Utley should learn to lean

Pete Reiser of the Dodgers sacrificed his body, and, ultimately, his career. Could the same happen to Chase Utley?
Pete Reiser of the Dodgers sacrificed his body, and, ultimately, his career. Could the same happen to Chase Utley?
Posted: May 07, 2009

I don't know how much baseball history Chase Utley has absorbed, but he probably ought to soak up a little on Pete Reiser.

The sad story of that long-ago Dodgers outfielder ought to be a cautionary tale for the Phillies' hard-headed second-baseman.

It's a simple lesson really: Brick walls and 90-m.p.h. fastballs respect neither talent nor guts.

Fifty-seven years after he ended a once-starry career as a .136-hitting backup outfielder for the Cleveland Indians, Reiser's name endures. That's because he turned out to be something Utley himself often seems destined to become:

A martyr to his own stubbornness.

Like Utley, Reiser was a budding superstar. Leo Durocher, who managed him with Brooklyn in the 1940s, later would say that the only player he ever saw whose skills were comparable to Reiser's was Willie Mays.

"And [Pete] had more power than Willie – lefthanded and righthanded both," Durocher said.

For the pennant-winning Dodgers in 1941, Reiser, 22, hit .343 with 39 doubles, 17 triples and 14 homers. Like Utley, he played with a headlong, headstrong drive, a drive that ultimately destroyed him.

Reiser couldn't - or wouldn't - stop banging into outfield walls, unpadded outfield walls. Even when managers beseeched him to back off, he kept barreling into the bricks.

One collision fractured his skull. Another left him temporarily paralyzed. A third hurt him so severely that last rites were administered - at the ballpark.

Eventually, the injuries sapped his skills, severely truncating what could have been a Hall of Fame career. At 33, he was done.

As a second baseman, Utley doesn't need to worry about many walls. His problem is the pitches he refuses to dodge. While they frequently have hurt Utley, they have the potential to kill the Phillies.

The three-time all-star, an absolutely essential cog in this franchise's future, continues to sacrifice his body for no good reason. He stands on top of the plate and won't budge. He knows most pitchers try to get him out in there. If he backed off too regularly, they'd try to get him out away.

But when a rock-hard sphere is hurtling toward you at body-warping speed, there's no shame in spinning out of the way. Standing there like a statue might seem like a nod to baseball's macho code. In reality, it's more likely career suicide.

How long will it be before a pitch breaks another bone, forces another surgery, ruins another season?

Utley isn't some eager pin-cushion like Ron Hunt, the so-so Mets/Expos infielder whose greatest attribute was his penchant for getting plunked. He's a potential MVP. For him, discretion should be the better part of valor. After all, wouldn't the Phillies be better served by a wimpy second baseman who hits .330 than a macho one on the DL?

We've already seen glimpses of the future.

Two years ago, a pitch from Washington's John Lannan broke Utley's hand. To be fair, he did try to avoid that one but only with a belated twist. He was out several weeks.

In 2007 and 2008, Utley led the league in being hit by pitches - 25 times in '07, 27 in '08. Some struck him on or near the hip. Who knows how much those pitches contributed to the problems he endured there in the second half of '08?

Just last week as, yet again, he stood there unmovingly, Utley was hit in the lower leg by a Mike Pelfrey sinker. He's already missed two games. Who can say whether it will affect him the rest of the season?

So maybe after this latest incident Utley will stop and think about what he's risking - the statistics, the Phillies victories, the millions in salary.

And maybe the next time a pitch comes speeding toward him, he'll take a spin.

Oh, really? A popup ad caught my eye as I was Web-surfing this week:

"Philly's top companies," it said, "are developing their business at Sixers games."

If nothing else, this explains a lot about our current recession.

NASCAR note of the week. Strange things I've found on the Web while searching for NASCAR-related news:

1. Dozens of popup ads for getting rid of yellow teeth.

2. A truly frightening concept called the "NASCAR Chat Room Photo Album."

3. This head-scratching post in a chat room: "I have spent time in RV Camp Grounds, and you do not even have to be near a race at all to find fans display their loyalty and interest in the sport throughout their stay. It may be a NASCAR flag, chair, signs, hanging banners on their RV or just having the TV on with a race. And lets not forget the shirts. I have even seen an entire custom paint job on an RV to reflect the sport. In simple terms, as I wish to expressed in this post, LETS CALL THE FANS THE REAL AMERICA WE LIVE IN AND THE PEOPLE WE APPRECIATE TO BE AROUND!"

Hear, hear.

The more things change . . . So how do the Flyers propose to pull themselves out of their 35-year rut?

By attempting to sign Ray Emery, a goaltender who fights too much and has had a drug problem.

Maybe they can bring back Steve Downie, too.

"We'll park it, Cole." Tomorrow night, Cole Hamels will receive a 2010 Camaro for being named the 2008 World Series MVP.

Suggestion to the Phils: Don't let Hamels anywhere near the car while it's moving. This guy is more accident-prone than Wile E. Coyote.


Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068 or ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com.

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