This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com
To date, the Baseball Digest Birthdays have featured a number of great ballplayers from years gone by. December 17th celebrates one of the great ballplayers of toda;, a player obscured by several other talented players on the same roster.
The recent signing of Cliff Lee by the Philadelphia Phillies has put the focus of their 2011 season square on the starting rotation. However, opposing pitchers have plenty to deal with facing the Phillies as well though, with one of top 10 greatest players of today in their everyday lineup, as noted by the Sporting News list of top 100 current players in 2009. Chase Utley celebrates his 32nd birthday today and looks to be a key cog in the Phillies lineup for years to come.
Born on December 17th, 1978, Chase Utley wasted little time establishing himself as an elite ballplayer. Though drafted in the first round of the 1999 June Amateur Draft, Utley also played in the Cape Cod League, the premier collegiate league that has featured dozens of future big leaguers. A career .281 average in the minor leagues forced the front office of the Phillies to make way for the next second baseman.
In his first two seasons in the majors, the Phillies plugged Utley into the second base spot with Placido Polanco shifting over to third base when David Bell went down with in injury. Utley made his mark in his very first game by crushing a grand slam, giving a peek to what his future looks like. By 2005 he had wrested the every day job from Polanco, who was traded in June of that year to the Detroit Tigers.
With his first full season at second base in 2006, Chase Utley led the league with 131 runs scored and had his first of three seasons with more than thirty home runs. 2006 was also his first of five consecutive All-Star nods. Since 2006, Chase Utley has rooted himself in the discussion for most valuable player a team can build themselves around.
Since becoming an every day player, Utley’s batting average hovers close to .300 to go along with an OPS+ of 133. Though his overall postseason numbers may not look impressive(.243 batting average, .862 OPS+), he set a postseason record for reaching base in 26 consecutive games. He also tied Reggie Jackson’s total of five home runs for the World Series record of most home runs in a series.
In addition to being a force in the lineup, he has established himself as one of the best defensive second baseman in the league, as noted when he was selected for a Fielding Bible Award for the 2010 season.
Despite an injury in late June of 2010, he was still selected to the All-Star team. As the Philadelphia Phillies look to recapture their World Series glory, there’s little doubt that they will rely on the all-around play of Chase Utley.
Also Celebrating A Birthday Today:
Bob Ojeda, born on December 17th in 1957, a fifteen year veteran most remembered for his 18-5 season as the fourth starter of the 1986 World Champion New York Mets!
Curtis Pride, born in 1961, became the first deaf major league ballplayer since Dick Sipek in 1945 when he reached the big leagues with the 1993 Montreal Expos. Though never an every player, Pride hit .250 with 20 home runs over parts of eleven seasons with eight teams.
Leo Cardenas, born in 1938, spent sixteen seasons as a shortstop, mostly with the Cincinnati Reds. He reached the 1961 World Series against the New York Yankees, and later helped the Minnesota Twins to back to back American League Pennants in 1969 and 1970.