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February 13, 2017

Why Chase Utley once asked an opposing pitcher to hit him

Chase Utley is a different breed. He’s the kind of player your dad always wanted you to emulate as a little kid, always hustling and always aware of every situation on the field.

But the former Phillies second baseman takes that mindset to a whole new level. It’s why he was able to make one of the greatest baseball plays I’ve ever seen live. It’s why he’ll have a role on a team long after his physical tools fail him. And it’s why, even though he’s been there for just a season and a half, the Dodgers signed the 38-year-old to a one-year, $2 million deal over the weekend.

According to Peter Gammons, one of the big reasons Utley is back in Dodger Blue is the respect he has among his teammates in the clubhouse. 

[Dodgers GM Farhan] Zaidi and [president of baseball operations Andrew] Friedman stayed in constant contact with Utley because, they too, hold the 38 year old in the highest personal and professional esteem. They heard from Corey Seager. They heard from Justin Turner. From Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill. They heard from Dave Roberts and all his coaches; Tim Hyers told one of his former Red Sox co-workers “Utley is the most unbelievable guy I’ve ever met in baseball.”

Not that that’s unusual. Charlie Manuel once said “I played with great players and men like Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva, I coached incredible people like Jim Thome, but in all my years in baseball the person I most respect is Chase Utley.”  []

For Phillies fans, that probably seems like old news. At the very least, it’s not a surprise that Los Angeles found out what we’ve known for the last decade-plus: Chase Utley is the man.

But Gammons’ story also includes the following two gems about Utley.

First, there’s the time he essentially tricked an opposing pitcher into putting him on base for free. Well, supposedly he was trying to teach a lesson to his younger teammates. But would you really put it past the ultra-competitive infielder to use that as an excuse to earn a free pass?

Coaches tell the story of a game in which the Dodgers had a big lead in the top of the eighth inning when one younger, enthusiastic teammate stole second base, which ticked off the opposition. When Utley got to the plate in the ninth, he told the opposing catcher to have the pitcher drill him. Then his teammate would understand there are consequences for showing up the opposition.  []

In case you're wondering, Utley holds the Phillies record for number of times being hit by a pitch at 173, nearly twice the number of second place (Mike Lieberthal, 88).

Last year, Utley was hit 11 times in 565 plate appearances. And since he made his debut in 2003, no one in baseball has been hit as many times as Utley (190). The next closest during that span is Reed Johnson at 134.

And then there’s the one about Utley pretending to be a batboy in order to have a discreet conversation with the home plate umpire — and potentially avoid an ejection for catcher A.J. Ellis, who was later traded to the Phillies.

Then there was a game last year in which Kershaw wasn’t getting strikes he thought he’d thrown. When the Dodgers got back to the dugout, A.J. Ellis was hollering at the home plate umpire. Utley warned Ellis not to get ejected. Chase grabbed a batboy’s skull cap,a jacket,  got a towel and rounded up a bunch of fresh baseballs and went out to give the umpires the balls, which is the batboy’s job. When the umpire asked him what he was doing, Utley told him he was not going to embarrass the ump, that no one would notice he was out there, but Kershaw had to have some of those pitches. Having spoken his peace, Utley ran back to the dugout like just another clubbie batboy.  []

Like I said, a different breed.

RELATED: The Q&A ... with former Phillies icon Chase Utley

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