Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
During the "Shea Anything" podcast taping on Wednesday, colleague Doug Williams reminded me of the most offensive thing that Chase Utley has ever done in public -- and no, it wasn't breaking Ruben Tejada's leg.
Doug noted that, during a WFAN appearance earlier this year, the former Phillies great said "See ya, sweetheart" to caller Cali from Connecticut. This was a truly icky comment, out of step with both contemporary standards and basic decency (Cali was busy telling Utley how "annoying" he was, but you still don't say "sweetheart").
Mets fans do not disparage Utley for the casual misogyny in his vocab, though. They hate him because of one late slide in the playoffs, and a history of aggressive play that they would have loved had Utley been on their side.
It's well past time to give up on this Utley hate and appreciate one of the great careers of our time. And while we're at it, let's consider scrubbing the concept of hate from our sports discourse altogether.
To be fair, it wasn't Mets fans who brought up the word or topic this time. It was SportsNet L.A. anchor John Hartung, who asked Utley, rather unfortunately, "Do you really hate the New York Mets?"
Utley paused long enough to flash a subtle grin and said, "I do. I do."
Utley is a funny guy. Teammates have always loved his dry sense of humor. In this case, he played along, but it's clear he's not taking it too seriously. If you were one of the Mets fans who worked yourself into a lather when you saw the video on Twitter -- well, the joke was on you.
There is no chance that Utley cares enough to hate you. You know that scene in Mad Men when Ginsburg says to Don Draper, "I feel bad for you," and Don replies with a cold, "I don't think about you at all?" That's Mets fans and Utley.
Fact is, Utley was one of the most talented, passionate, and cerebral players of his era. He was the spiritual leader of a Phillies team that won five consecutive National League East titles, and was on a Hall of Fame track before injuries cut his prime short.
This was the type of player you want on your team. As a second baseman, he used to look to the catcher for pitch location, then put his hand behind his back to position the outfielders. This is typically a coach's job, but as Jayson Werth once told me, "If Chase Utley tells me to do something, I'm doing it."
Just last month, when I asked J.A. Happ to name the best teammate he ever had at picking up signs and evidence of pitch tipping, he said "Chase Utley" before I could even finish the question.
After the Phillies traded Utley to L.A., he became so beloved that the Dodgers made him a member of the front office almost immediately upon his retirement.
To be sure, Utley had detractors. The highly respected Carlos Beltran once called him out for a late slide to break up a double play, and said Utley was a dirty player.
I've always heard from teammates that David Wright resented Utley's style of play, though Wright was too nice to ever say it. Tejada had no interest in hearing from Utley, or accepting the bottle of tequila that he offered. That's understandable.
But we can say with confidence that Mets players and fans would have appreciated all of Utley's hard-nosed qualities, had he been on their side. He did nothing egregious enough to alienate teammates.
It's fine to say that Utley's slide into Tejada was over the line. Plenty of serious baseball folks hold that opinion. But he wasn't trying to hurt his opponent, and probably wouldn't have, if Daniel Murphy had fed the ball better to Tejada.
It's not enough to inspire hate. Not that anything that happens in sports should lead to that particular emotion. But when it comes to Utley, the most rewarding feeling would probably be appreciation -- or perhaps even gratitude -- that we got to watch a career as remarkable as his.