the bag with the purpose of injuring Tejada. The worst part? After a review, they actually called him safe.
Are you kidding me?
Every time I watch this exchange over and over again, I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. And no, I do not take solace in the fact that the MLB imposed a new rule regarding hard slides the following season.
I guess New York had the last laugh after pulling out the series and eventually the pennant, but it’s almost three years later and I’m still pretty angry.
The drama did not end here though.
In May of the following season, the Dodgers came into to Citi Field and Noah Syndergaard found himself facing Utley at the plate. As any good teammate would, Thor fired a 99-mph warning shot past Utley’s back. Major league warnings must not be a thing anymore because Syndergaard was immediately ejected. All of a sudden, it’s the MLB’s mission to protect one of the dirtiest players in the history of the game? C’mon guys. Get it together. It’s called a warning.
Now, I just so happened to be at this particular game. If you’re curious about my reaction, it’s probably right on par with Terry Collins.
I wish we all could have left it at that, but our favorite villain decided to launch two home runs with Thor out of the game. A year later, he returned to Citi Field just to stick the Mets with a two-run blast. One more twist of the knife from the ultimate scumbag.
Boos and expletives flew pretty freely whenever he was mentioned on the PA system that night. When he spoke to Newsday’s Owen O’Brien after the game he managed to give us a pretty interesting quote.
“I think that’s the nature of the sport,” Utley said of the boos to O’Brien. “I’ve been playing here for a long time, so I’ve heard boos for probably 12, 15 years now.”
Really? That’s the nature of the sport? There’s no reason in particular that Mets fans “might” hate you? Fascinating.
The Final Straw
My ultimate dream would be for Chase Utley to slip into complete obscurity after leaving baseball. But after all, he’s put me through, it really looks like I may have to watch this guy enter the Baseball Hall of Fame. What a gut punch.
I’m trying not to delude myself and ignore all of the arguments. Utley led all of baseball in WAR for ten consecutive seasons from 2005-2014. Since defensive runs saved started being tracked in 2003, Utley ranks at the top of the list with 133 runs saved. His 259 career home runs rank 7th all-time among second basemen. If you are ever looking for a surefire way to ruin my day, just recite these facts.
If you're wondering:
Yes, Chase Utley is a Hall of Famer.
— Brian Kenny (@MrBrianKenny) July 13, 2018
Well, if for some reason you are reading this Chase Utley, I promise you one thing. When you stand on that stage in Cooperstown and your name is called, I will be right there, booing and screaming expletives at the top of my lungs. You best believe that.