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Get Out Of My Hair!
FRANZ LIDZ
August 23, 2010
He bristles at attention, whether it's for his bushy beard or his stellar play. But ignoring Jayson Werth is not an option
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August 23, 2010

Get Out Of My Hair!

He bristles at attention, whether it's for his bushy beard or his stellar play. But ignoring Jayson Werth is not an option

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The athletic gene pool that spawned the 6'5", 220-pound Werth has spanned four generations. His great grandfather, John Schofield, played 11 seasons of bush-league ball as a shortstop and attended spring training with the Tigers before a broken leg ended his career. His grandfather, Dick (Ducky) Schofield, was a major league infielder from 1953 to '71 and won a World Series with the '60 Pirates. His mother's brother, a shortstop also named Dick Schofield, played 14 seasons in the bigs and got his own championship ring with the 1993 Blue Jays.

Werth probably gets his speed—he has 71 steals in 81 career attempts—from Kim, who still holds national records in the now defunct 55- and 100-yard dashes. She competed in the 1976 U.S. Olympic trials in the 100 meters and long jump but was hampered by injuries and failed to qualify for the Montreal Games. Shortly after Jayson was born, in 1979, she broke up with his father, Jeff Gowan, a standout wide receiver at Illinois State who spent a year as an outfielder on the Cardinals' rookie league team. Werth's relationship with his dad is strained. "He doesn't deserve credit for anything I've accomplished," Werth says, pointedly.

Jayson was five when his mother married Dennis Werth, a .209 hitter in 117 games as a first baseman with the Yankees and the Royals. Dennis built Jayson a backyard batting cage and later coached his summer teams through elite tournaments around the country. At 11, Jayson took up catching. His stepfather would aim the pitching machine low so he could practice blocking pitches in the dirt.

As a high school senior Werth batted .652 with 15 home runs in 31 games. Scouts were mesmerized by his size and ability to drive balls to the opposite field, and to ensure that Werth would pass up a scholarship from Georgia, Gillick gave him an $885,000 signing bonus. Werth's career didn't progress as quickly as expected. Baltimore traded him to Toronto in 2000 after his Double A skipper, former O's catcher Andy Etchebarren, deemed him, Werth says, "uncoachable." The Blue Jays made him an outfielder. He broke into the majors in 2002 but within two years was sent to the Dodgers; he hit 16 home runs in 290 at bats for Los Angeles in '04 and was the Dodgers' starting leftfielder in the playoffs that year.

The next spring, during his first exhibition game, Werth's left wrist was shattered by a 96-mph fastball from Marlins pitcher A.J. Burnett. Dodgers doctors told Werth he'd be fine in two weeks. ("I think they meant two years," he cracks.) After playing through the pain in a miserable season, he had unsuccessful surgery, missed all of 2006 and contemplated retiring. Finally a wrist specialist diagnosed a split tear of the ulnotriquetral ligament. Werth had another operation, got dumped by the Dodgers and signed a $400,000 incentive-laden deal with Philly.

One of the first things Werth did at training camp in 2007 was to hand Manuel a DVD of his '04 highlights. Manuel found the footage as riveting as his favorite Clint Eastwood films, Pale Rider and The Outlaw Josey Wales. "Jayson and Clint are both intense and have dry senses of humor," he says. "The difference is that one's a hitter and one's a gunman."

Platooned in 2007 and early '08, Werth became an integral part of the Phils' attack. In 2008 he swatted three homers in a game and tied a team record by knocking in eight runs in another. He hit .444 during the '08 World Series as Philadelphia routed the Rays in five games. Last year, Werth's first as an everyday player, he hit 36 homers, swiped four bases—including home—in a game and added seven more home runs in 15 postseason games.

Werth and Manuel have their differences. The hitter is in the final year of a two-year, $10 million contract, and during that early-summer slump the manager was asked if the distraction of impending free agency might be a contributing factor. "In some ways it has to," Manuel allowed. "Even if a guy is quiet and he controls it better than others, I know it does. I know that in his mind he thinks about that."

Werth considered Manuel's insights worthless. "I don't think anyone can sit there and say they know what I'm thinking," he said.

The Phils have invested $286 million in long-term deals for core players Howard, Utley, shortstop Jimmy Rollins and pitcher Roy Halladay, and their 2010 payroll is a franchise-record $142 million. Though Werth is the key righthanded threat in a lefty-heavy lineup, G.M. Ruben Amaro Jr. sounds resigned to losing him. "The goal is still to keep Jayson in our uniform," says Amaro. "I just don't know if we can afford him."

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