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Tommy Pham’s Odyssey

The former Ray has had a sometimes difficult path to the World Series

MLB: NLDS-Arizona Diamondbacks at Los Angeles Dodgers Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

In late October of 2020, Brett Phillips flicked a line drive into center field that produced one of the most incredible finishes to a World Series game in baseball history. It kicked off a raucous celebration that is forever imprinted in the minds of Rays and any baseball fan in general.

Tommy Pham was not part of the celebration, he was not part of the game, and he wasn’t even on the roster. Instead, Pham was likely at his offseason home recovering from a stabbing.

During the season prior, Pham had been the prime catalyst for the Rays offense. Over 145 games, Pham hit .273/.369/.450 with 21 homeruns and snagged 25 stolen bases, registering 123 wRC+ and accruing 3.0 fWAR; Pham did all this, despite playing with a fractured bone in his hand for half the season. Pham helped to lead the Rays into the postseason, where they engaged with the Houston Astros in an epic five game series, that unfortunately ended with the Astros advancing the League Championship Series and the Rays going home.

Pham’s trade value, thanks to his performance, had grown, and the Rays decided to to make him part of a trade package. The Rays would include Pham, along with prospect Jake Cronenworth, in a trade with the San Diego Padres that sent prospect Xavier Edwards and outfielders Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe to Tampa Bay.

Never one to shy away from voicing his opinion or to letting his feelings be known, Pham seemed extremely respectful and completely genuine about his time with Tampa Bay.

“I’m a little sad to go,’’ Pham told the Tampa Bay Times via text message. “I enjoyed my time as a Ray. My teammates helped me open up and have fun as a professional. I’m gonna miss going to battle with that group of guys. They are young and talented. I was surprised to get a text message and call a couple days ago from (GM Erik Neander) about trading me. He said several teams were on me but he did it out of respect for me and I respect him more for that.”

Despite accepting the reality of baseball as a business, Pham was ‘sad’ about being traded and even stated he thought the Rays would reach the World Series the following season.

“I thought I was gonna be a Ray in 2020. I thought I was going to help them win a World Series. Now it’s just gonna probably happen for me as a Padre but I do envision the Rays getting there too!.’’

The Rays did reach the postseason in 2020 and even played the opening rounds of the playoffs in San Diego, as did the Padres. However, the Rays made it to the World Series in 2020, while Tommy Pham and the Padres did not.

The 2020 season was among the most peculiar seasons in baseball history and among the most bizarre years in human history thanks to the pandemic that affected every facet of daily life. The MLB season was postponed until late July and fans were not permitted to be in attendance, thus creating an ominous playing situation whenever players took the field.

The situation led to an abbreviated season in which teams only played in 60 regular season games; unfortunately for Tommy Pham, he would have to undergo hand surgery that shelved for roughly half the season and sapped his offensive potential once he was activated. After the Padres quick exit from the playoffs, Pham decided to celebrate the end of the season at a gentleman’s club, which ended up being a bad decision.

According to a lawsuit later filed by Pham, here is how the incident transpired.

While Pham was inside the club, an altercation began outside in the parking lot. According to Pham’s lawsuit, bouncers inside the club only served as instigators of the fracas and made no attempts to restrain the individuals involved or to protect those inside.

Tired of being kept inside while the altercation was ongoing, Pham left the club and attempted to get to his vehicle, where he was promptly stabbed in the back; Pham reportedly told the brawlers/fighters/would-be stabbers to get away from his vehicle.

Pham was rushed to the hospital where doctor had to use 200 stitches to close the wound; Pham had thought that the stabbing might end his career, but miraculously, doctors told him the good news that with some rehab, he’d recover. This was mostly due to Pham already being such an athletic person, per what Pham was told by the doctors.

“The doctor here basically told me that if I wasn’t so muscular, I might be dead or paralyzed”

Soon after the incident, Pham released a statement thanking the doctors for the tremendous care he received and also said he’d be back.

“While it was a very traumatic and eye-opening experience for me, I’m on the road to recovery and I know I’ll be back to my offseason training routine in no time.”

Reflecting on the event, Pham tried to think about what he might have done differently, but didn’t come to very many conclusions. It’s not in his nature to back away from anyone, regardless of physical dangers.

“I don’t know what I could have done different. The video shows more than one guy showed up at my car, and I chose to defend myself. I guess I could have run, but I don’t fear any man like that.”

