After failing to make the catch on Placido Polanco’s line drive, there was Werth, writhing in pain, Davey Johnson and Nationals trainer, Mike McGowan, coming to his aid, and in the background, Phillies fans could be heard cheering. Many speculated that fans were lustily jeering the sight of Werth down on the field.
After undergoing surgery Monday morning that could keep him out 12 weeks, Werth shared his thoughts regarding the matter in an email to Nationals beat writer Adam Kilgore, and they were not what one would describe as cordial.
“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,’” Werth wrote, “I am motivated to get back quickly and see to it personally those people never walk down Broad Street in celebration again.”
Bitter. Spiteful. Vindictive. That’s the sense I get from Werth when reading these comments. And, in a way, I can understand where he’s coming from. It’s been a rapid fall from grace for Werth around these parts. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few misguided goons, one too many beers deep and pumped up by the fact that the Phillies were winning the game, saw Werth walking off the field in a moment of weakness, and thought it the perfect opportunity to pile on. I’m also not going to deny that once some people started heckling Werth, a few others got caught up in the gang mentality, and started to go at him as well.
Sometimes people do stupid things. It happens.
But Werth’s comments don’t seem to be directed at the few classless fans who cheered his injury. Rather, they seem to be a broad generalization. By “those people,” Werth means, simply put, Phillies fans, in general. And I imagine him saying it with such disdain and disgust, accenting the word ‘those’ when he says it. Those people.
The truth is the people Werth heard taunting him were in the minority. Most Phillies fans reacted respectfully, noting what a shame it was that he had gotten hurt. Some even commented on twitter how it was especially unfortunate that it was the wrist he had injured in the past. But those sentiments fell upon deaf ears. Werth’s view of the fans has been manipulated to such a degree, that it’s now far too narrow for him to see things realistically when it comes to Phillies fans–they all look, think, and act alike as far as he’s concerned. Now he’s going to take every single one of them on single-handedly, ensuring that, for as long as he can play the game, fans in Philadelphia will never again know the sweet ebullience he gave them when he paraded down Broad Street in 2008.
How did it reach this point?
The love affair that was born out of a blissful four years in Philadelphia for Werth and the fans is a distant memory. During his time here, Werth was beloved–a blue-collared, tough guy, who had fought back from a career-threatening injury to reclaim his place in the big leagues, becoming an all star that launched balls deep into the seats in left with a regularity few could match. The story of his comeback was the perfect Philadelphia sports narrative.
But then the $126M contract happened, and, in the wake of Cliff Lee taking less money to sign with the Phillies, Werth went from hero to villain in the eyes of some fans. That second part is important to remember. Had Werth left via free agency in any other offseason, all of this is probably viewed much differently by the fans who take issue with the former Phillie. After all, Werth accepting the offer from the Nationals, which was nearly double what the Phillies offered, was perfectly reasonable. But Lee’s actions altered some fans’ perception, leaving them feeling as though Werth were greedy, caring more about money than winning. The Beard had sold out.
The tension snowballed on both sides from there.
When he returned to Citizens Bank Park for the first time last year, there were many that cheered him during his intitial introduction. As the season went on, those cheers quickly dissipated to boos. Suddenly Werth was smacked with the reality that it wouldn’t be all roses when he returned to Philly (or when Philly came to Washington, for that matter). He was now the enemy and would be treated as such. The romance was dead.
Soon it also became clear to Werth that he would no longer be on a contending team (at least not in 2011). His Nationals were out of the pennant race by mid-summer, and he was scuffling through his worst season since reviving his career in 2007. He was no doubt feeling the weight of his hefty new contract, and the select Phillies fans who now abhorred Werth became even louder and more vocal, raining down on Werth with chants of “Werthless” and “Sellout.” The fans who still respected Werth and remembered him as the guy who hit .444 in the 2008 World Series simply sat on their hands when he came to the plate or out to right field, not wanting to boo him, but no longer enjoying the novelty of cheering him out of deference. In time, a frustrated Werth could hear only the boos, because, for the most part, that’s all there was to be heard.
That brings us back to Sunday’s tipping point and Monday’s subsequent comments.
Most Philadelphia sports fans are reasonable people, despite the picture the national media likes to paint. When Werth went down, there was genuine concern from the large majority of Phillies fans. But, in the instance of injury, concern begets silence. So as decent Philly fans reacted to Werth’s injury with muted thought, the select few who took pleasure in seeing Werth injured had the opportunity to once again be heard, and they let their morally base opinions be known.
This type of discontent is something Werth has been dealing with for over a year now, and his comments reflect his frustration boiling over. He had been taunted by the fans, and now, with a team that looks to be a legitimate contender, he was doing some taunting of his own. It was a petty move, but one likely born out of emotion more than anything else. However, that doesn’t make it right.
Werth spent enough time in Philly to know what the majority of fans are like. The outsider’s view of Philadelphia is a caricature of the reality–a painting of a crass, belligerent ogre thirsty for blood, no matter the cost. But players–especially those who win in Philadelphia, like Werth did–usually come to an understanding that the whole thing is a farce, that most fans are respectful people who appreciate a good effort on the field. The past year and a half seems to indicate that Werth has forgotten what the fans in Philly are really like. Or, perhaps, that he never really knew at all. I tend to believe it’s the former.
So who is to blame here? The answer, like a lot of things in life, is not cut and dry. It’s both Werth and the fans who detest him. Werth for forgetting what true Phillies fans are like, and lumping all of them into one big, ugly stereotype; and the fans for having such a short memory when it comes to remembering what Werth meant to this team during its greatest era. The remaining fans are left in the middle, doomed to continue being lumped in with the hooligans who perpetuate the notion that Philadelphia is the worst city in sports history, begging for some type of truce between Werth and his Delaware Valley detractors.
It’s a shame it’s devolved to this. Partly because there will probably never be a resolution between the two parties. But more so because Werth could’ve held a special place in Philadelphia forever, if not for the inability of some fans to grow up, and the inability of Werth to be able to differentiate the good fans from the bad ones.
All because of a few short memories.