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.

Phillies’ Bryce Harper to miss start of season after elbow surgery

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PHILADELPHIA – Phillies slugger Bryce Harper will miss the start of the 2023 season after he had reconstructive right elbow surgery.

The operation was performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles.

Harper is expected to return to Philadelphia’s lineup as the designated hitter by the All-Star break. He could be back in right field by the end of the season, according to the team.

The 30-year-old Harper suffered a small ulnar collateral ligament tear in his elbow in April. He last played right field at Miami on April 16. He had a platelet-rich plasma injection in May and shifted to designated hitter.

Harper met Nov. 14 with ElAttrache, who determined the tear did not heal on its own, necessitating surgery.

Even with the elbow injury, Harper led the Phillies to their first World Series since 2009, where they lost in six games to Houston. He hit .349 with six homers and 13 RBIs in 17 postseason games.

In late June, Harper suffered a broken thumb when he was hit by a pitch and was sidelined for two months. The two-time NL MVP still hit .286 with 18 homers and 65 RBIs for the season.

Harper left Washington and signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies in 2019. A seven-time All-Star, Harper has 285 career home runs.

With Harper out, the Phillies could use Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber at designated hitter. J.T. Realmuto also could serve as the DH when he needs a break from his catching duties.