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July 13, 2015

The numbers don’t lie: It’s time for Chase Utley to retire

For a man who has played so hard and cared so much, Chase Utley needs to do something now that is totally against his nature.

He needs to retire.

The writing isn’t just on the wall; it’s on the stat sheet and in the trainer’s room. The iconic second baseman is done. His reflexes are gone, his knees are shot and his team is pitiful.

Utley will always be remembered as the quiet leader during the Phillies’ most successful era in history, a clutch performer whose uniform was always dirty and whose record was always clean. Utley never did anything during his 13 years that requires an apology. And that’s the way he should leave the game now, with no regrets.

This final season as a Phillie has been the loudest hint any player could ever hope to receive – even one as proud and persevering as Utley. His .179 batting average, his four homers in 218 at bats, his inevitable drop in the lineup to sixth . . . all of it points to the end of a brilliant career.

Beyond the numbers is an even more ominous sign. Because he has a GM who is both clueless and crass, Utley now must endure an endgame that is beneath his dignity. When Ruben Amaro Jr. was asked last week if Utley was still a starter, he replied: “Not for me, he’s not. Cesar Hernandez is our best second baseman.”

Mike Schmidt didn’t wait until the end of the 1989 season to walk away, and Utley shouldn’t deny the inevitable, either. Forevermore, his career will be a benchmark for all future Phillies. He just has one last thing to get right.

There is nothing inaccurate about that statement; Hernandez’s batting average is 102 points higher than Utley’s this season. Still, Amaro’s comment was stupid and cruel. First of all, Amaro is not the manager. He doesn’t get to decide who starts. And second, Utley deserves more respect than that – a lot more.

When the player who led the Phillies to one of only two championships in their 132-year history was asked to respond to Amaro’s demotion, he said: “I think Cesar has done a really good job. There you go.”

To the very end, Chase Utley will be a man with very little to say, at least publicly. Even his most famous quote was only three words: “World bleepin’ champions!” But under that façade is a man whose pride has been battered during a season filled with indignities.

It was only a month ago that Utley dressed down pitching coach Bob McClure right on the pitching mound when outfielder Jeff Francoeur was left in to throw 48 pitches because of a bullpen-phone snafu in Baltimore. That misstep is the only time Utley has shown his frustration so far, but beneath his stoicism is pain, both mental and physical.

Although Chase Utley is no quitter, he has to realize by now what awaits him in the final three months of a lost season. He will be a $15-million player chained to the bench, enduring the worst season of his career and one of the worst in the franchise’s history. What’s the point?

Given the awkward nature of his current situation, Utley should call a meeting with the Phillies and settle on the money remaining on this year’s contract, and then he should schedule one final news conference.

Mike Schmidt didn’t wait until the end of the 1989 season to walk away, and Utley shouldn’t deny the inevitable, either. Forevermore, his career will be a benchmark for all future Phillies. He just has one last thing to get right.

He needs to retire.


After the news over the weekend that Joel Embiid will miss a second consecutive season with a potentially career-ending foot condition, the minions who have been in lockstep with GM Sam Hinkie and his revolutionary plan to rebuild the Sixers were conspicuous only by their silence.

Are they finally starting to harbor doubts about their reclusive hero?

No, not yet. But they are getting closer to the reality of an increasingly dire situation. At the very least, they have to be pondering some questions about this team and this GM.

For example:

     • If the presumed best player in the 2014 draft – a difference-making center that the Sixers sacrificed a season to get – never plays, what does this setback say about Sam Hinkie? Losing the third pick in the draft is catastrophic, regardless of the circumstances. Isn’t it?

     • Also, since the core of young talent comprised by Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafur and Nik Stauskas is not nearly enough to build a champion, doesn’t it make sense to tank for a third straight season, make the lottery again and try for the kind of special player the Sixers thought Embiid would be?