Later on, Pham reached a settlement with the club. Pham was certainly happy to put the matter behind him, but the competitive part of him was also more than happy to be able to declare that he won.

“I beat them. They ended up choosing to settle with me for the max. They got crushed. All of the evidence was there, they had to ante up.”

As for his playing career, Pham was able to play in spring training for the Padres and made their Opening Day roster, but he was far from peak physical condition and it showed through his performance on the field. I guess having your back spliced open, while also dealing with the lingering effects of a fractured hamate bone, would sap a player’s production. During the 2021 season, Pham hit .229/.340/.383 with 15 HR and 14 stolen bases over 155 games, accruing 1.1 fWAR.

Following the 2021 season, Pham became a free agent for the first time in his career and signed a one year deal with the Cincinnati Reds. Although his ability with the bat had diminished since his time with the Rays, Pham still found ways to get on base and also played solid defense. He would later be sent to the Boston Red Sox at the 2022 trade deadline, but not before making headlines once again while still in Cincinnati.

During pre-game warmups while the San Francisco Giants were in town, Pham approached outfield Joc Pederson in the outfield and proceeded to unleash a vicious slap across Pederson’s face.

The incident stemmed from a feud between the two in a competitive fantasy football league that had a $10,000 buy in and a possible $90,000 payout.

Pham had declared in 2021 that next time he would see Pederson, he would slap him.

Pham is certainly a man of his word.

“He came up and said, ‘you remember from last year?’ I was like, ‘fantasy football?’ He was like, ‘yeah.’ Then, yeah.” - Joc Pederson

The slap immediately made waves and MLB quickly got involved. Apparently, the were originally looking to suspend Pham for at least 8 games and even threatened Pham with assault charges, which flabbergasted him.

“They were talking about pressing charges. I’m like, ‘Go ahead. Assault for a slap? OK. People do way worse.’’

Weeks after the incident, Pham had no remorse and showed no contrition. He was just annoyed that the matter persisted as the Giants attempted to make it a rally cry. Meanwhile, Pham expressed that multiple people reached out and actually thanked him for slapping Pederson.

“There were about 100 people that thanked me after I slapped him: players, coaches, trainers, reporters. What does that say? I was like, ‘Damn, I didn’t know Joc was this disliked.’’’

Back to his playing career, Pham’s time with Boston was less than glorious as his defense failed to support his offensive numbers and he performed below replacement-level for the first time in his career (-0.2 fWAR over 50 games).

A free agent once again after the 2022 season, he was picked up by the New York Mets as part of an overhaul of offseason additions to their roster that included Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.

However, like Verlander and Scherzer, Pham would be dealt at the trade deadline after a disaster of a season for the Mets. The failure of the Mets was certainly no fault of Pham’s as the outfielder regained his offensive footing and hit .268/.348/.472 with 10 HR over 264 plate appearances, registering 125 wRC+ and accruing 1.5 fWAR during his time with the Mets.

In a September article breaking down the disaster that was the Mets season, Pham reportedly told Mets start shortstop Francisco Lindor what he thought of the team and also offered suggestions on what he’d like to see them to in order to improve.

Out of all the teams I played on, this is the least-hardest working group of position players I’ve ever played with.

With the Diamondbacks, Pham didn’t quite perform at the level he had while in New York as he hit .241/.304/.415 down the stretch for Arizona. Regardless, the team reached the postseason and has now advanced all the way to the World Series.

In the brightest of spotlights that baseball can offer, Pham’s critiquing of the Mets re-emerged when he made comments about the difference between the 4th place Mets and the NL Champion Diamondbacks.

“The drive wasn’t there [with the Mets]. That drive is here [with the Diamondbacks]. That’s what separates this team from most teams. You have guys that are still trying to get better every day. You have teammates trying to help you out. And that’s dangerous.”

Tommy Pham is a man that will always speak his mind and always give 100% into whatever he endeavors. He doesn’t care if he hurts feelings or rustles feathers.

He can be a clubhouse leader due to his tremendous work ethic; as Francisco Lindor later stated, Pham taught him ‘how to work again.’

Pham will once again be a free agent following the conclusion of the World Series and he will once again be looking to bring his hardnose, no holding back style of attitude to a lucky organization. This time, however he may have something extra:

A World Series ring.