It was towards the end of the Washington Nationals' 2007 season when I heard the most baffling baseball rhetoric I had ever heard. Actually, it was written. I was on one of my favorite Nationals Internet watering holes, the Washington Nationals Fan Forum, and the populace was in deep debate on whether first baseman Dmitri Young should get a contract extension. At the time, Young was in a comeback season that eventually won him the Player's Choice National League Comeback Player of the Year Award despite suffering from diabetes, weight problems and not being able to field his position all too well.
Young did not sound like a long-term investment to me, and I made it known. Needless to say, there were a couple of people who disagreed, but one particular fan said something that just blew my mind. He said he would sign Young to an extension because his smile was equal to 10 wins for the Nationals. Basically, Young's Cheshire Cat grin through the clubhouse somehow caused the rest of the team to win. The whole notion was frightfully silly. I couldn't tell if he was being serious, but kidding or not, I could not wrap my mind around such an assertion.
Four years later, I get a similar feeling when considering some of the ridiculous excuses that are surrounding Jayson Werth these days.
The highly-paid outfielder is now stuck in the middle of a dreadful slump, probably the worst of his career. He is hitting a miserable .215, and is 6-for-39 in July. This has given Werth some attention, although not the type he is used to getting. Instead of hordes of fans going nuts over his play (and his beard), he is getting boos from the home crowd. Fate has not been good to him. He has left numerous men on base, struck out to kill rallies, had balls go over his head in the outfield, made misplays and hit into game-ending double plays. Instead of looking forward to every play as a game clincher, he seems to be dreading even stepping into the batter's box.
As is human nature, Nationals fans want to know what the heck is going on. They want the prognosis, the treatment and the cure bundled together and taken care of with haste. Since the organization is hardly transparent and Werth himself has started to avoid media contact, Nationals fans have come up with a couple theories of their own.
If you can think of an explanation, then it probably has already been said. Werth wishes he was still in Philadelphia. His seven-year, $126 million contract is a wet sack of cement he is carrying on his back. General manager Mike Rizzo oversold him to the fan base. He handicapped himself by shaving his beard and thereby casting off its magic properties. Then, there's the home-crowd booing that has a certain faction of the fan base up in arms and making Calls To Action (against their own fans, really?), as if, like Dmitri Young's smile, booing or cheering has significant correlation to what goes on on the field. Some say the booing is hurting his fragile sensitivity, but if he is that fragile, then he certainly picked the wrong career. I think that can immediately scratched off as nonsense. He has been in the league for nine seasons already and came from Philadelphia. It takes a certain breed and mentality to run that gauntlet.
It could be one of those things, none of those things or a mix of all those things. But one thing is for sure: if Werth needs excuses he certainly has a pick of them. The fans and even some of the media are not helping the situation by coming up with these MacGuffins for him. They seem intent in making Werth the victim of some cosmic, outside conspiracy. They know Werth is not this bad (and he isn't) so they are looking for reasons and are grabbing on to whatever tree branch they can find, even if the tree won't be able to hold their weight.
Werth certainly is not a victim. He has all the tools he needs to escape this funk. He has Major League facilities at his disposal: coaches, trainers, conditioners, libraries of video footage, equipment, ointments, free parking, you name it. His job is secure and he is being well paid. His name is on the back of numerous items in the team store. He has more than enough teammates that have been through hard times before, so it is not like he has absolutely no support and the world has turned against him.
The problem with Jayson Werth is Jayson Werth. He is the only one that snap himself out of it. He and only he can figure out what is going on in his head when he takes the field. That sounds cliche, but it simply is the case. Boo him. Cheer until your vocals snap, it won't make him hit any better. Blame Rizzo. Blame the contract. It won't make him hit any better
Werth is the Nationals' conundrum, a riddle to be solved. Unfortunately, only one person is meant to solve that riddle, and everyone else can only sit on the sidelines and wait until he does. Putting excuses and wild yarns in his already jumbled noggin' isn't going to help.