     • And here’s one more alarming issue to consider: Are the Sixers any better off now than they were a year ago, when they had a proven point guard, Michael Carter-Williams; a promising forward, Noel; and a potential stud, Embiid? Is Hinkie making any progress in building a juggernaut, or is he actually regressing in his third year here?

Losing Embiid is a combination of bad luck and bad planning, and it exposes the basic flaw in the Hinkie plan. He keeps swinging for the fences, but he isn’t talented enough to hit a home run. He is 90 games under .500 (37-127), and he is already doomed to another lost season.

How much patience will Sixer fans have for a team filled with broken promises? How much resilience will Hinkie’s zealots show when, year after year, he keeps failing to get the special player he so desperately craves?

Stay tuned. Hinkie’s army is nearing an inevitable crisis of faith. Soon, they will arrive at the sad truth: Their hero is a fraud.


Over the next two nights, baseball will roll out the most tired act in sports, its All-Star extravaganza, which combines the exhausted “Back, back, back” chant of ancient Chris Berman at the Home Run Derby with the game itself, an exercise in tedium and boredom.

Does anybody still care about this stuff?

Berman, who overwhelms whatever event he is covering on ESPN with shtick that is older than the participants, is the poster boy for tonight’s annual blight on the sports schedule. These days, many of the biggest young stars (Bryce Harper, Mike Trout) refuse to participate in the home-run contest. But on it goes, putting its most loyal fans to sleep.

The game tomorrow night promises to be even worse because the managers are urged (required?) to use most of the stars on the roster – some of whom made it because of ballot-stuffing – while pretending the outcome is important. When ex-commissioner Bud Selig forced home-field advantage into the equation 12 years ago, he acknowledged the meaningless of the event.

What he never admitted, however, is that his experiment was as big a bust as the contest itself. The All-Star Game is an idea whose time has passed – in all sports, really – because stars are accessible to fans now with every game televised live and highlights available at the click of a mouse. The only difference is, the regular-season games actually count.

Baseball has been a sport in decline for at least a generation now, a fact that is obvious to everybody except those running the game. Given the choice between the latest Avengers movie or a baseball game, most young people would rather see a superhero saving the world than an old manager slogging out to the mound. What a shock.

But baseball will keep inflicting this sad All-Star hiatus on the fans every year anyway, because it is a ritual and because it is sponsored. In fact, the Home Run Derby tonight is bankrolled by Gillette, a company that is actually older than Chris Berman.

When a razor gets dull, Gillette urges customers to throw it away.

Why can’t we do the same thing to the All-Star extravaganza?

And finally . . . 

After getting arrested again for DUI, Donovan McNabb said this last week: “There was a story that was released, and I want everybody to be cognizant of it, because I am very aware of it, handling the matter at this particular point. But at this point, I have no further information, and as we continue on with the situation, then we’ll let it handle as it will handle itself.” No wisecracks this time. After his suspension by Fox, the ex-Eagle needs help. And he needs it right now.

• All of the LeSean McCoy fans still lamenting his exit from the Eagles should note that his fellow NFL players ranked him only the 29th best player in a special league-sponsored poll last week. More bad news for the McCoy loyalists: His replacement on the Eagles, DeMarco Murray, was ranked fourth.

• Six weeks ago, I asked Phillies GM Ruben Amaro if he was concerned that his best trade chips would lose value before the deadline, and he said he wasn’t worried at all. Since then, Aaron Harang has imploded and Cole Hamels just got shelled in San Francisco. Do you think Amaro is worried now?

• You know it’s the slow season in Philadelphia sports when the Sixers – a boring team when the games count – get the kind of local coverage they have received in the NBA Summer League. By the way, GM Sam Hinkie said he absolutely loves summer hoops. Zzzzz. . . Twenty days till Eagles training camp.

• A poll conducted by Emory Sports Marketing Analytics ranked Dallas Cowboys fans first in loyalty and support in 2015, while the Eagles finished 11th. In other words, don’t send your kid to Emory University, where alcohol consumption has gotten totally out of control.