Jayson Werth knew he was the elephant in the room Sunday as he stood alongside the other members of the 2008 World Series champion Phillies. He understood that he was the only member of that team that did not have a zero percent chance of being booed during the on-field introductions celebrating the 10-year reunion of the Phillies' last title team. (Full disclosure: Adam Eaton was not in attendance).
And so, after seven years with the Washington Nationals and some contentious relations with Phillies fans, Werth came out with his trunk waving and the crowd at Citizens Bank Park embraced him once again.
After being introduced by public address announcer Dan Baker, Werth sprinted from the dugout and raised his fists high in the air before joining former manager Charlie Manuel and his 2008 teammates along the first-base line. His right hand had a Hulk fist prop like the one he slipped on during the World Series parade down Broad Street. Werth, 39 and recently retired, had admitted beforehand that it would mean a lot to him to be loved again inside the ballpark he loved so much for four seasons.
"That would be pretty cool, especially after what transpired the past seven years," he said. "It would be awesome. We'll see."
We saw and it was cool. Those seven years away had been something. He left Philadelphia after the 2010 season and signed with the Washington Nationals for seven years and $126 million, far more money than the Phillies had offered. Nobody should have held that against him, but plenty of Phillies fans did.
The relationship got worse fast. In 2012, the year Washington ended the Phillies' run of five straight division titles, Werth broke his wrist in a game against the Phillies at Nationals Park. As he left the field in pain, Werth said he could hear some Phillies fans telling him he got what he deserved. He reacted in an interview with the Washington Post.
"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 [Phillies fans] never walk down Broad Street in celebration again," Werth said.
The feud was officially on. For the remainder of his tenure with the Nats, he was booed whenever he came to the plate in Philadelphia. He was the enemy, a villain who seemed to relish the role, especially since his Nats won four division titles while the Phillies sank to the bottom of the National League East.
"I knew what was going on," Werth said. "Obviously if you're going to leave a place like Philadelphia and then go to a division rival — it was a tough decision. When I left, I knew absolutely what that meant. This is the first time coming in here with a totally different mind-set in a long time. It's good to be back. It's good to be with the guys."
The Phillies badly wanted Werth here.
"Charlie called me a couple of weeks ago," Werth said. "I hadn't talked to him in a while. I'm just excited to get back with the guys and hang out here."
As his career with the Nats neared its end, it was clear that Werth wanted to mend his relationship with Phillies fans. He tried to extend his career one more year this season, but after suffering a hamstring injury in late May while playing with Seattle's triple-A team in Tacoma, Werth decided it was time to call it a career. He did, however, compete in the Bluegrass World Series in Louisville, Ky,. over the weekend before flying into Philadelphia early Sunday morning for the ceremony.
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And now he appears to be back in the good graces of Phillies fans. Before the day was over he was loudly applauded again as he served as the trigger man behind the Phanatic's hot dog launcher. Beyond a West Coast trip with his son's baseball team later this month, Werth said he does not know what his future holds.
It will be fascinating to see what his future as a former Phillie holds. There's only a handful of guys from the 2008 team that could not attend Sunday's reunion because they are still playing. The next time they honor this team, they will all be together and many of them will also be introduced as Phillies Wall of Famers.
Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels are locks to make it. Carlos Ruiz should be a no-doubter too. And then the conversation gets to guys like Werth and Shane Victorino.
"Obviously that would be a huge accomplishment," Werth said. "I feel like I did a lot of things for this organization, and the team I was on for those four years was one of the best teams I've ever played on. So to go up there with some of those guys and be recognized would be kind of make everything … all worth it."
Because he played only four seasons with the Phillies and the first two were as a part-time player, his career numbers probably do not measure up to some of the other Wall of Famers. His 95 home runs, for example, are tied for 25th on the all-time list and his 300 RBIs are tied for 60th. His .885 OPS, however, is 10th on the team's all-time list.
It is Werth's postseason contributions with the Phillies that should put him over the top. His .966 OPS in 40 postseason games was the best among the core players from the 2008 team. In 40 playoff games, he batted .266 with a .376 on-base percentage, eight doubles, two triples and 11 home runs and 23 RBIs. Only Howard had more postseason extra-base hits than Werth and he played in six more postseason games.
The playoff resume is so good that Werth belongs on the Wall of Fame. For now, however, one giant leap for Philliekind has been taken. Jayson Werth is beloved again at Citizens Bank Park.
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