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Chase Utley fuels the confusion

3/25/2012

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Chase Utley finally spoke Sunday. So that was good.

Not that he was in danger of breaking Steve Carlton's all-time Phillies record for consecutive weeks not speaking (512). But after five weeks of no-comments and "I've-got-nothing-for-yous," just having the guy open his mouth was a helpful development.

But there's just one problem here: Now that he's actually spoken, what do we know?

We know Chase Utley thinks he's going to play again someday, that he doesn't believe his career is in jeopardy, that he has no plans to visit any mysterious surgeons on any distant continents to be named later and that he's "definitely not retiring." Not in the next 15 minutes, anyway.

And having known this man for a long time now, I have no doubt he believes all of that. But we need to remember something here:

Chase Utley is one of the all-time positive thinkers, a guy who has willed himself throughout his career to ignore aches, pains, broken bones, 139 pitches that clanked off assorted joints and appendages and just about any other typical human malady that would send your average American to the emergency room.

So it shouldn't be a shock here that he believes now that he is going to will himself through chondromalacia, a condition he tried to argue Sunday was not degenerative or chronic but is, in fact (according to medical people I've spoken with), both degenerative and chronic.

It's hard not to admire the guy for believing all the good spin he could muster on this condition. But it's a reminder that the only diagnosis that's been provided on his condition has come from Dr. Chase C. Utley. And that means you have to filter all of this news through the prism of this man's overpowering will to compete.

Utley admitted Sunday that the reason the Phillies haven't been providing updates recently on what he was up to is that he asked them not to, simply because he didn't feel anyone needed to know.

Well, if he's talking about the folks wearing their Chase Utley T-shirts out at the Tiki Bar in Clearwater, he's probably right. They don't need to know.

But the more you ask people who WOULD have some reason to know -- like his manager, and his coaching staff, and his teammates, for instance -- the clearer it becomes that even they've been kept in the dark on the condition, and the future, of a player they truly care about.

So when his manager, Charlie Manuel, was asked Sunday if he'd gotten any updates from his second baseman, Manuel replied: "He's probably told you guys [in the media] more than he's told me."

And when members of Manuel's coaching staff are asked what they know about Utley, they shake their heads and ask the same question of the people asking THEM.

You'd probably guess that Utley's teammates have at least a little feel for what's happening with a man often described as the heart and soul of their team, right? But there's not much evidence of that, either.

Take Roy Halladay, for example. His spring training locker is located no more than 15 yards from Utley's. But when Halladay was asked by a media throng Sunday if he ever checks with Utley on how he's doing, Halladay smiled and said: "No, I'm not going to ask him. You guys can ask him."

Well, we've asked him, all right. Now we can at least say that. But until Chase Utley lets his teammates and his bosses into his inner sanctum, and until he empowers somebody -- anybody -- who once graduated from medical school to explain what's really happening here, you can feel free to read just about anything into this situation that you wish.

So the good news is, we're no longer operating in a world of silence. But the world of confusion that surrounds this man is still raging, as strong as ever.