The Case of Jayson Werth (and the Washington Nationals) vs. Philadelphia

I'm sure most of you by now are well aware of some of the comments that Jayson Werth has made about the Philadelphia Phillies in light of his recent injury and the supposed cheering of his broken wrist by some fans in right field. The animosity between Werth and the Phillies is at a fever pitch right now, which is rather sad to see given that Werth was one of the key members of the 2008 World F*ckin' Champions and a huge part of their success in 2009 and 2010. A lot of fans probably don't understand where all the hatred stems from. I mean, after all, he's the one who betrayed us, right? He chased the dollar and wound up on a losing franchise (that's currently in first place, I know), but that's his problem, not ours, right? He's probably just feeling regret, which he deserves, and is trying to make himself feel better by slandering us, right? Right?

I think there's more to it than that. I think Werth lashing out at the Phillies organization and fan base is exactly what the Nationals want him to do, and might even be asking him to do. And after the jump, I'll explain to you why I think that's the case.

It all started just before midnight, December 14, 2010. I was staring at the screen of a worn-down MacBook studying for a music history final, and I, like most Phillies fans, was still reeling a little bit from Jayson Werth signing a humongous contract with the Nationals a few days before, seemingly out of nowhere. I know I felt just a little betrayed; how could he sign such a big contract to play for a bunch of losers? Next thing I knew, it was after midnight, December 15, and I don't think I need to remind you why that day was so important to me and the rest of the fandom. Let's just say a certain Clifton Phifer Lee signed a 5-year $120 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, turning down greater offers from both the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees. It was the perfect love story; after being jilted by the money-hungry Werth, the man we once betrayed, Cliff Lee, returned to play for the team he loved instead of taking the bigger offers from other teams. All was right with the world…at least for a little bit.

After we basked in the glow of our moral triumph for a while, Werth—the newly minted National—came forward and claimed that he believed that the Phillies could have afforded to pay both Lee and himself. A good number of people seemed to agree with him; if they can afford to shell out $24 million to one guy for the next 5 seasons, why couldn't they sign Werth too? It sounded like he never wanted to leave. But think about what WholeCamels has said so far about the Hamels negotiations: if Cole wants to become a free agent, then he's going to become a free agent. We've already laid out our baseline for the contract and are open for negotiation, but it's up to him and his agent if they want to pursue an in-house deal or seek more money on the market. So far, the latter seems to be the more-likely case. Essentially the same thing happened with Werth. We laid out the contract that we felt was appropriate (4/$66 million, I believe; essentially Jason Bay's latest deal), and he decided to test free agency instead. That was his right as a player, and he was rewarded with a 7/$126 million deal from the Nationals—the 13th richest contract in baseball history, bigger than Matt Holliday’s, equal to Barry Zito’s—that the Phillies and every other team in baseball were unwilling to match and would likely have been very unwise to do so. He took that deal instead of ours, which was also his right, but it also made his claim about the Phillies being too cheap to sign him an unsupportable one. And he probably knew it, too; there was no way the Phillies were going to approach those numbers that Washington laid out in any of their contract negotiations. So why would he say that?

Later that spring, it's published in the Washington Post that Werth, in a conversation with GM Mike Rizzo in the presence of reporters, claimed that he "hates the Phillies" now. It might just have been an offhand remark, but I, like many fans, got swept up in the anti-Werth sentiment that took Fightins Nation by storm, even threatening to burn my jersey in the process. It took me some time (and some derision from a few of our finest bloggers) until I realized, "You know what, he plays for a division rival now. This isn't that surprising that he would have that kind of mentality, even if his word choice was a bit hyperbolic." I eventually let it go; no harm, no foul. But what continued to intrigue me, though, is that this was a quote from Werth aimed directly at his former organization. In my experience, I've rarely ever heard players step forth and denounce an organization that they used to play for so explicitly. Ubaldo Jimenez kind of backhanded the Rockies last season when he called playing for Cleveland "heavenly," and that drama continued this spring with his drilling of Tulowitzki in the wrist, but that's the worst incident I can think of off the top of my head. With Werth, it was a comment clearly aimed at his former organization, the one that revitalized his career as a star major leaguer, the one that made him a WFC. So why would he say that?

