Jayson Werth's beard gives the impression that a small mammal is eating his face. Unkempt, unsavory and so unruly it could be classified as an invasive species, it has been known to dangle beneath his chin, over his Adam's apple and toward the top of his chest. The beard, which currently has been semitamed into a sort of ragged goatee, seems to be leading a sinister life of its own: It looks like it's colonizing him.
The beard has its own Facebook page and its own Twitter account (@JWerthsBeard), both of which the Phillies' rightfielder disavows. "I don't post stuff on Facebook or Twitter," says Werth, otherwise known as J Dub. "It's not that I lack opinions. It's that I have no particular reason to share my opinions with the rest of the world."
J Werth's beard makes J Dub easily identifiable. Which is exactly what he doesn't want. Werth clutches privacy around him like a warmup jacket. "I'd really like to know who wrote the Wikipedia entry about me," he says, his smile masking an undertone of annoyance. "I mean, who is that person, and why does he think he knows anything about me? Why would anyone think they know anything about me?"
He leans forward, and his cheeks billow beneath his Chia Pet whiskers. Those eyes, flinty hazel and crinkled at the corners like paper twists of salt, are fit to stare down any pitcher. "A lot of ballplayers invite sportswriters into their homes or out to dinner," he says. "I'm not one of them. I don't even want to be written about. I'm happy to be ignored."
For what it's worth, this season it's been hard to ignore Werth, the player who most embodies the fortunes of the defending National League champs. The imposing 31-year-old slugger began his contract year by reaching base safely in the team's first 26 games, the longest such streak to open a season for a Phillie since 1920. After 37 games—24 of them victories—Werth was batting .336 with eight homers and 31 RBIs.
At which point he and the ball club swooned. Over the next three weeks—a stretch in which Philadelphia lost 13 of 19—Werth was 10 for 63 with 23 strikeouts. On June 8, having ended back-to-back home defeats with walk-off whiffs, he was benched. "Jayson needs to get off his feet and slow down," said manager Charlie Manuel. "Things are fast for him right now. I think this is going to be good for him."
And what's good for Werth is good for the Phils. Through Sunday, the team was 35--22 since June 13, and he had batted .329 with six homers and 21 RBIs. A "tornado-cane" is how teammate Ryan Howard describes Werth's hitting swell, which has helped Philly weather the absence of second baseman Chase Utley (who injured his right thumb on June 28 and will be out for eight weeks) and Howard (who went on the DL on Aug. 2 with a sprained ankle). "When J Dub goes on a tear," Howard says, "the whole team gets swept up with him." Werth attributes the torna-round to a more open stance. "It just kind of got me out of my ... whatever I was in," he more or less explains.
Werth is quick to deflect questions that demand introspection. He agreed to an interview only if no questions involved his wife, his two kids or any aspect of his private life. The rest of his relatives are off limits too. Asked—gingerly—if he would pass along the number of his mother, the former track star Kim Schofield Werth, he snaps, "My mom is unavailable. She just got her phone number unlisted and moved from Illinois to the Ozarks." Ditto his stepfather, the former big leaguer Dennis Werth: "I've got his number in my cell, but I'm not giving it out."
"I don't see why he has to share his thoughts about me with the rest of the world."