St. Louis Cardinals

Brashness drives Pham's success, but rant against the Cardinals isn't fair

There is a point to which I find myself sympathetic with Tommy Pham.

If I had battled through 10 years in the minor leagues, serious shoulder and wrist injuries, and a degenerative eye condition only to see my manager trot hulking Matt Adams out to a position I earned, I'd be pretty ticked off as well.

I'd be disappointed, too, if the aforementioned injuries and eye disease set back the clock on my big-league arrival and ultimately cost me tens of millions of dollars in potential salary.

But Pham goes off the rails with his rant against his employer in Jack Dickey's Sports Illustrated article that hit its digital edition on Monday.

In case you missed it, I can tell you that it's as epic as it is unfiltered. And, to some extent, it's offensive.

Pham didn't mention Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk or Oscar Taveras by name, but referred to them colorfully in pejorative terms (it starts with "mother" and ends with "ucker"). Why? Because he believes the Cardinals advanced those former teammates ahead of him at an unfair pace.

In this, Pham concludes, the Cardinals jerked him around and purposely held him down.

"I put up better numbers than these other guys in the minor leagues and the major leagues. And I was a better athlete than these (expletive)," he told Dickey. "I run faster than 'em, I'm stronger than 'em. But when a team puts some money in a player, they're gonna talk 'em up."

There are those defending Pham, arguing that such brashness is what's pushed him through the hardships of his Las Vegas upbringing and the injuries that threatened his baseball career. When you see Pham crash the wall to make a catch, pound a home run to the opposite field, or stretch a base hit an extra 90 feet, you're seeing the positive expression of that chip he wears on his shoulder.

His persistence is laudable. His passion should be welcomed element in any clubhouse.

But enough with this false idea that discounting your teammates and scapegoating your employer is the same as being "fiery."

Blunt candor can cut the other way, too, especially when all else is equal.

Let's go back to 2015.

Taveras, tragically, had been killed in a car crash near his home in the Dominican Republic. The Cardinals moved to fill his void by trading for Jason Heyward, Peter Bourjos and Grichuk.

Grichuk earned his spot as the fourth outfielder in the spring and proved vital to the cause when an aging Matt Holliday went down to injury and Bourjos (or, as I like to say, 0-for-Fourjos) flopped in center. In 103 games and 323 at-bats, Grichuk batted .276 with 17 home runs and a .548 slugging percentage.

You can say what you will about Heyward and Bourjos, but the team won 100 games with that outfield and finished in first place in the stacked National League Central. It's not like GM John Mozeliak was looking for help.

So whatever opportunity there was for Pham to prove his big-league credentials, it was limited. And when that slim chance arose with Holliday's injury, Piscotty won the job fair and square.

Pham no doubt showed his promise in 52 big-league appearances by hitting .268 with five home runs and 18 RBIs over just 153 at-bats. It's just that Piscotty was better. In just nine more games with the parent club, he batted 37 points higher than Pham (.305) with two more home runs (7) and 21 more runs batted in (39).

It's also notable that Pham spent 75 days on the disabled list that season. He was great when he was available, but Pham ultimately played in 50 fewer games Piscotty.

Of course, Piscotty's promotion stuck. He earned it.

Pham might also complain that Grichuk and Piscotty each were penciled into the Cardinals everyday lineup in 2016. He can't argue, however, that Piscotty somehow failed to prove himself worthy after he batted .273 with 22 home runs and a team-best 85 RBIs. Grichuk did, in fact, stumble out of the gate and spent the next two seasons wearing a path on I-55 between St. Louis and Memphis. In each case, it was Pham that passed him heading in the opposite direction.

But by that point, though, Pham had checked out.

This is what he told Kelly in the SI article: "I'm thinking, [the Cardinals] are not gonna trade me. They won't sell me to Japan. What the (expletive)? They clearly don't believe in me. Let a (expletive) leave! And they wouldn’t even do that."

His disenchantment showed in his .228 batting average. Yet, this is the Cardinals jerking him around?

Finally, there's this: Bourjos, Holliday, Heyward, Adams, Grichuk and Piscotty are gone. So are Jon Jay, Shane Robinson, Xavier Scruggs, Allen Craig, Brandon Moss, and Jeremy Hazelbaker.

And who remains as the Cardinals' everyday center fielder? What further vote of confidence does Pham need?

Todd Eschman is sports editor of the Belleville News-Democrat. You can reach him by calling 618-239-2540.
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