Phil Sheridan: There should be no waiting sequel for Phillies second baseman Chase Utley

Posted: June 25, 2012

The Second Annual Chase Utley Wait-a-thon appears to be nearing its end. The achy-kneed second baseman will play in the same state as his teammates Tuesday night, then in the same stadium perhaps as early as Wednesday.

We can't be sure of much, but we can be sure of this: The Second Annual Wait-a-thon must also be the Last Annual Wait-a-thon. One way or another, the Phillies have to make very sure they don't spend the first months of the 2013 season waiting and wondering about Utley.

There's a reason Samuel Beckett didn't write a sequel to Waiting for Godot. It would have been unbearably tedious - much as the second Utley watch has been.

You can make a case the Phillies shouldn't have been caught unprepared for Utley's inability to play so far this year. I'm more inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. He returned last year and made it through the regular season and the abbreviated postseason appearance. Near as we can tell, there was no sign from Utley over the winter that 2012 would be a repeat of 2011, only worse.

But if we give Utley and the Phillies a pass for this year, that's it. There is no acceptable reason for everyone to be sitting around next March wondering whether Utley is going to be there on opening day. The cycle has to be broken.

There are a couple of ways that could happen. The ideal, of course, is for Utley to find a way to manage his knee problems well enough to play at something like his customary level. That is what the Phillies were hoping for last year, and look where it got them.

So if that's not possible - if there is no surgery or treatment or miracle healing water - then some other solution has to be found.

This is tough stuff. Everyone involved likes and respects Utley and his contributions to this golden era of Phillies baseball. The Phillies have been deferential in letting Utley call all the shots over these last two truncated seasons. But they have to draw the line at being held hostage, and that is where they find themselves after this latest ordeal.

Even if we take on faith that Utley doggedly is trying to get back on the field, it remains true that he is making $15 million this year. He is scheduled to make $15 million more next year. As long as he's rehabilitating and trying to come back, that money is guaranteed.

If Utley were simply to accept that his body can't handle the rigors of major-league baseball and retire, he wouldn't get that money. That's a huge incentive to keep plugging away in the trainer's room and in minor-league rehab stints.

That would be fine, too, if the Phillies didn't find themselves in limbo. It is human nature for the players, the manager, and the coaches to keep one eye on the status of their injured star. That has been even more pronounced this year, with the added Ryan Howard Wait-a-thon and the long absence of Roy Halladay.

Barring miracle cure or retirement, then, the Phillies simply have to proceed as if they are paying Utley $15 million next year as a kind of parting gift. They can't be caught counting on him. Not again.

If Utley displays some measure of the offensive prowess he had three or four years ago, maybe the Phillies could trade him to an American League team. That would allow him to play on without having to subject his knees to the pounding of playing second base. Even if the Phillies have to pay a chunk of his salary, that could free Utley and the Phillies from a repeat of the last two years.

It can't be overstated that none of this is meant as a lack of appreciation for Utley's place in Phillies history. But look at the Phillies' only other championship team. Within a few years of 1980, Larry Bowa, Bob Boone, Pete Rose, Greg Luzinski, Bake McBride, Manny Trillo, and Dick Ruthven were gone. They are still remembered here for what they did. Utley will be, too.

In a perfect world, Utley would have remained healthy and finished a long, productive career as a Phillie.

This is not a perfect world, and it is nowhere more imperfect than in Philadelphia sports.

Once Utley returns, fans should enjoy seeing him play again. But the Phillies can't be sentimental. They have to approach 2013 as if he is done. If that means relying on Freddy Galvis at second and replacing Utley's offensive production with improvements at third base and in the outfield, fine. The specific moves aren't really the issue here.

Ending the Utley Wait-a-thon is. Once was unfortunate. Twice was bad. A third time would be pure baseball malpractice.


Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at www.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan

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