The Philadelphia Phillies franchise has won exactly two World Series championships over the course of 137 seasons of play. Those two world titles came in 1980 and 2008.
As part of our season-long celebration of the 40th anniversary of that 1980 team championship, I am comparing those two great Phillies teams to see whether either can legitimately be considered as having been better than the other.
I got to enjoy each of those seasons, the first as an 18-year-old in October of 1980 and the next as a 46-year-old in October 2008. As a huge Phillies and baseball fan who has followed the club all the way back to 1971, I feel extremely qualified to hold an educated opinion on the subject.
Thus far the series has examined the shortstops, third basemen, catchers, pitching rotations, bullpens, and bench groups. Those pieces can be found linked below. Once this evaluation series ends, I’ll do a final wrap-up piece where I will give my opinion as to which – if either – of these two Phillies championship teams was the better all-around squad.
Today we take a look at two fantastic all-around ball players. One is about to become the newest Phillies Wall of Famer. The other will most certainly join him on that wall at some point in the coming years.
1980: MANNY TRILLO
The most recent entry in my ‘Philography‘ series of min-bios just last week, Manny Trillo was originally signed by the Phillies as a 17-year-old catcher out of his native Venezuela all the way back in 1968.
After two years in the minor league system, the Phillies left Trillo exposed in the December 1969 Rule 5 Draft where he was selected by the Oakland Athletics. Trillo would then play three years in the A’s minors before getting his first big-league shot in 1973. He would earn rings in both 1973 and 1974 while playing in 38 total games as the “Swingin’ A’s” won the second and third of their dynastic three straight World Series crowns.
In October 1974, the A’s dealt Trillo to the Chicago Cubs along with two others in exchange for future Hall of Fame outfielder Billy Williams. Over the next four years, Trillo would become one of the top defensive second basemen in the National League as the Cubs starter. He was an NL All-Star for the first time in 1977 while with the Cubs.
Just as spring training was getting underway in 1979, Chicago sent Trillo, outfielder Greg Gross, and catcher Dave Rader to the Phillies in exchange for veterans Ted Sizemore, Jerry Martin, and Barry Foote as well as a pair of pitching prospects.
Over four seasons in Philadelphia from 1979-82, Trillo would be named to the NL All-Star team twice, earn three NL Gold Gloves, and take home the first two Silver Sluggers ever awarded.
In the 1980 championship season, Trillo slashed .292/.334/.412 with seven homers, 41 extra-base hits, 43 RBIs, 68 runs scored, and eight stolen bases. That was the year that he took home the first-ever NL Silver Slugger Award at the second base position.
It was during the October run to the title that Trillo would forever earn a place in the hearts of Phillies fans who watched his consistent excellence under the glare of the postseason lights.
Trillo was named the Most Valuable Player of what many believe is still the greatest National League Championship Series ever played. The Phillies defeated the Houston Astros in five games, all close, the last four each going extra-innings.
With the Phillies trailing in that series by two games to one, their backs to the wall, and playing on the road in front of a boisterous Astrodome crowd, Trillo delivered repeatedly in the clutch. He registered five hits over the final two games, each of which the Phillies would rally late to win.
In Game 4, his sacrifice fly in the top of the 8th inning capped a three-run rally from a 2-0 deficit, scoring Pete Rose with the go-ahead run. Then in the top of the 10th inning his two-out RBI double scored Greg Luzinski with an insurance run as the Phillies evened the series up with a 5-3 victory.
In Game 5, Trillo’s perfect laser beam of a relay throw from what was short right field gunned down a runner at the plate to keep the Phillies ahead at that point. In the 8th inning, his two-out, two-run triple capped a five-run Phillies rally from a 5-2 deficit against Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, pushing the club on top by 7-5. The Phillies would win the game and the National League pennant two innings later.
Then in the Fall Classic, Trillo was right in the middle of yet another pivotal moment. The series with the Kansas City Royals was knotted at two games apiece and the Phillies had just rallied to tie Game 5 in the top of the 9th inning. Trillo then smashed a ball off the glove of Royals’ closer Dan Quisenberry and beat out an infield single, scoring Del Unser with what would prove to be the winning run.
The Phillies thus took a 3-2 lead in a World Series. They would finish it off two days later at home with Tug McGraw firing a dramatic third strike past Royals’ outfielder Willie Wilson, ending 87 years of Phillies frustration with the first world championship in franchise history.
2008: CHASE UTLEY
The Phillies made Chase Utley the club’s first round choice at 15th overall in the 2000 MLB Amateur Draft out of UCLA. He shot through the farm system, completely skipping Double-A Reading, and made his big-league debut with the team in the 2003 season.
In his first start with the Phillies on April 24 at Veteran’s Stadium, Utley crushed a grand slam to help pave the way to a 9-1 drubbing of the Colorado Rockies. It was quite the welcome to Philadelphia for a player who would be nicknamed ‘The Man’ by famed broadcaster Harry Kalas and who would grow into the most beloved Phillies player of the last two decades.
Over 13 seasons in a Phillies uniform, Utley would become the unquestioned greatest second baseman in the history of the franchise. He was an NL All-Star for five straight seasons and six overall, won four Silver Slugger Awards, and finished among the top eight in NL MVP voting three times. He may well have won the honors in 2007, eventually given to teammate Jimmy Rollins, had Utley not missed a month when he was hit by a pitch that broke his hand in the middle of the summer.
