Cardinals outfielder Tommy Pham was one of the most valuable players in baseball last year, his first full year in the big leagues, at age 29. That sentence, alone, tells you something must have been different and unique about his career path, but given that he’d always hit well in the upper minors and in the big leagues, it was difficult to understand why he didn’t get more of a chance sooner.
There was talk of an eye condition, and there was certainly a crowded outfield picture. But still, if Pham was bitter that his prime years were used up in the minor leagues, likely costing him tens of millions of dollars in earnings, it would be hard to blame him.
And … yeah, he sounds bitter. Extremely:
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) April 3, 2018
That article is a must-read, not only for the background and perspective on Pham, but also for some context on how players view themselves and view the opportunities they aren’t getting from the clubs that control their rights.
But, well, it’s also a must-read for the quotes from Pham, because holy crap:
“We’re two weeks in[to the 2017 season], and I’m raking,” he says. “I’m hitting like .400. The big league team was 3–9, and all three outfielders were hitting .200. They tried [Matt] Adams out there, and he’s a great hitter, but he just couldn’t play the outfield. So I’m like, They’re getting the reports every day, they know I’m raking. What the f—? When are they gonna call me up? And then we’re three weeks in. The guys are still struggling, Grichuk, Dex [Dexter Fowler], Piscotty. And I’m still balling! So finally I said, They’re not gonna f—–’ call me up, f— it, and I zoned out in Triple A. Every day I was just like, F— this. I’ve made it to the big leagues, f— it.”
He stopped showing up for early work, daring his manager to bench him, daring St. Louis to cut him loose. Pham’s agents had learned that other MLB teams as well as Japanese clubs were interested. “I’m thinking, [the Cardinals] are not gonna trade me,” Pham says. “They won’t sell me to Japan. What the f—? They clearly don’t believe in me. Let a mother—— leave! And they wouldn’t even do that.”
I know how some folks will take these comments, in large part because we’re so unused to a guy laying it all out there like that. But I appreciate the candor, and, having read more about Pham’s life and his dedication to baseball, it’s not at all hard to see where he’s coming from (especially when he backed it up with a season like he did last year).
The Cardinals offered Pham a two-year deal before this season, but he instead elected to bet on himself, believing the offer did not show appreciation for what he’d done. Again, even as we know that’s not how extensions work, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Pham spent his (probably) best physical years on the shuttle, and then put up a 5.9-WAR season for half a million bucks last year. Maybe a little do-right-by-him was in order?
In any case, read the Sports Illustrated piece (even if you’re just doing it for the SCardenfreude). It’s a fantastic profile, and it’s some of the most candid talk from a player you’ll see this year.