Tommy Pham is an open book. When prompted—and sometimes it doesn’t even take that—the Cardinal outfielder has no problem telling you what he thinks. His candor is one of the qualities that endeared Pham to many fans during his breakout season last year.
Whether it was delving a bit into clubhouse culture after Jhonny Peralta was designated for assignment last season or explaining that he “didn’t think there was a great amount of appreciation” within the front office for his strong performance in 2017, Pham has never been one to use a filter, even if the aftermath of such airings of grievances might make others uncomfortable.
He sees no value in the kind of corporate speak we often hear from athletes, so he doesn’t use it.
That’s why it wasn’t the least bit surprising to read Pham’s scathing comments in a new profile on him written by Jack Dickey of Sports Illustrated. And this was no one-off comment about Jhonny Peralta’s lack of participation in the chess club or ping-pong club. In the story, published late Monday, Pham left no room for interpretation on what he considers mistreatment by the Cardinals organization during his ascension to the major leagues.
Despite what he felt was superior performance compared to his contemporaries, Pham contends in the article he was not given the level of opportunity he felt was earned. In Dickey's piece, Pham vents on opening the 2017 season in Class-AAA Memphis, which he said nearly led him to quit baseball altogether a few weeks into April of that year.
An everyday player from May forward, Pham became the first qualifying Cardinal ever to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases while posting a .300/.400/.500 batting line in a given season.
On the field, he made history. Off it, he continued to feel disrespected. In one excerpt from Dickey’s story, Pham laments how the Cardinals would say one thing—like expressing that they "believed (he) could do it all along"— while doing another, like batting him low in the lineup, “behind the guy who got called up from high A,” by which Pham is almost certainly referring to Magneuris Sierra.
When knew Pham was candid, but to read his coarsely-worded grievances unabashedly laid bare in print ls is a little surreal, even if it’s not shocking.
There’s a reason on-the-record quotes like the ones in Dickey’s story aren’t often spoken by athletes—especially by athletes still employed by the organization those quotes are effectively trashing. When it does happen, there are implications on teammates, coaches and front office personnel; a team is bigger than just one guy.
Pham’s decision to go public with his frustrations surely doesn’t sit well with Cardinal management, whose known preference is for internal matters to remain as such. And it wouldn’t be implausible that some of Pham’s teammates aren’t especially taken with his comments in the article, either. While most of the guys Pham mentions by name in the story are no longer with the Cardinals, it's easy to see how the ones who remain could have an issue with him calling out teammates in a national publication.
That doesn’t mean Pham’s frustrations aren’t legitimate. Whether you attribute Pham’s late blooming to badly timed injuries—like the oblique strain he suffered in the first game of 2016—or a lack of belief in him from the organization, it’s undeniable that Pham’s earning potential was indeed diminished by not reaching arbitration eligibility until after the current season, at age 31. Regardless of why it happened, that would be frustrating for anyone.
Dickey’s story does a great job outlining Pham’s upbringing, including his lack of a relationship with his biological father, which helps shed light on the circumstances that made Pham the way he is. Without enduring and overcoming everything Pham has in his journey, it’s difficult to wrap your mind around how you’d approach it all, how those experiences might shape your values differently from another person.
It’s easy to say Pham should fall in line—and keep his displeasure with his bosses out of the headlines, but he grew up in a world where nothing was sugarcoated for him. He sees no reason to sugarcoat for anyone else. He’s unapologetically real.
In the past, his teammates have praised him for his attitude and his desire to be a winning baseball player. They haven’t minded that he’s sometimes expressed it in an unfiltered way.
As long as his teammates don’t decide that now is the time to start taking it personally, Pham's way should be just fine for the Cardinals.