When the great former Phillies and Nats star Jayson Werth walked off the field in Nashville, Tenn. a couple weeks ago, he knew that was it. He knew he’d never play baseball as a professional again.
He had done everything he could, and he knew that would be his last moment as a pro. At 39, after 22 professional seasons, with a recurrence of a hamstring issues playing for Seattle’s Triple-A Tacoma team and no obvious path back to the big leagues. He had played his last game.
Werth didn’t use the word retirement when we spoke by phone Wednesday afternoon, but he made it clear where he stands.
“I’m done … whatever you want to call it,” he said.
After more than two decades of running into walls, sliding into bases and hitting clutch homers, that was it. Just like that.
And then he said something that was quite satisfying for him.
“No regrets, man.”
As he walked off, and now, too, he thought back to all those days as a kid in Springfield, Ill., playing Wiffleball in backyard of his grandfather Ducky Schofield, who himself won a 1960 World Series ring with the Pirates. He certainly had ability, and he had the lineage. But he still never figured he’d be a major leaguer (though his uncle Dick Schofield and stepdad Dennis Werth were big leaguers, too).
“We’d pretend it was the World Series — Game 7 — but I couldn’t have dreamed up what would happen,” Werth said. “I played with some amazing people, and some really great players. Almost every year I played in the playoffs. That makes it easier to grind and keep grinding … when you feel like you’re close to playing in the World Series.”
He recalled those great Phillies years and the and the quick rise in Washington with almost equal fondness. He recalled “running down the Mets in ’07 and ’08 … the three-run home run that helped in the NLCS for the Phillies in ’09 … the turnaround in Washington with all the ups and downs,” as among the many highlights.
And there many. Werth hit 229 regular-season home runs but he really had a penchant for hitting them in the postseason, when he hit 15 more.
Werth loved the spotlight, and he thrived in it. He even loved signing with the division rival Nats, and becoming a villain in a town, Philly, that loves to hate its sports villains.
“It beats playing in Miami on Tuesday before 3,000 fans,” is the way he put it.
Werth will be recalled for signing that $126 million deal that many thought was beyond belief — but judging by his moments and WAR in Washington, baseball people believe he lived up to that deal. That doesn't even factor in the impact his addition had on the Nationals as a franchise, and their ability to attract future pieces as they competed for and in the NL playoffs.
"Washington D.C. is known for its historic monuments documenting our country's great leaders," Werth's longtime agent Scott Boras said. "Werth will be remembered as the Nationals' first true leader, documenting the beginning and rise of a great franchise."
Werth recalled all the special teammates he shared a locker with, from the great Phillies to Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper with the Nats. But if one player stood out, it was Chase Utley. A “true pro,” according to Werth.
It didn’t hurt to have those types in the clubhouse when he came over from the Dodgers, where he had been released after two left wrist surgeries after he was struck by an A.J. Burnett fastball in the second game of spring training of 2005. “One and one count,” Werth recalled, “and the ball rolled past first base.”
More fondly, he recalled two people who were special to his career. The first is the doctor, Richard Berger from the Mayo Clinic, who did the second surgery. Before he operated, the doctor told Werth he had one of two kinds of tears. If it was the first kind, he could help. If it was the second kind, he was done swinging.
Fortunately, it was the first.
Werth's other special connection is former Phillies GM Pat Gillick, who originally drafted him as a catcher for the Orioles, then called after the Dodgers released him. Right after.
“It was 7 in the morning,” Werth recalled, as if it were yesterday.
That was the start of something great. But he always understood the end would come. He remembered Steve Finley hitting the key home run for the 2004 Dodgers team that sent them into the playoffs, and how Finley, then 36, never got a call the next winter for a job.
Werth said whenever he was asked last year that he wanted to played four or five more years. And even though he started for the Nats in the NLDS, his call never came, either. Old friend Jerry Dipoto with the Mariners gave him a chance to try things out in the minors later, but without spring training he got off to a slow start. The swing was starting to come around when he felt the tug of the first hamstring. When it recurred in Nashville in the middle of the month, he told himself that was it.
He loved his teammates in Tacoma, and he enjoyed the time with them. But he decided it was time to watch his baseball-playing boys (the older one Jackson was named in part after Reggie Jackson, a teammate of his stepdad), time to concentrate on family and organic farming. Time to have spring break and a real summer and do fun things with the family.
He said his mother, Kim Schofield Werth, a world-class sprinter in her day, and a “tough woman,” always said one thing to him: “You leave everything on the field.”
"No regrets," he said.