Trades and the Tides of Time

New York Times

September 4, 2015

by Doug Glanville


As a kid, I was not a Dodgers fan by any stretch. In 1977 and 1978, Los Angeles knocked off my beloved Philadelphia Phillies in consecutive National League Championship Series. They went on to make a legend out of Reggie Jackson over two World Series while falling to the Yankees. But for me, there was no satisfaction in their defeat, because all I wanted was the Phillies to make it, to beat the Yankees and secure me bragging rights in the halls of Emerson Elementary School, in Teaneck, NJ.
In 1980, the Phillies rewarded my loyalty with a World Series victory over the Royals, but it would be 28 more years, and three years after I retired from the game, before that would happen again.
The Phillies’ All-Star double-play combination in 2008 was Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. If you look at the box scores today, you’ll see that Rollins and Utley are still playing as the same dependable spine of a middle infield — shortstop and second base, respectively — even if they’re battling their health and slumps more often than they did seven years ago. Also, they’ve both been traded to the other side of the country, to my childhood baseball nemesis, the Dodgers.
Rollins became a Dodger before the season started, and last week Utley joined him, each having turned in the only major league uniform they’d known, the Phillies’. So the former electrifying Phillies middle infield is now bleeding Dodger Blue. Teleport to Philadelphia and you’ll see that this change is enough to make one’s head pop off from the shock of not only losing one iconic fan favorite to a trade, but having two traded to the same team for a playoff run. Rollins and Utley were together for 12 big league seasons in Philadelphia — mainstays — and disbelieving Phillies fans are still adjusting the color and contrast settings while watching Dodgers games, certain the monitor is on the fritz.
If this had happened when I was 11 or 12, a couple of years after “my” World Series victory, my head would have popped off, too, so I understand. But now, 10 years beyond my career, I look at it another way.
Inevitably, there will be a day when our favorite players have to walk away from the game, not just from a particular team. It might be a tearful goodbye from a podium, like that of my favorite player, Mike Schmidt (another Phillie). It could be an early-season reckoning like that of my mentor Garry Maddox (yet another Phillie), who admitted he’d had a moment in center field that made “Damn Yankees” real to him: One day, his mind went after a fly ball, but his body stayed put. Or it could be my story: I was cut by the Yankees during the last week of spring training, thwarting my plan to propose to my girlfriend on our first day off during the season.
But it’s going to happen, like it or not.
When it does, fans’ reactions seem to vary according to one’s generation, and one’s understanding of transition. The teens are horrified, the 20-somethings are in denial and rant about the conspiracy of business, the 30-somethings realize that their childhood has just ended, the 40-somethings see it as a microcosm of life, and those who are considerably older than the people involved marvel at how these players are not rookies any more.
But we have a choice, whether we lose a favorite player to retirement or to, say, the Dodgers. We can focus on the uniforms, or we can focus on the players themselves and our shared histories. Maybe in their new place they can still give us moments that remind us of when they carried our team on their backs and brought home a championship, or inspired an indelible memory.
Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley were just kids when they were my teammates. I watched Jimmy grow to be an M.V.P., an All-Star, a husband, a father. I watched Chase silently destroy his opponents, head down, but head up at the same time. Now I watch them fight the war that time wages on athletes’ bodies, and I know they sense a question mark looming over what was once certain about their talent and their time left.
As much as they are in the now to win for Los Angeles, they undoubtedly have a moment or two when they wonder where the time has gone. In Rollins’s case, he jokes about how he no longer can roll out of bed and be automatically game-loose. (I’d warned him about that day coming a decade ago.)
They hear no warning because denial is part of a player’s tool belt; it has to be readily accessible. It was your friend when you played hurt, when you had doubt about your ability to hit that curveball, or that time when a bad breakup might have ruined your season. Yet with time, denial is itself denied, by the certainty of aging and the fact that your past, no matter how glorious, is not your present.
So, you rummage around that tool belt for other skills necessary to a professional, like precision focus, which allows players to deal with the game at hand — even if it means beating their former team so that their current team can thrive. It’s their job, but it’s also in their blood. For Utley and Rollins, it’s the same blood that made them champions in Philadelphia.
As a retired player, I know that history will one day come flooding back for my still-active former teammates, in a tidal wave of emotion that will last the rest of their lives. Yet for now, as fans and for the sake of Chase and Jimmy or anyone we remember fondly, we can still support them, with all their flaws and greatness. We can remind them, while they are still able to play, that they have already given us something timeless. Even though they’re wearing the colors of the enemy.
Republished from the


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