Wednesday, August 20, 2014
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Second baseman: Making the case for Chase Utley as Phillies best

Chase Utley .
Chase Utley . DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff
Chase Utley . Gallery: 2009: Chase Utley

There are 32 players who have worn a Phillies uniform who were later inducted into the Hall of Fame. Five of them were second basemen.

Trouble is, Sparky Anderson was a part-time player in 1959 who was voted in on the basis of his skills as a manager with the Reds and Tigers. Ryne Sandberg was in Philadelphia for just a year before being traded to the Cubs, where he blossomed into a star. Joe Morgan arrived at the end of his career with the 1983 Wheeze Kids after punching his ticket to Cooperstown with Cincinnati's Big Red Machine.

Johnny Evers was famous as part of the Cubs Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance doubleplay combination and also spent just a year, 1917, with the Phillies. Nap Lajoie spent the first 5 years of his career with the team from 1896 through 1900 but was enshrined largely on his body of work after going to Cleveland.

So it's not a stretch to conclude that Chase Utley has already established himself as the best second sacker the Phillies have ever had.

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  • "Not only because of his ability, but because the Phillies have not had a great second baseman over the years," said unofficial team historian Rich Westcott. "They've had good ones. But if you picked the Phillies best second baseman before Utley, you'd have Tony Taylor, Juan Samuel, Manny Trillo, Dave Cash. All good second basemen but not great second basemen. So I would put Chase far and away the best."

    None of that detracts from what Utley has been able to accomplish in just four full seasons as the Phillies regular second baseman, either. He's made the All-Star team and won the Silver Slugger each of the last 3 years. And he was on track to become the third straight Phillie to win the NL MVP last season before being slowed by a hip injury.

    Ask about Utley and the answers read like promotional movie blurbs.

    Manager Charlie Manuel: "Chase Utley is the most prepared player I've ever been around...He loves to play...He has the desire, the passion of a kid...He's not only great on the field, but he's great off the field, in our clubhouse and everywhere he goes...He's a top-notch professional and a big credit to the game."

    Former Phillies general manager Ed Wade, who resisted offers to trade Utley after he was the team's first-round draft choice in 2000: "I said 4 or 5 years ago that the only thing standing between Chase and the Hall of Fame is a potential health issue...From the standpoint of offensive ability and leadership, I think Chase will go down as the best second baseman in franchise history."

    Former Phillies manager Jim Fregosi: "The best...A complete player...Improved so much defensively...The way he plays. The kind of hitter he is. The power he displays...Just the all-around ability he has."

    Phillies chairman Bill Giles: "The best that I have ever seen play, or know about in the history of the Phillies."

    Broadcaster Larry Andersen: "I've never seen anybody do all the things he does...His numbers speak for themselves...The way he plays the game. The way he respects the game. That more than anything makes him stand out for me."

    *

    THE COMPETITION

    To be considered the Phillies' best second baseman, Chase Utley would be judged against:

    1. Juan Samuel. Most electrifying offensive second baseman in club history before Utley. Had 100 homers and 249 stolen bases as a Phillie, double figures in triples 4 consecutive years. Named to All-Vet team.

    2. Manny Trillo. Named best Phillies second baseman on 1983 all-centennial team. In 4 years with team (1979-82) made two All-Star appearances and won two Silver Sluggers.

    3. Tony Taylor. Played more games at second (1,003) than any player in Phillies history, with a pair of All-Star appearances.

    4. Dave Cash. Played just 3 years with the Phillies (1974-76) but they were his best. Made the All-Star team and finished in the Top 20 in MVP voting each season.

    5. Mickey Morandini: Third all-time on Phillies list with 926 games played at second.

    Honorable mention: Nap Lajoie, knocked in 127 runs in consecutive seasons (1897-98)

    *

    JUAN SAMUEL ON CHASE UTLEY

    "Whenever I talk to Larry Shenk (former Phillies vice president, public relations who now oversees alumni relations) he's the one who is always telling me, 'You're still the best.' And I tell him, 'No, no, no. Chase Utley has me. By a lot.'

    "I still follow the Phillies. I don't get to see their games a lot since I'm in the other league [as third-base coach for the Baltimore Orioles]. I watch on television as often as I can. And I always go back after our game and turn on 'Baseball Tonight.'

    "Sometimes it's hard to judge because a lot of times what you see are the highlights of the home runs. But from what I've seen and just looking at the numbers, to me the thing that stands out about Chase Utley is his consistency. To me, it's the consistency that makes those guys special. The pitchers are always trying to make adjustments on the hitter and he's obviously able to make adjustments to what they're doing.

    "It's the guys who are able to put up numbers year in and year out that really set themselves apart. That's where dedication and professionalism come into play. He hits for power, he hits for average, he drives in runs and he scores runs. He was able to do that last year even though he was playing with a sore hip for part of the season.

    "He's a special player. Again, sometimes it's hard to tell from afar. But from what I see he's one of the leaders on that team. He always plays hard and he plays the game right. To me, there's no question that he's the best second baseman the Phillies have ever had."
     

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