By Ray Boyd
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It is no secret in Philadelphia that the Phillies are getting a lot of ire from the fan base. Whether it is ownership, the general manager or star players, no one in the organization has been safe from media scrutiny or public scrutiny over the last few seasons.
The only one who has seemed to dodge the fray has been Chase Utley.
So, that means Utley has played extremely well over the last few seasons and has served as the lone bright spot in an otherwise dark period for the 2008 World Champions of baseball.
All of this would make sense if that last statement were true. Utley is not playing particularly well and has not for quite some time, so why the free pass?
“I think definitely Howard gets crushed a lot more from the fan base than Utley,” said Phillies beat writer Todd Zolecki as a guest with Josh Innes and Tony Bruno.
It is hard to argue with Zolecki. If you peruse Twitter or message boards on any given day for information on the Phillies, you can see fans calling for the benching of Ryan Howard and for the team to hurry up and unload a player who is clearly past his prime and way overpaid.
It will take you much longer to find the same type of statements about Utley if you’re able to find them at all.
“Utley is actually off to the worst start in his career right now,” Zolecki said.
So far through seven games in 2015, Utley is batting .091 with two hits through 22 at bats. To compare, Howard is batting .167 with four hits in 24 at bats.
Neither player is tearing it up by any means, but the boos Howard has received down at Citizens Bank Park are quite noticeable. Zolecki proposed a theory for why Utley doesn’t get the same scrutiny as Howard.
“In my opinion, it’s the fact that Howard is a one-tool guy and he doesn’t really hit for power anymore,” Zolecki explained. He added that while Utley’s numbers are down from his prime, he still brings certain intangibles to the game outside of hitting such as decent base-running.
The dilemma does not exist in the fact that Howard gets bashed, because a case can be made that he deserves it, but when will it be Utley’s turn?
“I don’t know if it will ever get to that point,” Zolecki said of fans getting after Utley. “Fans really love Chase and I think they are into the whole intangible thing.” Zolecki added that boos for Utley may never match those that the fans deliver to Howard.
Fans seem to bring up work ethic when they reference what they love about Utley. He hustles hard and gives it 100 percent and the blue-collar narrative often tied to Philadelphia is perpetuated by Utley.
However, how can we make a definitive comparison between Utley’s work ethic, Howard’s work ethic and the work ethic of any player that puts on a Phillies uniform? Diving for ground balls and running over catchers is great, but are those the things we praise a player for or are those the things that we expect for any player to do?
The way Utley plays the game is fine to admire, but to write him a lifetime pass based off that when he is steadily becoming one of the more unproductive players on the team is grossly inconsistent with the way other Phillies are treated and the way other athletes in this town are treated.
Utley contributed to a World Series team. While that is great and should be forever appreciated, Howard did as well. Both players had multiple seasons where they were arguably the most valuable players in baseball.
If Utley is getting this free pass for who he once was, why isn’t Howard?
Utley’s quiet persona helps him out a lot as well when it comes to the fans. There is a long line of players that have spoken their mind in Philadelphia who have fallen out of favor with these fans. Utley has not said all that much since putting on the pinstripes except for a couple of interestingly time expletives that only seemed to gain him more credit.
He even dodges the money argument that always gets thrown at Howard. Utley might not be making what Howard makes, but with that said, he is making a lot more than most players batting .091.
Philadelphia sports fans have this reputation of being tough fans that let you know when you’re not performing up to par. They hold strong to their right to voice their displeasure because they get up every morning, go to work, work hard and pay to take their rightful place in the seats down in South Philly. Booing is their right.
It might be time to exercise that right and let Utley hear it every once in a while. When you think about it, maybe the fans owe him that.