MIAMI — Chase Utley, a decade after he helped break the city’s 25-year title-drought and then dropped a two-syllable word to punctuate the feelings of a fan base, announced Friday that he will retire at the end of the season.
The former Phillies second baseman is in the midst of his 16th major-league season, which he will finish with the Dodgers, the team the Phillies traded him to in 2015. The Dodgers and Utley will visit Citizens Bank Park for a three-game series against the Phillies starting on July 23. Utley will miss the Phillies salute to the 2008 World Champions later this month, but he will still get a sendoff in South Philly.
The 39-year-old Utley entered Friday batting .231 with a .313 on-base percentage in a reserve role. He has been effective as a pinch-hitter with nine pinch hits in 22 tries. He is not the same player who helped lead the greatest era in Phillies history, but Utley has carved a role with the playoff-contending Dodgers.
“Getting this out of the way now and getting this off my chest I think I’ll be at ease a little bit more,” Utley said at a news conference at Dodger Stadium. “I can kind of go into the last chapter of my baseball career with enthusiasm and excitement but most of all a clear mind…I’m no spring chicken. I have 16 years in the big leagues. The hair’s going gray. There’s a lot of things letting me know that it’s time. But the thing that I’m having the most difficult time with is being a part-time dad. That’s really the reason why I’m shutting it down because I’m ready to be a full-time dad.”
Utley will be long remembered in Philadelphia for his tone-setting home run in Game 1 of the 2008 World Series and for the five home runs he hit the next October against the Yankees. The play he made in the 2008 clincher — a sharp grab up the middle before faking a throw to first and firing home to end the inning — is simply referred to as “The Utley Play.”
Utley suffered a broken his hand in July of 2007, missed a month, and then homered in his first game back. A month later, the Phillies were chasing the Mets to reach the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. Utley will be forever linked to Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, and Cole Hamels as the key figures of a group that brought winning baseball back to Philadelphia.
And it’s hard to think of Utley without hearing Harry Kalas, who famously told Utley that he was the man. Kalas was in the booth when Utley hit a grand slam for his first career hit — “Long drive, could it be, it is outta here” — in 2003 at Veterans Stadium. In right field was Phillies manager Gabe Kapler, then an outfielder with the Rockies who could just watch as the homer sailed over his head.
“I had heard about Chase Utley. He was a UCLA guy so I had known about him,” Kapler said. “But this was his first exposure to the major leagues. That was a pretty special entry and sort of an announcement of who I’m going to be in my career. I said to myself ‘This is going to be an excellent baseball player.’ ”
Kapler was the Dodgers’ farm director before being hired by the Phillies and he would often hang out in the Dodger Stadium weight room or clubhouse during home games. And that is where he found out more about that player who hit that grand slam over his head. Utley, on days he did not start, would retreat back to the weight room during the third inning to began readying himself in case the team needed a pinch-hitter.
“You would see him come in and start his process and routine,” Kapler said. “Laser-sharp focus, so intense, and very, very quiet. He wasn’t trying to draw attention to himself. He knew how to prepare for the game. That’s part of the reason he was so successful both in a Phillies uniform and a Dodgers uniform. I can’t say enough good things about Chase.”
Cesar Hernandez asked Utley before a game last season how much time Utley thought he had left in the game. Not for a few more years, Utley said. So Hernandez said he was surprised to hear that Utley planned to retire. Hernandez, who is one of seven current Phillies to play with Utley, took over for Utley at second base when he was traded to LA. And he still feels his former teammate’s impact.
“He always played the game hard,” Hernandez said. “He was very aggressive when it came to playing baseball. Even if he was going through a tough stretch, he would stay aggressive at the plate and he played the game the right way. He taught me how to play the game the right way. I think I’m here partly because of him.”