The Werth Effect

When Jayson Werth signed with the Nationals, he brought a few fans with him. I was one of them. I’d been watching a lot of drama unfold on his Barktees-run fan page as people crucified him left and right for being a “traitor” and “selling out,” so despite having rooted for the Phillies half-heartedly since my college days at Temple University and more avidly since 2008, I hung up my Phillies gear and started listening to all the talk about my favorite player, now in my home market. It dominated the media that winter, the crazy, unexpected signing to the Nationals. “Guess being a champion doesn’t matter to him,” Phillies fans gloated. “Enjoy your stay in the cellar.”

So then, cue last spring. Jayson didn’t immediately explode with a thousand batting average and all the home runs in the world, so chants of “Werthless” started up from Nats fans as well. I was disgruntled with both fan bases, because this guy who’d made me fall in love with baseball had more going for him than his slash line. From his early interviews, I had sensed that there was more to this signing than money, and that “more than” was being overlooked when he didn’t hit it out of the park every single time.

I called it the Werth Effect. In Philly, Werth was at best third wheel behind Howard and Utley. Everyone protested that Werth’s numbers were a result of hitting behind them. The team was aging. Werth was looking at three, maybe four more years and then playing the veteran free agent lottery.  Why wouldn’t he jump at the opportunity to take a contract where he could put down roots and be an active part of building a young team up? Werth is a 3rd-generation MLBer; wouldn’t the opportunity to mentor young athletes mean more to him than staying in red pinstripes?

It’s plain from some of the news that has emerged this year as the Nats still carry the best record in baseball (despite getting swept by the Braves this weekend). With the rest of his career pretty much established here, Werth has settled into a home in Northern Virginia and early in the season credited the move with giving him more stability.  Bill Ladson recently wrote on Werth’s leadership, underscoring  the very points I used to make when defending Werth to his detractors:  His leadership is constantly cited by players, and he’s changed the culture of the clubhouse by showing what it means to have a winning attitude.  

It’s enough to make one wonder if coaching isn’t in his future someday. But for now, he’s content to be coach dad. Ken Rosenthal recently reported that Werth’s older son has shown up for batting practice, and that he’s half-joking that he’d like to see one of his boys become a fourth-generation big leaguer.

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