Dodgers History: Wild Thing Pinpoints Chase Utley's Throwing Troubles

Howard Cole

Leave it to Mitch Williams to diagnose a Phillie’s location problems. Or to come up with a good theory, anyway.

What follows is excerpted from an October, 2009 column at the old website, BaseballSavvy.com (yes, that's BS for short). But whatever you do, do not go directly to BaseballSavvy.com. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. 

The site, dormant for a decade, is filled with bugs and cranks now, and I'm not proud of it. But I did write the occasional missive of use to some, and finding myself thinking about Chase Utley this afternoon, I went through the archives looking for Utley-related items to find this old thing. 

Mention the name "Utley" to any Dodger fan now and you're bound to get a knowing smile in response. Even with only a daily view of the UCLA grad's sunset years, Los Angelenos got enough of a taste of Utley's value to a team to admire the man. He hit .236/.315/.381, with a dozen home runs and 99 RBIs as a 36 to 39-year-old player in L.A. He'd hit .282/.366/.481, with 233 homes and 916 ribs for the Phils prior to that. And he'd hit .278/.364/.526 versus L.A. pitchers lifetime. And he'd hit .353/.522/.647 to help Philadelphia defeat the Dodgers in the  2008 National League Championship Series, on his way to a World Series championship 12 days later.

[More from SI's Inside the Dodgers: Best Guess on Dodgers Shortened Season Opening Day Roster.]

Utley did not play particularly well in the 2009 NLCS, however, hitting .211/.348/.211, while committing throwing errors in the each of the first two games of the series. This is where we pick up the excerpt from October 18, 2009:

The term, “Steve Sax Syndrome,” has been bandied about pretty much the blogosphere over, and Chuck Knoblauch’s name was mentioned more than a few times, to describe what may or may not be wrong with Philadelphia second baseman Chase Utley.

And let’s not even start with poor Steve Blass. Obvious answers all, but nothing more than wild guesses. Pun intended.

Meanwhile, in an MLB Network studio in Los Angeles following game two, former Phils’ reliever Mitch “the Wild Thing” Williams calmly pointed to Utley’s unwillingness, or inability to plant properly with his right foot, making a textbook double-play turn nearly impossible.

Hence, “something with Utley’s right side,” probably an injury to the right hip, or perhaps the right ankle. Both, according to Williams and partner Joe Magrane, are areas of previous injury for Utley.

I watched a lot of post-game analysis Friday afternoon and evening, with solid attention paid to TBS and ESPN, along with several L.A. local news accounts, and if the explanation was out there, I didn’t see it. I didn’t read about it in the LAT or in any of the major Internet outlets either.

But there was the MLB Network, not only with video close-ups of Utley’s right side highlights of the errant throws in games one and two of the National League Championship Series, but with similar planting issues evident in recent plays which were converted successfully.

Williams admitted to having no inside information, but suggested that if Utley is not healthy enough to throw accurately on an unhindered dp, he really shouldn’t be out there playing.

I imagine Charlie Manuel and company know what’s going on with their number three hitter, and if it is an injury, are under no obligation to share the information with the media, much less the Los Angeles Dodgers. So we won’t hear it about unless and until Utley comes out of the lineup, or comes clean at some point during the winter.

Sax committed 30 errors in 1983, many of them on easy throws to Greg Brock at first base. The Dodgers won the West anyway, and faced Philadelphia in the NLCS. The Phils won the series despite out-erroring the opponent five to one, with Sax fielding 1.000 in his team’s three-games-to-one elimination. L.A.’s one miscue was committed by Derrel Thomas, in right field.

I don’t know if this was where the “Steve Sax Syndrome” phrase was coined, but the first I remember hearing it was in a season five episode of Northern Exposure, called “Blood Lines, which aired May 16, 1994.

In the show, Dr. Fleischman can’t find a vein during a blood drive, giving squeamish Chris Stevens an excuse to back out of donating. Stevens consoles Joel with the “Steve Sax Syndrome” notion, pointing out that since Sax overcame his throwing problems and went on to have a fine American League career, the good doctor would no doubt be able to overcome his problems too, and all will be right with the world.

Then, of course, Chris recalls Steve Blass, and can’t fathom allowing the error-prone Fleischman to have at him with a needle.

Anyway, let's congratulate the MLB Network on a wonderful first year in business. It’s simply a great channel all the way around, and if you haven’t given them a look-see, you really ought to. Especially this time of year. It’s channel 213 on DirecTV and basic cable around the country. And props to the Wild Thing re Chase Utley.

End of excerpt.

[Follow Sports Illustrated’s Inside the Dodgers on Twitter.]

Say what you will about Mitch Williams - and he's had his share of issues - his analysis of Utley's throwing ills, likely due to injury was insightful. And he gave me a little hope that it might prevent the later-named Silver Fox off his game just enough to give the locals a better chance at a World Series. But no such luck.

I wish I'd had the chance to watch Utley play 150-plus games per year like my Philadelphia friends did. But I'm grateful for having witnessed his Dodgers days.

Howard Cole has been writing about baseball on the internet since Y2K. Follow him on Twitter.

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