Werth reflects on journey prior to 2008 reunion

Former Phillie opens up about World Series, move to Washington and more

August 2nd, 2018
Philadelphia Phillies' Jayson Werth hits a run scoring single during the sixth inning of Game 5 of the baseball World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2008. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) Gene J. Puskar/AP

PHILADELPHIA -- leaned into the microphone, smiled and dropped one of the most iconic lines in Philadelphia sports history.

"World (expletive) champions!"

sat behind Utley during that infamous 2008 World Series championship speech at Citizens Bank Park. He sprang out of his seat and raised both hands in the air. His right hand clutched a gigantic red Hulk fist that he caught moments earlier from a fan as his car rolled through the service-level tunnel onto the warning track in right field. He cheered, like millions across the Delaware Valley.

"I guess I thought it was a lot cooler than anybody else did on the stage," Werth said, laughing, in a telephone interview late last week with MLB.com. "I looked around and I was the only one standing. I was like, 'Was I not supposed to do that?' I mean, he said it."

The Hulk hand resides in a trophy case on a mantel in Werth's home in Virginia. Werth spent the final seven seasons of his professional baseball career with the Nationals, playing villain whenever he returned to Philadelphia. But Werth has always appreciated baseball history, and his most historically significant seasons arguably came in Philly, where he resurrected his career following a serious wrist injury, became an All-Star, won a World Series, debuted the infamous Grizzly Adams beard that spawned T-shirts and a Twitter account, and ultimately made himself so valuable that the Nationals signed him to a seven-year, $126 million contract in Dec. 2010.

So despite playing for the rival Nationals since 2011, Werth will return to Citizens Bank Park on Sunday and celebrate the 10th anniversary of the 2008 title with former teammates, Charlie Manuel, Pat Gillick and the fans that once cheered him.

"You've created lifelong bonds with these guys," Werth said. "It'll be great. I'm really looking forward to it."

Werth holds no hard feelings. In fact, he would have put on the red pinstripes one more time if the opportunity presented itself. He reached out to Phillies manager Gabe Kapler in the offseason to talk about a potential job in his outfield. Werth said they had a "great conversation," but nothing ever came of it.

"No animosity on my side," Werth said. "I get it. You leave the team, you go to a division rival. But I enjoyed those games. That's why I always loved playing in Philadelphia because of the atmosphere and the fans. They're unlike any other fans in sports. I remember stretching with Pat Burrell in Spring Training of '07. I always remembered that he said, 'If we can pull this off, this would be the best place to win.' And that proved to be true."


Werth never wanted to leave. The Phillies lost to the Giants in six games in the 2010 National League Championship Series, but they figured to be World Series favorites again in 2011 and beyond. He knew he could help. He hit .282 with 95 home runs, 300 RBIs and an .885 OPS in four seasons with the Phillies. He hit .266 with 11 home runs, 23 RBIs and a .966 OPS in 40 postseason games.

He posted a .921 OPS in 2010. No Phillies player has posted a better offensive season since.

But after the Phillies offered Werth about $65 million to stay, he took $126 million from Washington.

"It was a business decision," Werth said. "There wasn't an opportunity in Philadelphia, at least not if you're any type of businessman."

The Phillies then signed Cliff Lee to a five-year, $120 million contract. Werth's relationship with Phillies fans got complicated from there.

A couple quotes remain stamped in some fans' minds. First, in a Washington Post story in Feb. 2011, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo stood with Werth behind the batting cage at Spring Training when Rizzo said, "I hate the [expletive] Phillies." Werth responded, "I hate the Phillies, too."

Second, after Werth broke his wrist in May 2012 in a game against the Phillies at Nationals Park, Werth heard a few Phillies fans yell, "You deserve it," and, "That's what you get." He later sent an email to the Post that said, "I am motivated to get back quickly and see to it personally those people never walk down Broad Street in celebration again."

"We're not the WWE, right?" Werth said. "It's Major League Baseball. It's a little bit more upstanding. We keep it classy. But there is a sense of trolling or playing the villain. They stick microphones in front of your face however many times. I mean, it's tough to give the monotonous, bland, politically correct clichés. It's fun to mix it up a little bit. I don't want to say I fell into that trap, but I enjoyed playing the villain. But I also enjoyed running out to right field to a standing-room-only crowd and giving it everything I had every night when I played for the Phillies. So I am who I am. I say the damndest things sometimes."

Werth will live with those quotes because he said them. One thing that still bothers him, however, is the time he yelled at a father, who was with his son, following a ball hit in the stands down the right-field line in extra innings in July 2010. Werth later invited the family to batting practice and apologized.

But outside Citizens Bank Park, Werth said he has had only good experiences with Phillies fans.

"They go out of there way to shake my hand, meet me, say thanks for 2008," Werth said. "They talk about some games they remember. They couldn't be any happier. I'm always great to those people, because we did have a great time, we did win a World Series, we did march down Broad Street for a 45-minute parade that took five hours. That was something you can't ever take away. That's etched in history."


Werth made his mark on Phillies history, too. It is easy to make a case that he should be inducted onto the Phillies' Wall of Fame. Nobody has hit more postseason home runs. Nobody has a better postseason OPS (minimum 75 plate appearances). Werth's regular-season .885 OPS ranks 10th in Phillies history in the live-ball era (minimum 1,000 plate appearances). Some of the names above him on that list include Mike Schmidt, Chuck Klein, Dick Allen, Jim Thome and Bobby Abreu.

But the Wall of Fame is for another day. This weekend, Werth is looking forward to reconnecting with his former teammates and sharing some old stories. Two of Werth's favorites are perhaps two of the most unexpected. They came before the final game of the 2007 season, when the Phillies overtook the Mets to win their first NL East title since 1993, and before the second half of Game 5 of the 2008 World Series, when they beat the Rays to win their second World Series in franchise history.

Werth was running pregame sprints both times.

"They were unlike any other games I've ever played," he said. "In both of those games, the place was packed and people were on their feet screaming, going bananas. We walked onto the field in '07 and it was like 3-0 Marlins (against the Mets). And then it flipped to 7-0. The place went bananas 20 minutes before the game. That was the buzz the whole day. Then Game 5, part two, it's the sixth inning and you're getting ready for a game and the place is full throttle. Those are so vivid because they were unlike any other game you've been a part of."

Werth remembers some of the ninth inning in Game 5. He remembers catching a line drive off 's bat for the second out. It was a rocket hit to right with the tying run on second base.

"The ball was knuckling," he said. "It was going all over the place. I have this vivid vision in my mind about seeing the ball with no spin on it. And then just catching it and being like, holy [cow], that could have been really bad. I was spooked. I was so spooked after that, that I really don't remember much. That's all I remember."

This weekend should jog Werth's memory a little bit.

"Whether I am embraced or not, I'm there for my teammates. I'm there to see my guys," Werth said. "Whether I get cheered, jeered or booed, it's not going to change anything."