In case you don’t remember: until recently, Werth played for the Phillies. More precisely, Werth played extremely well for the Phillies. In 2008, Werth produced a slash line of .273/.363/.498, for an OPS better than all but two full-time Yankees that year (A-Rod and Jason Giambi). In 2009, Werth’s slashline was .268/.373/.506. In the 2008 and 2009 World Series, Werth put up numbers of .351/.500/.676 – really good numbers (small sample size notwithstanding). Last year was Werth’s best: he produced a .296/.388/.532 slash line and was 8th in the National League Most Valuable Player voting.
Werth became a free agent after the end of the 2010 season, and this winter he signed a 7 year $126 million contract to play for the Nationals. Evidently, this decision upset a number of Phillies fans.
So a large group of these fans travelled south yesterday to Washington D.C. to boo Werth. Many of these fans purchased tickets in right field at Nationals Park, all the better to boo right fielder Werth. One Philadelphia radio station held a promotion in which it gave away front-row seats in right field for the express purpose of booing Werth.
Why, exactly, are Phillies fans so upset with Werth? The best answer I can come up with is: there is no reason.
Phillies fans cannot legitimately be upset over players moving from team to team in free agency, because you see, Werth joined the Phillies as a free agent. If not for free agency, Werth never would have played for the Phillies. He’d still be an L.A. Dodger.
Phillies fans cannot be too upset that Werth did not come back to Philadelphia in 2011. It’s not clear that the Phillies wanted him back. Werth didn’t think the team wanted him to return. Philly fan sites recommended against resigning Werth. Last winter the Phillies offered Werth a three year deal worth $45 million – something like 1/3 the money Werth eventually received from the Nationals. Reportedly, no one in the Phillies organization thought that Werth might accept the Phillies’ offer.
So, if no one expected Werth to remain a Philly, few people wanted him to remain a Philly and the team made a half-hearted effort to retain Werth, why should Philly fans be upset that Werth went elsewhere?
It’s not like Werth spurned the Phils to join a division rival (the way that, say, Johnny Damon left the Red Sox to join the Yankees). The Phils finished 28 games ahead of the Nationals in 2010. The Phils finished 34 games ahead of the Nationals in 2009. The Phils finished 32.5 games ahead of the Nationals in 2008.
It’s not like the Phillies are poorer than the Nationals. The Phillies sport the biggest player payroll of any team in the National League. During the last three years, the Phils signed Roy Halladay to a 3 year $60 million deal, Cliff Lee to a five year $120 million deal (plus options) and Ryan Howard to an eight year $179 million extension. It’s not as if the Phillies lack money, they simply decided to spend it on players other than Werth.
It’s not like the Phillies are hurting without Werth. The Phillies are grooming super-prospect Domonic Brown to replace Werth. Brown was injured in spring training, but in the meantime substitute Ben Francisco is doing just fine. The Phillies are picked by nearly everyone to make it to the 2011 post-season.
So again, I ask why these Phillies fans travelled the 137 miles from Philadelphia to Washington D.C. to boo Werth. I cannot find a rational reason to explain this behavior. I can only conclude that these particular fans figured it would be fun to come down to D.C., drown out the cheers of the local faithful, create a negative atmosphere, try to ruin the evening for anyone attending the game to root for the home team, and generally do what they could do to reinforce the common stereotype of Philadelphia sports fans.
Don’t get me wrong. I personally know a number of Philadelphia sports fans who are both passionate and classy. It was a small minority of Philly fans who attended last night’s game in D.C. I hope that when Werth returns with the Nationals to play in Philadelphia, we’ll see a turnout of true Philly fans, fans who will use the opportunity to express their appreciation for Werth’s contribution to the Phillies during the previous decade.
But since this has yet to happen, I’m pleased to give my first Great Moments In Fandom award to the (hopefully) unrepresentative minority of Philly fans who booed Werth in D.C. last night.
I can think of no better group of fans to inaugurate this award: fans who went out of their way to express their displeasure at the departure of a player they didn’t seem to want and do not appear to need. These fans combined boorish behavior with a complete lack of understanding of why Werth was playing for D.C. in the first place. We can also marvel at the hypocrisy of fans who celebrate the big money signings of guys like Lee and Howard, but cry when other teams use the same tactics to lure players away from the Phils.
Oh. Another reason why I’m so happy to bestow my first fandom award to these Phillies fans. Last night Werth went two for three, with a double, home run and two runs scored, leading the Nationals to a 7-4 victory over the Phillies.
Isn’t it wonderful when karma is a bitch?