Aside from Lou Gehrig’s farewell address in Yankee Stadium announcing his retirement due to an illness that would prove fatal and come to bear his name, the most famous retirement speech in the modern era may be the one given by Hall of Famer Michael Jack Schmidt. Schmitty began: “Some 18 years ago I left Dayton, Ohio with two very bad knees, and a dream to become a major league baseball player. I thank God that dream came true …”
Though never choking up on his bat, Schmidt choked back tears at his news conference, exposing a tender side that no one saw when he played the game. He was considered too cool and perhaps even too cerebral for some Phillies fans, but this was the Schmidt who knew how hard he had to work to succeed even if the lunch pail he carried wasn’t obvious. He walked away from a game he loved, and at which he excelled like few others at his position, and it was emotional.
Now the Phillies face a potentially emotional time with Chase Utley. I recall sitting at Jack Russell Stadium in Spring Training in 2001 when the buzz was about which of the two Phillies bright young prospects at 2B, Nick Punto or Chase Utley, had the better shot at making it. Punto was the glove wizard and Utley was the hitting machine. Utley blossomed well enough that he displaced Placido Polanco to third base, and the rest is history. Utley was destined for a Hall of Fame career until his body began to wear down. The toll was being exacted at the plate, with his offensive drop-off attributed to trouble with his hip. Almost overlooked was that his throws to first base were no longer as reliable, and in hindsight the mystery might have been one of the early signs that his degenerative knee condition was beginning to erode his pivot. The 2009 Chase Utley was a far cry from the Chase Utley who got up on the grandstand in 2008 and declared the Phillies World F-ing Champions. As of today it becomes apparent that only a shell of the old Chase Utley remains. So where do we go from here?
Until further notice, it appears that our opening day 2B is going to be 22 year-old Freddy Galvis. The official story was that the Phillies primarily re-signed Jimmy Rollins to a three year contract because they weren’t sure that Galvis was ready to play his natural position, SS, at the major league level yet. Perhaps in the back of their minds there was more concern over Utley than the Phillies’ brass let on. This became obvious as Galvis logged significant playing time at 2B in Clearwater this month.
One can imagine the conversation this afternoon as manager Charlie Manuel chatted with Triple A manager Ryne Sandberg on the dugout steps. The Phils had wanted Galvis to spend the year with Sandberg at Lehigh Valley, presumably to help shore up his bat but possibly to have HOF-er Sandberg help groom Galvis for 2B. Given Utley’s two very bad knees, the Phils have been forced to play the Galvis card now. It also helps explain why Sal Rende, hitting coach for the Triple A Iron Pigs, has been spending considerable time this spring on the dugout steps watching Galvis closely along with Manuel and Sandberg. No doubt the trio has advised Amaro Jr. that the kid is as good an option as we’ve got at second base, both in the field and at the plate. The way Freddy smoked a triple to chase two runners in today, then tagged up from third to score on a low line drive sac fly to left field faster than Juan Samuel could yell “Go Kid!”, leads me to believe that Galvis may have better instincts and major league staying power than Domonic Brown. Who would have dreamed this two years ago?
As the career of an HOF caliber infielder unofficially comes to an end on two bad knees, the career of another one may be emerging. What does Freddy Galvis think about this opportunity? “I feel like I can play,” he said. “It’s my dream to play in the big leagues. That’s my dream since I was young. Maybe my dream is going to come true, so I’m really happy about that right now.” Whether your name is Schmidt from Ohio, Utley from California, or Galvis from Venezuela, all little boys determined to play baseball dream of the same thing.