In 2004, just as the season was about to get under way the Dodgers acquired Jayson Werth from Toronto. In June of that year he became their regular centerfielder, demonstrating the power hitting and fielding skills he would later showcase elsewhere. In that year the Dodgers made their first post season appearance since 1996 and Werth started each of those playoff games. In the initial spring training game of 2005 the Marlins A. J. Burnett hit Werth with a pitch and fractured Jayson’s left wrist. Werth was able to come back for a time, but the injury, diagnosed as an avulsion fracture, did not heal and he wound up missing about half of the season. And even when he did play, the on going pain greatly effected his on field performance. After the season the Dodgers sent him to their hand specialist who performed an operation and it was expected that Werth would be ready for spring training in 2006.
2006 rolled around but the pain continued, and after trying very hard to play Werth found himself still unable to perform on the field. The Dodgers doctors re-examined Jayson and couldn’t find anything wrong. They told him just to keep himself in good shape and let them know when the pain subsided to the point where he could play again. As the weeks went on and no progress occurred Werth was sent out to get a raft of second opinions, treatments such as cortisone shots and various therapies, but nothing seemed to help. Eventually Jayson was sent home and told to return when healthy enough to play.
With August suddenly upon him and no improvement in his condition, Werth happened to run into a family friend, an orthopedic surgeon, who recommended he go to the Mayo Clinic and see a wrist specialist. At the clinic Dr. Robert Berger examined Werth and determined that he had a condition that was often misdiagnosed, and had been in Werth’s case. The next day Berger performed surgery on what turned out to be a split tear in a wrist ligament. After 12 weeks combined of being in a cast and then subsequent rehabilitation, Werth was at last pain free.
He contacted the Dodgers to tell them that he had finally found a doctor who had correctly diagnosed his problem and who was confident that the outfielder would recover fully. Though due to their great regard for his potential, the Dodgers had kept him on salary for 2 years, during which time he had played little, by this time the Dodgers had become convinced that Werth would never recover and released him. Contributing to that poor judgement on management’s part was the fact that the Dodgers had changed both the General Manager and the Manager coming into the 2006 season. And thus both those who best remembered what a healthy Werth was capable of, and those who were in the strongest position to argue for his continuing with the team, were no longer present. The Phils signed him in 2007 to a one year deal for a modest salary, and have reaped the benefits since.
So Phillies fans, you owe a great deal to the Dodgers team hand specialist for his misdiagnosis. And don’t boo A. J. Burnett too badly during the series, for he rendered an invaluable service as well. Were it not for the pitch he threw that resulted in Werth’s injury, Jayson would still mostly likely be roaming the outfield for the Dodgers and the Phillies would presently be awaiting spring training 2010. A Dodgers outfield of Werth, Ethier and Kemp would be among the most talented in baseball, and very probably the most athletic.
Sadly on April 13, 2009 the baseball world, and especially Phillies fans lost a great announcer and baseball man, Harry Kalas. For many years Harry worked with Phillies Hall of Fame ballplayer Richie Ashburn who passed on in 1997. Harry always referred to Ashburn as Whitey and the two men became great friends. I want to share two stories about this partnership, one was Harry’s favorite story about Whitey and the other is from my own experience.
Harry Kalas loved to tell this story about his old friend and booth mate, so here goes. “One of Whitey’s responsibilities when he was broadcasting for the Phillies was doing the pregame show, taping an interview with an opposing manager or player or coach. He’d take his tape recorder down to the clubhouse and get an interview and he’d come back up. He’d say, ‘Boys, that might be the best interview I ever had.’ He’d hand the tape machine to the technician and the tech would say, ‘Whitey, there’s nothing on here.’ I mean, if this happened once, it happened 50 times. “And Ashburn would then have to scramble out of the booth, go find the first warm body and try to do an interview for the pregame show.”