Even when he was here - playing for your team in your town - the hirsute outfielder wasn't exactly warm and fuzzy. OK, fine - he was fuzzy. But he wasn't warm. In fact, he showed up at last spring training looking quite fuzzy but acting the opposite of warm.
You remember. He spent all offseason growing a righteous Captain Caveman beard - perhaps to quash all those jokes about his striking resemblance to a (mostly) clean-shaven WWE wrestler named Edge - but when he was asked about his new facial hair, he became pouty and surly. Or, rather, more pouty and surly since pouty and surly are sort of his default positions.
His temper, long simmering, boiled over completely when he cursed a Phillies fan after both reached for a foul ball. It didn't matter to Werth that the fan was in his seat and wasn't reaching into the field of play. It also didn't matter that the man was with his young son, a kid who looked terrified while a scruffy professional baseball player screamed at his dad in public.
The stalled contract negotiations probably had a lot to do with his attitude, but that's not a great excuse for acting like a petulant child who's mad simply because mommy and daddy won't give him the expensive toys he wants right this minute. And so Werth ran away - granted, it was for 126 million reasons - but he can't stop talking about those he left behind.
This time, according to the Washington Post, Werth jabbered about his former team and what he really thinks. As the story goes, he was talking to Nationals GM/mindless benefactor Mike Rizzo behind the batting cage at spring training.
Rizzo said, "I hate the [expletive] Phillies." Then Werth echoed the sentiment: "I hate the Phillies, too."
As vitriol goes, it was pretty tame - the equivalent of spitting on the grass instead of in someone's face. No big deal on the whole - if it had been an isolated incident. Except it wasn't. Since decamping for D.C. - and, actually, even before he left - Werth has worked awfully hard to push the notion that he was somehow mistreated by the Phils.
When he was still in town, he made it pretty plain that he wasn't happy with his contract situation. And after Cliff Lee stunned everyone by coming back to Philly, Lee said he talked to Werth and relayed that the outfielder "wasn't very happy" by the Fightin's maneuvering. When spring training opened, Werth harped on that.
"I think if they would have played it right they would have had us both," Werth told a menagerie of media. "I mean, they traded Cliff away for prospects and then realized that was probably not what they should have done. They ended up paying him a lot more than they would have if they'd signed him the year before. Then we would have had him. Chances are if they had signed him before they traded him, it probably would have made it a little easier to sign me."
Yes, "if only" the Phils had "played it right" - like the Nationals did by grossly overpaying for a 31-year-old who only recently became a starting outfielder, has never driven in 100 runs in a season, and has hit 30 or more home runs only once in his career. It's that kind of vision that will make Washington a winner one day, though that day will probably come after Werth has retired and we're all old(er) and gray(er).
The more he talks about the Phils, the more he comes off as a bitter and jilted lover. Things didn't work out between Werth and the Phils, but the breakup could have been amicable. Instead, Werth has carried on like a crazed ex who just won't move on. Next thing you know, he'll be peering into Ruben Amaro Jr.'s window at night or stalking Charlie Manuel on Facebook. (Manuel is on Facebook, right?) I give it another week till he takes out his World Series parade photos from 2008 and starts cutting them up in the Nats clubhouse.
It's a sad end to a strange saga. He came to Philly as an afterthought and developed into an everyday outfielder and a fan favorite. But the more he talked about his contract and the Phillies, the less likable he became. And now he says he hates the Fightin's. These things happen, but I wonder whether he knows what he's set in motion. Hate goes both ways, and Philadelphians have always been better at it than everyone else.
Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or email@example.com.
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