A Chase Utley story shows us how the sausage of baseball history gets made

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The Dodgers brought Chase Utley back because, in addition to still having at least some baseball left in him, he’s a good clubhouse guy and a good leader. No one has ever questioned that. It’s a reputation he’s had for most of his career. Now, in the twilight of it, his leadership and the example he sets with his hard work and preparation may be his primary calling card.

But even if he is unusually valuable in these respects, it’s possible to go overboard when talking about the guy. Like some unnamed Dodgers coaches apparently did to Peter Gammons recently:

Coaches tell the story of a game in which the Dodgers had a big lead in the top of the eighth inning when one younger, enthusiastic teammate stole second base, which ticked off the opposition. When Utley got to the plate in the ninth, he told the opposing catcher to have the pitcher drill him. Then his teammate would understand there are consequences for showing up the opposition.

This was brought to my attention by our own Matthew Pouliot, who added that he did not believe it ever happened, as no Chase Utley HBP in a Dodgers uniform fit this pattern. In the interest of double-checking, I looked at his Dodgers game logs at Baseball-Reference and that seems to be accurate. He’s been hit 17 times in the past two seasons. Most of them came in close games and games the Dodgers lost. In the games where the Dodgers had leads of more than three runs they came with no men on base or without anyone having stolen a base earlier in the inning and I could find none that came late in a game with the Dodgers winning big.

That doesn’t mean the story is bunk, of course. As Matthew allowed, it’s possible Utley requested this once but the opposing pitcher chose not to drill him because opposing pitchers aren’t usually in the habit of allowing more base runners. But it sure does smell like one of those stories people tell in order to make a valid, general point — Utley is a principled leader who plays the game the right way — sound more convincing by virtue of supporting data, whether it exists or whether it doesn’t.

Does it do any harm? Nah. It’s a fun story that tells us something, even if it’s not literally true. Here it tells us that Dodgers coaches think super highly of Utley. So highly, in fact, that it’s possible that they’re either misremembering something that happened — or inventing it — in order to illustrate a point. And the point, as I noted above, is valid, even if Utley never martyred himself with a plunking like they said he did.

Anyone who studies baseball history knows that this pattern is a common one and that apocryphal tales have a habit of becoming accepted as fact over time. We tend to think of it occurring back in the Golden Age, with tales told by old timers. But it’s worth noting that it is still occurring, even with modern players, and that the pattern will continue to color baseball history in a particular way. A lot of the joy of baseball comes from this sort of thing. So too does a lot of the bunk that causes traditions and particular aspects of baseball culture to become entrenched and ingrained.

Regardless, it’s worth examining them. Either for pleasure or, when necessary, as a corrective.

Bogaerts reportedly heading to the Padres for 11 years, $280 million

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SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Padres and Xander Bogaerts agreed to a blockbuster 11-year, $280 million contract, adding the All-Star slugger to an already deep lineup.

A person familiar with the negotiations confirmed the contract to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because it was pending a physical.

The Padres already had Fernando Tatis Jr. at shortstop, but he missed the entire season because of injuries and an 80-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.

San Diego also met with Aaron Judge and Trea Turner before the big stars opted for different teams. The Padres reached the NL Championship Series this year before losing to the Phillies.

“From our standpoint, you want to explore and make sure we’re looking at every possible opportunity to get better,” general manager A.J. Preller said before the Bogaerts deal surfaced. “We’ve got a real desire to win and do it for a long time.”

The 30-year-old Bogaerts was one of the headliners in a stellar group of free-agent shortstops that also included Turner, Carlos Correa and Dansby Swanson.

Bogaerts, who’s from Aruba, terminated his $120 million, six-year contract with Boston after the season. The four-time All-Star forfeited salaries of $20 million for each of the next three years after hitting .307 with 15 homers and 73 RBIs in 150 games.

Bogaerts is a .292 hitter with 156 homers and 683 RBIs in 10 big league seasons – all with Boston. He helped the Red Sox win the World Series in 2013 and 2018.

Bogaerts becomes the latest veteran hitter to depart Boston after the Red Sox traded Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers in February 2020. Rafael Devers has one more year of arbitration eligibility before he can hit the market.

Bogaerts had his best big league season in 2019, batting .309 with a career-best 33 homers and 117 RBIs. He had 23 homers and 103 RBIs in 2018.

In 44 postseason games, Bogaerts is a .231 hitter with five homers and 16 RBIs.