Through a long and strange baseball career that ended last week after 21 professional seasons, Jayson Werth was always a weird hybrid of top dog and underdog. He was a third-generation MLB player, selected in the first round straight out of high school, who ultimately signed a $126 million contract. He was also a scrap-heap pickup who found friction with fans, teammates, journalists and others, and seemed to take special joy in tormenting his former employers. None more so than the Phillies, with whom Werth emerged as a star before they let him depart down I-95 for that big contract after the 2010 season. For seven years afterward, Werth and the fans seemed locked in a vicious cycle: they’d boo, he’d get a big hit against the Phils, the boos would get louder and nastier.
It’s not a good look. Werth was a brilliant performer who played the game with a ferocity and immediacy that should have made him a Phillie for life, in spirit if not in uniform. All these years later, to dwell on the bad breakup rather than what happened before the split feels roughly as logical as thinking about the Beatles primarily as a bunch of English guys who sued each other in the ‘70s.
I’ll admit to some bias here (and a general sense among Team TGP: see here and here, with apologies to others I might have missed). Werth is among my all-time favorite Phillies, and his is the only sports jersey I own—purchased around midnight in a fit of intoxicated euphoria on October 21, 2009, a few minutes after his two-home run performance powered the Phils to a pennant-clinching 10-4 win over the Dodgers in NLCS Game Five. Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley provided the biggest moments in each series that month, but Werth owned that whole 2009 postseason: over 15 games, he put up a .275/.403/.725 line, punctuated by seven homers on top of the 36 he hit through the regular season. In fact, Werth is the Phils’ all-time franchise leader in postseason home runs.
Beyond that, Werth was arguably the most complete hitter of those monster Phillies lineups. His raw power was second only to Howard’s, as a high-percentage base stealer he was comparable to Utley, and his on-base skills weren’t far off Chase’s numbers. His composite line in four seasons with the Phillies was .282/.380/.506, by far his best at any stop in his career. In a career otherwise marred by injuries, he even stayed healthy: over Werth’s final two seasons in Philadelphia, he missed a total of nine games.
Werth’s time with the Phils was about moments even more than numbers. His steals of second, then third against Billy Wagner and Paul LoDuca in the late innings of the Phils’ comeback, walkoff win against the Mets on August 30, 2007 to wrap a four-game sweep. The three-homer game against the Blue Jays on May 16, 2008. His .444/.583/.778 line in the World Series win over the Rays, with a homer and three steals. The goddamn red Hulk fist at the parade. Bullet throws from deep right field to cut down opposing runners. Even his corkscrewing swings and misses were epic.
The player and the team were good for each other. When GM Pat Gillick signed Werth off the street after the 2006 season, he had one foot out of the game: about to turn 28, he’d missed the entire previous season with injuries, and he had an underwhelming career line of .245/.333/.420. He was an effective fourth outfielder in 2007, eventually broke out of a platoon with Geoff Jenkins to emerge as a star the following year, and then put up consecutive 4.5 WAR seasons in 2009 and 2010. He was arguably Gillick’s best pickup, and among successor Ruben Amaro’s best decisions—twice: with a two-year, $10 million extension for 2009-10 that Werth ridiculously outperformed, and then when Amaro declined to match the Nationals’ “godfather offer” of seven years and $126 million in the winter following the 2010 season.
Of course, this was the bad breakup which has poisoned the relationship ever since. The Phils’ best offer was something like four years for between $48 million and $64 million; Werth wanted to stay, but wasn’t going to turn down nearly twice as much money. Meanwhile, the Phillies signed Cliff Lee and entered 2011 as the consensus World Series favorites. Werth went on to the then-downtrodden Nationals, whose fiery GM Mike Rizzo declared one day that spring that he hated the (bleeping) Phillies. Maybe just making conversation, Werth answered, “I hate the Phillies too.” Hate, of course, is not love’s opposite.
It got worse from there. Back at Citizens Bank Park in May 2012, Werth injured his wrist trying to make a sliding catch. The fans were less than empathetic:
In an e-mail to the Post, Werth said Phillies fans in right field at Nationals Park taunted him as he walked off the field Sunday night. And he will remember them during his rehab.
“After walking off the field feeling nauseous knowing my wrist was broke and hearing Philly fans yelling ‘You deserve it,’ and, ‘That’s what you get,’ I am motivated to get back quickly and see to it personally those people never walk down Broad Street in celebration again,” Werth wrote.
To paraphrase a current Phillie, all it was, was motivation. Over his career, Werth slugged 22 home runs against the Phillies, by far his most against any opponent, despite over 200 more plate appearances each against the Braves, Marlins and Mets. 17 of them came between 2013 and 2017, the last five seasons of Werth’s career, when his play was overall trending down.
But that was him. Werth’s numbers against his other former employers, the Blue Jays and Dodgers, were roughly as good. Tell me that’s not a Philly attitude.
In the last year or so, Werth has seemed to mellow a bit about the Phillies. He tipped his cap in his last at-bat of Washington’s final visit in 2017 (and got booed); he’s expressed a wish to come back for future reunions of the 2008 champs. Now that his playing career is a wrap, he should be here next month, when Philadelphia marks the ten-year anniversary of a title we absolutely would not have won without Jayson Werth. Time to end the feud and welcome him home.