Utley, Hamels integral parts of Phillies history

Utley, Hamels integral parts of Phillies history

Chase Utley and Cole Hamels came to the Phillies two years apart, with remarkably similar backstories. Both are southern California natives, Utley from Long Beach and Hamels from outside San Diego.

Both were first-round Draft choices -- Utley the 15th overall pick out of UCLA in 2000 and Hamels 17th out of Rancho Bernardo High School in '02.

It's what happened after that bonded them forever, though. Each went on to become an integral part of the greatest run of sustained success in franchise history: five straight division titles, two pennants and a World Series championship from 2007 through '11. Each became a franchise icon in his own right.

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So it's fitting, in a way, that they remained loosely linked until the end, leaving the only organization each had ever known within three weeks of each other.

Hamels, the left-handed starter, went first, dealt at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline to the Rangers. Utley, the second baseman, followed on Aug. 19, sent to the Dodgers.

When asked to reflect on their accomplishments in the heat of the moment, players usually demur. They'll think about it at the end of the season, they'll say, or when their careers are over. Now that their Phillies chapters have concluded, it's possible to pause, take a breath and contemplate their legacies.

And the fact is, while everybody knew they were good, most of us probably never stopped to fully appreciate how special they really were.

On any given night through much of his career, Utley could look to his left at first baseman Ryan Howard, the National League's Most Valuable Player Award winner in 2006. Then he could look to his right and see shortstop Jimmy Rollins, the '07 NL MVP.

Utley never took home that particular hardware, which in no way diminishes what he meant to the team while wearing red pinstripes, making six All-Star teams and winning four Silver Slugger Awards.

"He was flanked by league MVPs, left and right," said Ed Wade, the general manager when Utley was drafted. "But I think if you boil down his decade's worth of performance in a Phillies uniform, I don't think it would be overstating to say he was the MVP of that era. As good as that core nucleus was, what all those guys did, there was sort of a performance and a heartbeat level that was happening at second base."

Consider: As calculated by Baseball Reference, Utley's WAR (Wins Above Replacement) was fourth among all the players who have suited up in Phillies history. Among position players, it was second only to Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt.

And Hamels, a three-time All-Star, also has to be ranked among the elite pitchers ever to wear a Phillies uniform. Hall of Famers Steve Carlton and Robin Roberts accomplished more. Maybe Jim Bunning. Maybe Grover Cleveland (Pete) Alexander, if you want to go back to the early days of the 20th century. Maybe.

Again using WAR as the yardstick, he ranks 11th all-time on the Phillies list and fourth among pitchers, behind only Carlton, Roberts and Alexander.

Both left indelible memories.

Utley's first big league hit was a grand slam against the Rockies at Veterans Stadium on April 24, 2003.

In the decisive Game 5 of the 2008 World Series, the Rays tied the score in the top of the seventh and had Jason Bartlett on second with two outs. Akinori Iwamura chopped a grounder up the middle. Utley made the play going to his right, but quickly realized he had no play. But he faked a throw to first, which caused Bartlett to break towards home. Utley pulled the ball back and nailed the runner at the plate, and the Phillies scored the winning run in the bottom of the inning. That alertness may well have saved the day.

And who can forget the giddy post-parade celebration at Citizens Bank Park when he figuratively looked the city in the eye and expressed the wonderment everybody was feeling at that moment. "World champions," he said. "World [bleeping] champions."

Utley's signature moment, though, came on Aug. 9, 2006, at Turner Field in Atlanta. Trailing in the top of the seventh, the Phillies took the lead on his bases-loaded double. Howard followed with a dribbler to the right side that pitcher Macay McBride fielded in front of the base and flipped to first.

Utley, running all the way, scored from second on an out that was hit maybe 70 feet. In the broadcast booth, Hall of Fame announcer Harry Kalas couldn't contain himself. "Chase Utley, you are the man!" he yelled into the microphone.

That became a rallying cry, a shorthand for everything he meant to the team and, now, an epitaph.

"On the field, Chase Utley is the epitome of the player who 'plays the game right.' He has earned the respect of both teammates and opponents for his maximum-effort style of play," said Phillies Chairman David Montgomery. "His head is always in the game and he has the uncanny ability to make the right decision in every game situation.

"Chase's ability, style of play, and respect for the game made him a leader in our clubhouse. He leads by example, which is the kind of leadership with which he is most comfortable. We were very fortunate to have Chase Utley represent the Phillies so well on the field, in the clubhouse and in the community."

Hamels made his big league debut against the Reds at Great American Ball Park on May 12, 2006, pitching five scoreless innings while allowing one hit.

Two Octobers later, he was photographed standing in front of the red Corvette he won for being named World Series MVP, grinning as jubilation swirled all around him. He had also been voted MVP of the NL Championship Series, going a combined 4-0 in five postseason starts.

Hamels went 114-90 for the Phillies, which only hints at how well he pitched.

"He was probably the most black-catted pitcher I've ever seen," former general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said, shaking his head. "Record-wise, he should have been 50 games over .500 because of the fact that we just didn't score runs for him. Even when we had one of the best offensive teams in baseball for a long time, we couldn't get runs for the guy. So that was unfortunate. I don't think his record is indicative of how good a pitcher he was over the course of his career with us."

Amaro has a point. Hamels started 294 times for the Phillies, and in an amazing 138 of those games (46.9 percent), the team gave him two or fewer runs of support. They scored no runs for him 11 times from 2009-10, even though the Phils led the NL in scoring over that two-year span.

In a sense, he saved the best for last. Early in his career, he made the offhand comment that he expected to throw at least one no-hitter every year. It was a reflection of his inner perfectionist that moved a curmudgeonly old columnist to sarcastically refer to him as a "serial no-hitter thrower."

But on July 25, against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, he did it. He pitched a no-hitter in what turned out to be his final game in a Phillies uniform.

Hamels' top Phillies moments

Watching at home, Montgomery had mixed emotions. He knew that the prospects the Phillies could get in a possible Hamels trade would help accelerate the rebuilding process. But he also couldn't help getting nostalgic, thinking back to sitting in the draft room as the Phillies scouting staff watched and waited, hoping he'd still be available when they got their first chance to pick.

"I wasn't sure it was going to be his last game, but I knew there was a chance," the longtime executive said. "And I think it probably made me root even harder, if that's possible, for him to do it."

Both players had impressive tenures. Hamels played 10 big league seasons with the Phillies. Utley had 13, which put him in select company. Only Schmidt (18 years), Granny Hamner (16), Carlton and Rollins (15), and Roberts, Jack Clements and Chris Short (14) had more service.

Both also became part of the fabric of the community. Cole and Heidi Hamels created their foundation in 2008 to support education locally and to establish a school in Malawi, Africa. Chase and Jennifer Utley also started a foundation and have been active supporters of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Utley is, by consensus, the best second baseman the Phillies have ever had. Hamels is the best pitcher the organization signed and developed since Roberts, who debuted in 1948. Rollins and Howard are the best at their positions in the 132 years that the team has been around.

That's a rare alignment of baseball stars, but nothing lasts forever. Of those four, only Howard remains. All that's left are the memories.

What memories, though. Memories that only get better the closer we look at them. Memories that make it a slam dunk that someday, not long after they retire, Utley and Hamels will have one more thing in common.

Both will have plaques on the Phillies Wall of Fame.

This story first appeared in the final issue of the 2015 Phillies Magazine.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.