Actual size chip on Pham's shouder. (Courtesy of USA Today)
Forbidden Love is a Cubs DNA series where our staff waxes poetic about a player on a team other than the Cubs. Maybe even one you think they should hate. In this installment, Staci talks about her love for San Diego Padres outfielder Tommy Pham.
Once upon a time, a young man named Tommy Pham played for the St. Louis Cardinals baseball club. He was outspoken. Gritty. Some might say even kind of whiny. He said he didn't want to be friends with Ben Zobrist for saying he wanted the Cubs to clinch the division at Busch. A lot of us balked at that and didn't like him. And when I say "a lot of us," I'm including myself in that. Funny thing, though was that Pham was a good ballplayer. Hard working. Had a chip on his shoulder, like he had something to prove.
There were lots of reasons for that chip, though. Many of us didn't know he suffered from keratoconus, a degenerative eye condition that causes thinning of the cornea, that left him legally blind in one eye and required corrective surgery to help him keep playing. We also didn't know that Pham had the kind of seriously rough childhood that most of us never had to suffer through, the details of which I don't need to rehash here--it's easily searchable if you need to verify. Despite his obstacles, Pham worked himself into a 16th round draft pick by the Cardinals straight out of high school. After that, he would suffer several injury setbacks before finally settling into the Cardinals minor league system, where he did nothing but hit. In fact, he had a .338/.402/.625 slash line in Memphis in 2015 and spent the last half of that season with the big club. From that point, though, he... well... let's just say he wasn't too happy with how the Cardinals treated him, particularly as he was passed over in favor of other guys like Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty for no discernible reason.
bEtTeR tHaN kRiS bRyAnt
Pham was a Cardinals nightmare, though. He didn't keep quiet, didn't take their bull lightly, and let his frustrations be known, warring with Mike Matheny and then publicly with the Cardinals FO when they basically offered him peanuts in arbitration after his 2017 season even though he got MVP votes. Mike Shildt eventually took over and formed a better relationship with him... right before he was traded to the Rays mid-2018. As a Cubs fan, it was great! Even though he was having a down year, he no longer could torment our team. But the awesome thing about Pham is even he admitted he was having a down year, and took responsibility for his failings to his team.
And that's one of the things I love most about Pham--he expects a lot out of everyone, but himself most of all. That's the kind of player I can always get behind, the one who holds everyone accountable, including and especially himself. And throughout his time with the Rays, he continued his style of hard, chip-on-the-shoulder play, culminating in the Rays winning the Wild Card game and heading to the ALDS. After that game, he gave an interview that rubbed some people the wrong way:
It lacked humility, they said. He needs to be more grateful, they said. But you know what? Pham was being more real in that moment than most people ever are in a spotlight like that. For some kid somewhere struggling in a similar home situation to the one Pham grew up in, maybe this is exactly what they needed to hear, you know? That you can work hard and get where you want to go even if you don't have the ideal support system. But you do have to work, and bless Pham for stressing that message.
Pham has now been traded again, this time to the San Diego Padres. While I'd expect nothing less but his continued hard work with the Friars, a side benefit to the trade was providing one of the best social media moments of the offseason so far, courtesy of Gomer Snell. You know what I'm talking about.
Never change, Gomer.
And never change, Tommy Pham. I'll be tracking him with the Padres and rooting for him to bring the spark they need in their line up to make some serious waves in that division. It'll be fun watching him torment the Dodgers for a while, won't it?
Oh, and did I mention he cleans up well?
Carry on, Tommy. See you in San Diego!