Cut the Chase?

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Chase Utley has not played in a Grapefruit League this spring. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Chase Utley should have surgery as soon as possible – yesterday would be better – and rush back to action for the Phillies.

Easy for me to say. Easy for anyone except Utley to say.

Look, it’s part of the dynamic in Philliesworld these days to fret over every issue and to want immediate solutions to every problem. The baseball team’s recent run of success has raised the temperature up to where the Eagles have operated for years. Maybe even higher.

But Utley is doing the right thing. By definition. Because whatever Utley decides to do for his knee, his body and his career is the right thing. We can debate roster decisions and when to change pitchers or whether they should have bunted in the ninth inning and a million other aspects of baseball. But medical decisions truly are personal and immune from our judgment.

That doesn’t mean Utley is making this decision in a vacuum. He will make about $45 million over the next three years whether he plays well, plays poorly or plays not at all. That kind of coin comes with some obligation to the team that pays it, the fans that make it possible and the teammates who will be affected by your choices. Utley is keenly aware of all those factors. That much is clear after watching him handle his business throughout his career.

I found myself thinking of Ellis Hobbs this morning. Remember how the Eagles cornerback stayed in that game against Tennessee last season? Even though he was getting killed out there? Hobbs followed the code where you make no excuses and play hurt for your teammates. In this case, his noble intentions pretty much cost the Eagles the game.

Utley said something Wednesday about not being able to change the past, only how he handles things in the future. That sounds like someone who realizes that following the code and playing hurt in the past is what led him to this moment of reckoning with his own knee. So he’s being very careful now to do what will prolong his career.

Having taken up a half-hour of Dr. Art Bartolozzi’s valuable time talking about patellar tendinitis the other day (key part's about halfway down page), I have to think surgery will wind up being Utley’s best option here. But if he wants to take a couple of weeks – in March, mind you – to exhaust the alternatives, then that’s his right. If it means he misses a couple of weeks in April, but plays another five years beyond that, well, that’s a small price to pay for his confidence in the decision he has to make here.

Utley makes a lot of money for playing baseball. That’s a privilege. But we’ve also been privileged to watch him play. Sounds like everyone has the same end result in mind here.

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