Now that he’s done, can we lighten up on Jayson Werth?
The first time Pat Burrell returned to Citizens Bank Park as an ex-Phillie in 2009, he received a standing ovation and a scoreboard tribute.
The same thing happened to Shane Victorino in 2014. We even rose and cheered for backup catcher Chris Coste when he wrapped it up as a Houston Astro in 2009.
But Jayson Werth?
For complicated reasons – some understandable, most largely petty – Jayson Werth became an enemy of the state when he left the Phils in 2011. Other than pitcher Adam Eaton, who got heckled when he dared show up at the ring ceremony, no member of the 2008 championship team became as unpopular here as the shaggy right fielder.
Werth retired from baseball last week at age 39. He had toiled in AAA, hoping to get back to the Majors with the Seattle Mariners. Like all athletes, he finally lost the battle with Father Time.
But he gave it a hell of a struggle. Werth lasted 15 years in the big leagues. He was never a superstar, but received MVP votes four separate times, including twice with the Phils. In eight seasons, including all four here, he had an OPS over .825 – excellent by any measure.
During his Phillies career, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Ryan Howard overshadowed Werth in both performance and popularity. But during the three seasons he started (2008-10), he averaged 29 HR, 92 runs, 89 RBI, and 18 steals.
His .444 batting average in the 2008 World Series topped everyone. Most notably, his 11 postseason homers are a franchise record.
And then, in 2011, the Phils let Werth walk when division rival Washington seduced him with a seven-year, $126 million offer. This franchise already had more than its share of budget-clogging contracts, and super-prospect Dom Brown was poised to take the job. What could go wrong?
Well, everything went wrong. And Phillies fans took Werth’s departure as a personal affront after he scoffed at the idea of offering a hometown discount by saying, “This isn’t my hometown.”
So we booed when he returned as a visiting player. Then he made inflammatory remarks.
The next season some Phils fans down at Nationals Park cheered when Werth broke his wrist diving for a ball. Understandably angry, he said, “I am motivated to get back quickly and see to it personally those people never walk down Broad Street in celebration again.”
Even as a Phillie, Werth was never as cuddly as, say, Chooch Ruiz, with fans or media. So as a member of a division rival, he became a target – and he embraced playing the villain. He wound up hitting 22 homers against the Phils, more than he hit against any other team.
Then last September, in what he knew might be his final at-bat at Citizens Bank Park, Werth tipped his hat to the sparse crowd. Some cheered, more booed.
I don’t want that to be the ending. Next month, the franchise will honor the 2008 team on alumni weekend. I expect most of our now-graying heroes to be on hand. They’ll wave; we’ll go wild, and the ballpark will experience the most energy it has seen since the New York Yankees came through.
Jayson Werth’s calendar has an opening now. I hope he shows up. And I hope, even more, that everyone lets silly grudges go and he gets – seven years later – the ovation he deserves.