The gravitational pull of his two young sons was too strong to ignore any longer. It’s time for Chase Utley to come home.
The 39-year-old second baseman, whose gritty play and veteran leadership have played an integral role in the Dodgers’ success since the summer of 2015, announced Friday that he will retire at the end of this season.
“I came over here and transitioned to a part-time player — it was new to me, but I took it in stride and really enjoyed it,” Utley, the former Philadelphia Phillies star, said at a Dodger Stadium news conference packed with teammates, coaches, front-office executives and media members.
“I’m also a part-time strength coach, a part-time pitching coach, occasionally a part-time catching coach as well as a part-time general manager. But the thing I’m having the most difficult time with is being a part-time dad. That’s really the reason why I’m shutting it down, because I’m ready to be a full-time dad.”
Utley and his wife, Jennifer, have two sons, Ben, 6, and Max, 3. As the six-time All-Star’s role was reduced from starter in 2016 to platoon player in 2017 to part-time starter and pinch-hitter this season, the emotional tug of his boys grew.
As Utley contemplated retirement, he knew he did not want to make a preseason announcement or go on any farewell tours. “That’s not really my style,” he said. Nor did he want to “ride off into the sunset,” as he said.
He decided this last week to announce his intentions before the All-Star break.
“I’ve played for some amazing coaches, some unbelievable managers, front-office staffs that want to win,” Utley said. “I feel like I owe it to them to let them know what’s on my mind. I’m going into the last chapter of my baseball career with enthusiasm, excitement and a clear mind, which is important.”
Utley, arguably the game’s best second baseman during the bulk of his career, has a lifetime .276 average and .825 on-base-plus-slugging percentage with 259 home runs and 1,025 RBIs.
During a stretch from 2005 to 2014 in Philadelphia, Utley hit .288 with an .866 OPS, 213 homers, 313 doubles and 808 RBIs and accumulated a Baseball Reference wins above replacement of 59.6, the second-best mark among position players behind Albert Pujols (67.6).
The former Long Beach Poly High star has been hit by 201 pitches, seventh-most in history and a testament to his willingness to absorb pain for the good of the team.
“For me,” said Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations, “this is a no-brainer Hall of Famer.”
Utley teamed with shortstop Jimmy Rollins to lead the Phillies to the World Series title in 2008, a season in which Utley hit .292 with 33 homers and 104 RBIs. Utley had five homers and eight RBIs in a 2009 World Series loss to the New York Yankees.
The Dodgers will play three games at Philadelphia starting July 23, which was a factor in the timing of Utley’s decision.
“There are a lot of different tools that help guys perform at this level, and one of those is confidence,” Utley said. “Philadelphia fans really brought that confidence out in me. If I was 0 for 4 or four for four, they were always cheering for me, always supporting me, and that really helped me become a better player.”
The Dodgers acquired Utley on Aug. 19, 2015. Though he hit .202 in the final 34 games, he made his presence felt in Game 2 of the National League division series with a vicious late slide that broke the leg of New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada.
Utley hit .252 with a .716 OPS in 138 games in 2016 and .236 with a .728 OPS in 127 games in 2017.
After signing a two-year, $2-million deal, he has played in 57 games, 30starts, this season, losing playing time to Max Muncy and Enrique Hernandez. He was batting .231 with one homer and 14 RBIs entering Friday.
“For like 10 years, he was pretty much the best player in baseball,” Hernandez said. “I’m just super fortunate to have been able to call him my teammate for 31/2 years.”
Third baseman Justin Turner, who tweaked his groin area Thursday, did not start Friday. Manager Dave Roberts said he was available to pinch-hit. Turner might not start he final two games before the All-Star break.
“He’s day-to-day,” Roberts said, “but I’m not going to put him in any position to make it worse.”