by Michael Baumann
Sports Publishing, 2014
Every city that fields professional sports teams takes pride in the greatest players on those teams. Some cities, such as Philadelphia, are fortunate enough to have professional teams in multiple sports. Michael Baumann makes it his task to identify the “most amazing athletes to play in the city of Brotherly Love” in Philadelphia Phenoms. Whether wearing the uniform of the Phillies, Eagles, 76ers, or Flyers, there is no shortage of athletic prowess in Philadelphia.
There are some very obvious selections: Mike Schmidt, Julius Erving, Reggie White, and Wilt Chamberlain are all present. Older stars that may be overlooked by younger fans, such as Robin Roberts, Richie Ashburn, and Chuck Bednarik are also discussed. The most interesting chapter, however, focuses on the Phillies’ current second baseman, Chase Utley.
Baumann makes a compelling argument for including Utley rather than his contemporaries Jimmy Rollins or Ryan Howard. According to Baumann, Utley is among the ten best athletes in Philadelphia history, one of the ten best second basemen ever in all of baseball, and the second-best Philadelphia position player behind Schmidt. Part of the author’s argument stems from the fact that Utley does everything well, but does not particularly stand out in any one area. However, from 2005-2009, Utley has the second-best WAR in the National League (five points behind Albert Pujols), and is a full 12.3 points ahead of third-place David Wright. Baumann writes that “it’s utterly bizarre for a player like Utley, someone who played for good teams in a big media market, got his jersey dirty, played hard, and posted spectacular seasons to be underrated, but here we are.” It will be interesting to see how Hall of Fame voters deal with Chase Utley’s career when it comes time to decide whether he belongs in Cooperstown.
Philadelphia Phenoms is, first and foremost, a book for fans of the teams and players in that city. However, general sports fans will also find some interesting anecdotes and conversation starters in Baumann’s writing.