The dumbest argument in Philadelphia sports right now goes like this: We booed Ryan Howard when his performance tumbled, aren’t we supposed to boo Chase Utley, too?
Oh my. We are an introspective fan base, aren’t we? So ready to live up to our reputation for surliness that, God forbid, we let a franchise icon decline in peace.
Look, Chase Utley has been dreadful this season, his average dipping to .099 last Saturday. While Mike Schmidt gamely predicted that the 36-year-old will rebound and be June’s NL Player of the Month, my hunch is that Utley will never see north of .250 again. This is not a sudden collapse – Utley has been hitting .215 since last May 29.
But regardless of whether he is cooked, he does not deserve to get booed, as he was after meekly grounding into a double-play last week. Nor, for that matter, does Howard.
Part of the debate here centers on fans’ different attitudes toward the two men. Utley’s always been the darling of the crowd – the baseball-smart, hard-nosed Dirt Dog whom Harry Kalas dubbed, “The Man.”
Howard? The former MVP is perceived by too many as non-clutch (wrong), non-caring (wrong) and overweight (well, okay). Part of the tough ride Howard gets, I think, stems from our tradition of heckling sluggers (hello, Schmitty). And part, let’s be honest, is racial.
Neither deserves your scorn.
Those two geezers (along with Carlos Ruiz and Cole Hamels) are the last men standing from the 2008 World Champions. They’re the final vestiges of the excellence the Phils once represented – even if their play is now the opposite of excellent.
This is not an argument against trading any of the Final Four. It’s not even an argument to play them. I think the dumbest thing Ruben Amaro could do is to allow Utley to amass the 500 plate appearances needed to activate his $15 million contract for 2016.
Instead, it’s just a plea to give two guys who’ve combined for 571 homers and nearly 2,000 RBIS the respect they deserve, given that both are the best ever to play for this franchise at their position.
My personal rule is that I’ll boo stupidity, apathy, lack of hustle or an affront to the fan base. And, most of the time, Philadelphia fans get it just right. We’ve got great radar for that stuff – probably because we’ve seen more than our share of it over the years.
But not here. Not with these guys. Pray, if you wish, for them to retire or get dealt. But let them finish in peace.
Or, as Utley infamously said to New York fans when he was jeered at the 2008 All-Star Game, “Boo? @#$% you!”
Have I swayed you yet? If so, consider this: Maybe, as Jonathan Papelbon sets the franchise mark for saves, it’s time for a truce between the fan base and the loudmouth closer.
No? Too soon?