(Intermission: Werth made his return to Philadelphia, his first plate appearance marked by boos scattered with a few cheers that quickly turned into a standing ovation after a tip of his helmet to the crowd. All was forgiven...kinda...briefly.)

Flash forward to the latest series with the Nationals, the infamous "Take Back the Park" Series. In the final game of the series, Werth made an attempt at a sliding catch on a two-out Placido Polanco single and broke his left wrist in the process, leaving the game clutching his left arm and visibly in pain. It was reported to him later that a few of the Phillies fans in right field actively cheered Werth's injury and jeered at him as he was helped off the field, and he responded that he was motivated to "get back quickly and see to it personally those people never walk down Broad Street in celebration again."

Now let’s be clear: Some of our “fans” can be goons, and it's absolutely despicable if they did in fact taunt Werth because of his injury. But I’m skeptical of these claims; from what I could tell on the ESPN broadcast, the only cheers from any fans were from realizing that Werth dropped the ball (keeping the inning alive for the Phillies) and giving him a supportive ovation as he left the field. I didn't hear any sort of taunts, and between the screaming pain in his wrist and the athletic trainer asking him questions and giving him instructions, I doubt Jayson heard anything either. Of course, given the reputation Phillies fans have, there's little chance that anyone wouldn't believe a claim that Phillies fans cheered an opposing player who injured himself. I mean, come on, we booed Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. We threw batteries at J.D. Drew and snowballs at opposing fans. Some guy puked on a cop’s daughter in the middle of a game. We’re clearly the worst fan base ever…of all time. But even so, Werth didn't have any proof other than word of mouth to go on that he was being jeered by opposing fans, and he’s supposed to be a professional about these kinds of things. So why would he say that? Why would he say any of it? Why would he go out of his way to make such derogatory comments towards an organization that had previously been so good to him?

You can call me conspiratory (if that's a word), or you can call me crazy (because I kinda am), but I’m beginning to think that the day he was signed, Jayson Werth became a pawn in the Nationals organization's plans to chip away at the Philadelphia Phillies and their reputation, and not just from the outfield or the right side of the plate. The Nationals have come on very strong in the opening month of the 2012 season, and are currently sitting in first place in the NL East. What better way to continue that momentum than to verbally tear down the organization that has subjugated them relentlessly since their relocation from Montreal? I think there's likely been some prodding by the higher-ups in the organization for Werth to take shots at his former organization to try and debase them just a little bit. We already saw it with Brad Lidge, who claimed that the 2012 Nationals were the "most talented team [he's] ever been on,” after appearing in the playoffs twice with Houston and winning it all with Philadelphia. Why not have Werth, who was equally as valuable to the '08 WFC’s, get his digs in as well?

And you know what? That's absolutely fine. I don’t care one bit.

Jayson Werth is allowed to say whatever the hell he wants about the Phillies. It shouldn’t bother us; he doesn't play for us anymore, and likely never will again. He’s still one of my favorite players ever to have played on the Phillies, and he helped bring us our second title. So whatever, right? Here’s the problem: our fans. We have awesome fans, we really do. I've gotten chills at every single game I've gone to at CBP, including that wild come-from-behind win against the Dodgers and Jonathan Broxton. The atmosphere is electric; I've never experienced anything like it. That's where some things can get out of hand, though. Our fanbase is a very...shall we say, passionate one. And we're not one to take crap from anybody about anything, and that includes former players. We're only going to take Werth's comments as an invitation to start firing right back at him and his team.

Which is exactly what Washington wants us to do.

Why wouldn't they? It's in their best interest to make us look bad. Their press is only going to get better the worse ours gets, and pretty soon they'll have fans lining up around the block to...

I'm sorry, I couldn't type that with a straight face. "Take Back the Park" and "#Natitude" wasn't exactly a rousing success from anyone's viewpoint. The Phillies fans were still out in force, which is always nice to see.

But you get what I'm driving at, I'm sure. The Washington Nationals are trying to make themselves like the good guys of the NL East, ready to dethrone the evil, aging, and classless Philadelphia Phillies after their five-year reign of terror. And Jayson Werth is a huge part of that plan, on and off the field.

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