Tommy Pham

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Thomas James Pham

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Biographical Information[edit]

Outfielder Tommy Pham began playing in the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system in 2006. He was drafted by the club in the 16th round of the 2006 amateur draft and was signed by scout Manny Guerra. He reached the majors in 2014 but did not establish himself as a productive major leaguer until 2017, when he was already 29 years old.

The fleet-footed and strikeout-prone ballplayer - he had 18 stolen bases in both 2008 and 2009 and 156 Ks in 2008 - reached Triple-A for the first time in 2013. In 30 games with the Memphis Redbirds, he hit .264/.310/.368 with one home run, 13 RBI and two stolen bases. He also spent 45 games with the Double-A Springfield (MO) Cardinals that year and hit a combined .286/.359/.461. He began 2014 with Memphis and played 104 games, hitting .324/.395/.491 with 10 homers and 44 RBIs. True to his reputation, he stole 20 bases in 22 attempts, but cut down his strikeouts to a respectable 81. He earned a September call-up to St. Louis and went 0 for 2 in 6 games.

Pham started the 2015 season on the disabled list with a strained quadriceps muscle. He was assigned back to Memphis when he was ready to play in early June. He had a first stint with the big league team the first half of July, and a second one starting in mid-August, after hitting .327/.398/.503 in 48 games for Memphis. He hit only .182 in 13 games in July, but did connect for his first homer off Ian Kennedy of the San Diego Padres in a 3-1 win on July 5th. He showed a hot bat in August, however, when he had two three-hit games in the span of four days on August 22nd and 25th. He hit .268 in 52 games with 5 homers an 18 RBIs. In 2016, however, various injuries limited his playing time to 78 major league games, during which he hit .226 with 9 homers and 17 RBIs, a poor performance that saw his stock within the organization drop considerably, considering the Cardinals had a lot of outfielders among whom to sort out to decide who should be starting at the big league level.

Pham was healthy for a full major league season for the first time in 2017 and broke through the logjam of outfielders to distinguish himself as one of the best offensive players on the team. On August 26th, he hit the first walk-off homer of his career, in the 9th inning against Brad Boxberger of the Tampa Bay Rays with Matt Carpenter on first base to give St. Louis a 6-4 win. he finished the season at .306 in 128 games, with 23 homers, 73 RBIs, 95 runs and 71 walks. He also stole 25 bases while being caught just 7 times and finished with a sparkling OPS+ of 143. He finished in the top 10 in the National League in offensive WAR and 11th in the MVP voting. He slipped back in 2018 however, in a context of difficulties with team management over his salary and with manager Mike Matheny, who was fired in mid-July. After 98 games, he was hitting .248 with 14 homers and 41 RBIs when on July 31st, in a surprising move, he was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in return for three prospects. It was surprising because the Rays had spent the better part of the previous four months trading away veteran players so it wasn't clear why a player with Pham's profile was suddenly on their radar screen. In any case, he played quite well with the Rays, who finished the season strong. In particular, he reached base at least once in his final 32 games with Tampa Bay, hit a scorching .343 and scored 35 runs in 39 games. As a result, he finished the year at .275 with 18 doubles, 21 homers, 102 runs scored and 63 RBIs in 137 games.

In 2019, he reached base in his first 8 games to push his consecutive game streak to 40 on April 5th, passing Johnny Damon for the longest such streak in team history. The streak eventually ended on April 17th, after 48 games, making it the second-longest of the past decade, trailing only that of 52 games by Shin-Soo Choo in 2018. It was another very good season for the outfielder, as he hit .273 with 33 doubles, 21 homers, 77 runs and 68 RBIs. He also drew 81 walks and stole 25 bases in 29 tries. Thus, while none of the numbers was eye-popping by itself, he had one of the most well-rounded batting lines in the majors, as reflected in his OPS+ of 119. The Rays made it to the postseason as the second wild card team in the American League. He went 2 for 4 with a key homer as the Rays upset the Oakland Athletics in the Wild Card Game, and then 7 for 21 (.333) with another homer as the Rays gave the Houston Astros a much tougher time than anyone anticipated in the Division Series.

On December 6, 2019, Tommy was traded to the San Diego Padres alongside two-way prospect Jake Cronenworth in return for power-hitting OF Hunter Renfroe and infield prospect Xavier Edwards. The Padres were looking at Pham as a potential leadoff hitter in 2020, as they had few players with a decent OBP, whereas the Rays liked Renfroe's power potential once he was out of the hitters' graveyard that is Petco Park. After an early bout with COVID-19, he started the year stealing bases like crazy, with 5 through his first 8 games, and was still leading the National League with 6 when he was placed on the injured list with a broken hand on August 17th. By then he had stopped hitting, however, as his average was down to .207 with just 3 extra-base hits in 23 games. He sustained the injury - a broken hamate bone - while swinging at a pitch the day before, and was expected to miss four to six weeks, a large chunk of the abbreviated season. He missed exactly a month, returning on September 18th and finished the year at .211 in 31 games, with 3 homers and 12 RBIs. In the postseason, he went 9 for 24 (.375) in 6 games. Then, following the season, there was more drama as on October 11th, he suffered a stab wound as he was trying to leave a strip club. The team put out a press release downplaying the gravity of the injury, but a month later, he sued the club for providing inadequate security and claiming that he had sustained "catastrophic injuries, which have and will continue to cause him significant economic damage, including but not limited to his earning capacity as an elite professional baseball player."

He was able to recover in time to attend spring training, but n his first meeting with journalists, he did not downplay the severity of the incident at the club: "I'm lucky to even be able to play," he told reporters on February 28th. He explained that he needed surgery and over 100 stitches to close the wound in his lower back, as well as an intensive rehab regime. The fact that he was a professional athlete and much more muscular that the average person likely saved his life, doctors told him.

He grew up in tough circumstances. He says that he only met his biological father twice, and both times he was behind bars, serving long sentences for drug-related offenses. He was already in jail when Tommy and his twin sister, Brittney, were born. Of mixed African-American and Vietnamese lineage, his father was apparently a top high school athlete before his life went out of control. His mother had to work several jobs just to make ends meet, so growing up he spent more time with his grandmother than with her. She almost never saw him playing sports when he was growing up. His best friend's father, Al Ramirez, served as a type of surrogate father, driving him to games and tournaments, and even giving him a place to live after he began playing in the lower minors.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 3 (2017-2019)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 1 (2018)

Further Reading[edit]

  • AJ Cassavell: "Pham: 'I'm lucky to even be able to play'", mlb.com, February 28, 2021. [1]
  • Jennifer Langosch: "Pham has 'very big plans' for 2018 season", mlb.com, December 22, 2017. [2]
  • Will Leitch: "Pham's frustrations justified, but Cards are right, too", mlb.com, April 4, 2018. [3]
  • Bob Nightengale: "For Cardinals' Tommy Pham, void left by imprisoned father one hurdle in career full of them", USA Today Sports, June 15, 2017. [4]
  • Ryan Young: "Tommy Pham thankful to be alive, playing again after strip club stabbing", Yahoo! Sports, February 28, 2021. [5]

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