That 2008 championship season was the third of Utley’s five consecutive NL All-Star campaigns and he was widely considered as the best all-around second baseman in the game at that point.
Utley slashed .292/.380/.535 with 33 home runs, 78 extra-base hits, 104 RBIs, 113 runs scored, and 14 stolen bases that year. It all added up to his third of four consecutive NL Silver Slugger Awards at second base.
While he didn’t enjoy a consistent postseason at the plate during that title run, hitting just .220 over his 17 playoff games, he did produce at big moments.
It all started at the very beginning. With Game 1 of the NLDS vs Milwaukee at Citizens Bank Park still tied at nothing apiece in the bottom of the 3rd inning his two-out, two-run double brought home Carlos Ruiz and Cole Hamels to open the scoring in a game the Phillies would win 3-1.
In Game 1 of the NLCS vs the Dodgers at Citizens Bank Park, Utley’s two-run homer in the bottom of the 6th inning tied the score at 2-2. Two batters later, Pat Burrell slammed a solo homer and the Phillies would go on to a narrow 3-2 victory to jump on top in the series.
Later in the series with the Phillies up 2-1 in games, Utley delivered a three-hit performance in Game 4. His RBI double in the 1st inning opened the scoring in that one. The Phillies would ultimately rally from behind in dramatic fashion to win with a pair of 8th inning two-run homers from Shane Victorino and Matt Stairs.
As he had in each of the first two playoff series openers, Utley got the Phillies started in Game 1 of the World Series at Tropicana Field vs the host Tampa Bay Rays. His two-run home run off Scott Kazmir in the top of the 1st inning provided a 2-0 lead in a game the Phillies would hold on to win by a 3-2 score.
With the Fall Classic tied at a game apiece, Utley’s RBI ground out scored Rollins with the first run in the bottom of the 1st inning of Game 3. Then in the bottom of the 6th inning, he and Ryan Howard led off with back-to-back home runs to put the Phillies on top by 4-1. They would eventually walk the game off on Ruiz’ bases-loaded chopper in the bottom of the 9th inning.
No Phillies fan who saw it will ever forget the split Game 5 of that World Series. In the first-half of the game on Monday, October 27, Utley and Jayson Werth scored on a Victorino single to put the club up by 2-0 in the bottom of the 1st inning.
But then rains fell, got heavier, and eventually turned torrential, forcing the first-ever World Series suspension. The rains continued in Philly for two days, further delaying attempts to resume the series.
Finally, with the score knotted at 2-2, the second-half of the game began two days later on Wednesday, October 29. The Phillies took a quick lead but the Rays tied it up in the top of the 7th inning and were pushing for the go-ahead run.
A good runner, shortstop Jason Bartlett, was on second base with two outs. Tampa second baseman Akinori Iwamura then rolled a grounder up the middle that appeared to be a sure infield hit. However, with Bartlett racing home to try for the go-ahead run, Utley deked a throw to first, turned while leaping in the air, and fired a one-hop throw to the plate. Ruiz made a great play to dive and tag out the sliding Bartlett to keep the game tied and end the inning.
After a booming double by Burrell to leadoff the home 7th, Pedro Feliz would drive in pinch-runner Eric Bruntlett, giving the Phillies the lead. Both J.C. Romero in the 8th and Brad Lidge in the 9th would make that 4-3 lead hold up, and the Phillies had their second world championship in franchise history.
I mentioned at the start of this piece that one of these players is about to become the newest member of the Phillies Wall of Fame. That player is Trillo, who was set to be honored by the team this summer before the pandemic health crisis shut the game down.
It’s possible, perhaps likely, that ceremony will now be delayed until summer 2021. But in any event, Trillo will at some point become the ninth player and eleventh individual overall from that 1980 club to be enshrined on the Wall.
As magnificent as Trillo’s performances were in that 1980 postseason and as vital to the team’s success as his defense was for that club all year, the winner here is ‘The Man’, Chase Utley.
Both players won the Silver Slugger Award for National League second basemen during the regular season of their respective championship campaigns. But Utley’s numbers were far superior, even when considering that the game was somewhat different in the two eras.
Utley may have only hit .220 in the 2008 postseason, but nearly every one of his hits was important. He got all three of the Phillies playoff series wins that year off to good starts single-handedly.
Also, his heads-up defensive play in the top of the 7th inning of the clinching Game 5 of the World Series is unforgettable, one of the three most important defensive plays in the history of the franchise. It stands in that place alongside Richie Ashburn‘s throw home to cut down Cal Abrams at the plate in the bottom of the 9th in the Whiz Kids pennant-clinching finale of 1950, and the Pete Rose hustling play to catch the foul pop out of Bob Boone‘s glove in the top of the 9th inning of the clinching Game 6 in that 1980 World Series.
To date in this series the 2008 club has now taken a 5-2 edge in the head-to-head positional evaluations, with the 1980 team getting wins only at catcher and third base. The next time we visit the series will be one of the more difficult evaluations yet, choosing between baseball’s all-time Hit King and the second-greatest slugger in Phillies history.
1980 vs 2008 SERIES TO DATE
4.10.20 – SHORTSTOP
4.02.20 – THIRD BASE
3.30.20 – CATCHERS
3.24.20 – BENCH GROUPS
3.20.20 – RELIEF PITCHING
3.18.20 – STARTING PITCHING