I think I have finally had my fill of the Tommy Pham vs. Joc Pederson fantasy football beef. The T-shirts were kind of funny, and Pham earnestly threatening to “release the IR rules” gave me a good chuckle, and so I thought I was still ready to cheerfully receive any further updates to this saga. But then our old friend Bob Nightengale showed up, and ruined all the fun.
OK, maybe not all the fun. Nightengale’s latest, which is essentially a mini-profile of Pham pegged to the fantasy football slapping incident, does unearth some more gems in the form of Pham continuing to reveal himself as one of the most exhausting and ridiculous characters in baseball. Though I must point out that Pham has thus far failed to release the IR rules as promised (what are you hiding, coward?), he did provide Nightengale with a few more choice quotes. For example:
“There were about 100 people that thanked me after I slapped him,’’ Pham says, “players, coaches, trainers, reporters. What does that say? I was like, ‘Damn, I didn’t know Joc was this disliked.’’’USA Today
We can only assume that these hundreds of extremely real people were all big and strong and had tears in their eyes when they approached Pham to say, “Thank you, sir!”
Unfortunately, the fun bits in this story all strain under the weight of Nightengale turning it into the only thing he really knows how to write: some dog-brained bullshit about what a gritty, hard-nosed winner his subject is. This story is sodden with quotes meant to demonstrate that Pham is a True Competitor, which I guess we are supposed to take as an explanation for why he went nuts and slapped a guy over fantasy football.
It’s this intensity, this burning desire for greatness and to win, which led the Reds to sign him to a one-year, $7.5 million contract during spring training. The Reds may have been cost-cutting, but with Pham on the board, they jumped on him.
Reds manager David Bell, who was on the St. Louis Cardinals’ coaching staff for four years when Pham played in the organization, lobbied for him. GM Nick Krall thought he was the perfect fit for an organization badly in need of outfielders. And owner Bob Castellini signed off on it.
“I remember the first time I saw him I was an assistant hitting coach in 2014 and he was still in the minors,’’ Bell says. “We’re in Jupiter (Florida) during spring training. Everyone had gone home for the day. But here’s this guy still in the cages for hours, working and working and working, hitting off a tee. I said, ‘Who is this guy?’
“It was the first time I met him, and that intensity, it just jumps out. It’s real. He cares a lot. He plays so hard, he studies the game, he’s so intelligent, and he does all of the things that’s great for our team.’’USA Today
Come on. The worst possible way for this strange and entertaining scandal to end would be Pham leveraging a lunk-headed act of violence into a new Ecksteinian image for himself. I suppose we can’t entirely blame Nightengale for trying to shove this round peg into a square hole—as I said before, it is the only thing he really knows how to do—but nobody else better follow his lead. If I turn on a baseball game at any point within the next two months and hear one of the announcers say, “Now Tommy Pham, here’s one of those guys that you hate when he’s on the other team, but you love when he’s on your team, and that’s because of how hard he plays,” I am going to be steamed.