You won’t see a lot of coverage on 32-year-old veteran utility infielders returning in late August from broken fingers. That’s not typically the sexy hook for which producers are looking as baseball concludes its sweatiest, least sexy month.
Right now, it’s all about who is breaking under the pressure of a playoff race as we enter September and who is suddenly forcing themselves back into the picture. The monotonously fourth place Phillies do not land in either of these categories. They barely register as a possible spoiler at this point, having gone 12-11 in August to stay right in that tepid, nine-or-ten-games-under-.500 sweet spot they established as their default setting earlier in the summer.
However, baseball allows us one more twist in the aforementioned month of September, in which all the young prospects we’ve been hearing about will get to hop on the expanding MLB rosters for 30 days. They won’t be the only ones - there’s also the return of a guy like Andres Blanco, whom I insulted above by claiming his broken finger wasn’t sexy.
Blanco has been the perfect older player to have on a team bubbling with youth. From his rampant doubling to “I’M TOMMY JOSEPH; I’M THE HERO OF THE GAME,” he’s had more enthusiasm for his job - back-up player on bad team - than most people can summon in their entire lifetime. But on top of that, he’s also played well, prompting Pete Mackanin to refer to him as the “best utility player he has seen in 48 years.” It’s not hard to catch Mackanin gushing over Blanco; he’s been doing it since February:
“He’s a great guy to have in the clubhouse. His smile rubs off on people. And on top of it all he hit .290.”
The Phillies lost Blanco about a month ago in late July, when his finger was crushed between the third base bag and the cleat of Gregory Polanco. As he was having four stitches sewn into his flesh, I’m sure Blanco could only express remorse at the damage the incident had done to his trade value - a useful, experienced player having another productive season tends to raise eyebrows near the deadline. Hell, along with his ability to play the entire infield, Blanco worked himself into the emergency catcher role, just to give a team another reason to like him.
But it was a repeated refrain that perhaps Blanco had enough value for the Phillies to hang onto him, anyway, barring a real mind-blowing offer. He’s not a center piece of the next playoff team, but he plays an important role. And again, you know, broken finger; he wasn’t going anywhere regardless.
Now, he will make his return just as the Phillies introduce a new set of player names to the lexicon. Blanco is still healing, so it won’t be immediately on Thursday that he’ll be back with the team, but he’ll be there soon enough. He’ll get a few more late season hacks and in between, probably inspire a work ethic and/or sunshiney demeanor in a cadre of players who will be here the next time they raise a flag over Citizens Bank Park. By then, few will remember that a utility player came through and, with the respect of literally everyone, helped create a more congenial environment in a losing clubhouse full of occasionally frustrated youngsters and made a transition feel just a little more seamless than it would have been without him.
Or, maybe he’ll just keep hitting doubles and become the 35-year-old centerpiece of the next championship Phillies team. Guys named “Whitey” don’t typically fall off in their thirties in Philadelphia.