NOKOMIS — Several former major leaguers with connections to the area will be among an upcoming honoree induction this fall.
In the June 2021 issue of the Bottomley-Ruffing-Schalk Baseball Museum newsletter “The Bullpen,” an Induction Day ceremony is being scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 13 as part of an ongoing celebration of the museum’s 40th anniversary of operations. Tentatively, University of Illinois play-by-play announcer Brian Barnhart is set to emcee the event, as long as his basketball schedule permits.
Previously revealed honorees over the past few months include Eric Weaver, Kevin Seitzer, Kevin Koslofski, Dave Kane, Ken Oberkfell, and Stan Royert. The final two recent selections for induction have been revealed to be Dennis Werth and his stepson Jayson Werth.
Dennis Werth, who has ties to Lincoln, was a 19th-round selection by the New York Yankees in Major League Baseball’s (MLB) 1974 draft out of the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. From the draft until his MLB debut with the “Bronx Bombers” in September 1979, Werth worked through all levels of Minor League Baseball (MiLB), starting with the Oneonta Yankees in single-A Short Season progressing to Triple-A in 1977. He would alternate between MiLB organizations in Triple-A with the Columbus Clippers of the International League and Double-A with the Nashville Sounds in the Southern League and the Yankees until traded to the Kansas City Royals in 1982. During the 1982 season, Werth alternated between the Royals and the Triple-A team with the Omaha Royals. Werth would not return to the major leagues in 1983 or 1984, as he would alternate between two Triple-A organizations, the Clippers in the Yankees organization and the Louisville Redbirds in the St. Louis Cardinals organization. Werth hung up his glove and cleats in 1984 after seven seasons in the minor leagues and four in MLB.
The career of Jayson Werth is much different by comparison. Jayson etched his name in central Illinois baseball lore with a storied prep baseball career at Glenwood High School in Chatham, becoming an all-state catcher who led Glenwood to great heights on the diamond. At the time of his graduation, Werth was the highest-selected player out of Glenwood, drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 1997 MLB Amateur Draft as the 22nd overall pick. That designation held strong until 2020, when fellow alum Reid Detmers was drafted tenth overall to the Los Angeles Angels.
After a few years in MiLB, the Orioles traded Werth to the Toronto Blue Jays in December 2000. It was two years later in 2002 when he would receive his first major league appearance with the Blue Jays. During his tenure in Toronto, Werth made 41 MLB game appearances between the 2002 and 2003 seasons before being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in March 2004. After a stint at Triple-A Las Vegas, Werth would once again enter the major league stage with the Dodgers and began making regular appearances in 2004 and 2005.
After his contract expired with the Dodgers expired on December 12, 2006, Werth entered free agency, signed to a one-year contract by the Philadelphia Phillies a week later.
Werth was plagued with injuries throughout the 2007 season, but rebound in a huge way in 2008. He would begin the season taking turns with Geoff Jenkins at right field, but would later transition to a regular at center field after Shane Victorino was placed on the team’s disabled list.
He would make a series of marks in the major leagues with the Phillies: hitting three home runs in a game (one short of reaching the “homer cycle,” missing a two-run dinger), tying the franchise record of eight RBIs in one game, and became the league leader in home runs against left-handed pitchers (16). To top it all off, the Phillies won their second World Series championship in five games against the Tampa Bay Rays).
Werth would have an equally-as-stellar season in 2009 with the Phillies after being signed to a two-year deal. He stole four bases in a May 2009 game against the Dodgers, tying a franchise record. A month later, he would become the 14th player to hit a home run into the 500 level of Rogers Centre in Toronto. Werth was named to the National League All-Star team as a replacement for Carlos Beltrán of the New York Mets. Werth would also hit his career walk-off home run in the 13th inning of a home game against the Chicago Cubs, a three-run shot off pitcher Jeff Samardzija. Additional accolades include leading in pitches per plate appearance, hitting two homers in the 2009 National League Championship Series, a series that resulted in a back-to-back return to the World Series. The Phillies would later lose to the New York Yankees in a 4-2 series. Additionally, Werth was voted by baseball fans as the “Unsung Star of the Year” for 2009 for the league’s This Year in Baseball Awards.
Werth signed a seven-year contract in December 2010 with the Washington Nationals, worth $126 million, marking the 14th richest contract in baseball history. While there were some bumpy roads in Washington, it does not ignore some of the Werth’s accomplishments in our nation’s capital.
Following difficult seasons in 2011 and 2012, Werth hit a walk-off homer off the Cardinals’ Lance Lynn to win the game and tie the National League Divisional Series at two apiece, which was also the longest at-bat ever resulting in a game-ending postseason home run. In August 2013, he would collect his 1,000th hit. In April 2016, a milestone of 200 career home runs was reached.
In June 2017, a foul ball off his left foot resulted in a fractured first metatarsal bone, which placed him on the disabled list.
As his tenure was nearing its end, in September 2018, Werth was inducted in the Washington Nationals’ Ring of Honor at Nationals Park.
Six months prior, in March 2018, Werth was signed to a minor league contract with the Seattle Mariners. With the Tacoma Rainiers, the Triple-A affiliate, he hit .206 in 145 at-bats for the team before suffering a hamstring injury. On June 27, 2018, Werth announced his retirement from the sport at the age of 40.
In his entire MLB career, Werth had a .267 batting average, scored 883 runs in 1,465 hits, hit 229 home runs, and stole 132 bases. In his entire career between MiLB and MLB, he has a .268 batting average, scored 1,323 runs on 2,205 hits, hit 315 home runs, and stole 256 bases.This article was originally published in the June 30, 2021 issue of the Nokomis Free Press-Progress.
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Jake Leonard, a broadcast media and journalism veteran, is the editor-in-chief of Heartland Newsfeed. Leonard is also GM and program director of Heartland Newsfeed Radio Network, wrestling editor and contributing writer for Ambush Sports, a contributing writer for My Sports Vote and Midwest Sports Network, and a former contributor to Bleacher Report and Overtime Heroics. He resides at home in Nokomis, Ill. with his dog Buster.