I once bet on Tommy Pham and lost.
A few years ago, I bet on Pham to stay healthy and come into his own on the field for the Cardinals, producing after so many disappointing campaigns cut short due to injury. I made a bet with my fellow sportswriting colleague, Corey Rudd, about Pham staying healthy through a certain portion of the season.
I lost the bet. I sent Rudd a bag of La Cosecha Coffee Roasters beans, which is a blessing in disguise if you ask me, due to the local St. Louis coffee roaster being the best in town. However, seeing Pham go down was tough. Years later, I still root for the guy who speaks his mind. Like Al Pacino in Heat, he says what he means and does what he says.
Today, St. Louis Cardinals fans got worked up when Pham made some blunt comments about his teammates and the front office in a Sports Illustrated interview. Whether it was calling out team management for not giving him the chance or fellow players for blocking his path, Pham held nothing back in his interview. I can respect him for that while not agreeing with all his comments. After all, this is the guy who uses his name in the third person and doesn't miss a thing.
The interview shouldn't shock anyone because it's just more of Pham being himself, the relentless opportunist who isn't going to stop until he lands that huge contract that he's been thinking about ever since he was a kid growing up in Las Vegas. If you heard Pham at the Winter Warm-up talk about his rigorous training methods or how he challenges teammates to conditioning drills, these words aren't exactly breaking news.
Pham did call out certain teammates, and I have no problem with that. Athletes are paid to perform and when they don't, they should be fair game for criticism. If Dexter Fowler gets upset about Pham saying he wasn't playing well last season, Fowler hasn't graduated from Little League yet. He can handle it. One of the best things that came out of the Winter Warm-up was veteran pitcher Adam Wainwright raving about Pham's blunt nature. He loved it and defended it against certain unnamed players on the team last season.
Yes, certain players won't like Pham's comments. You know what I say about that? BOO HO! Get over it. Get on the field and prove him wrong or if you are Harrison Bader, unseat him. If you think Pham's comments were wrong, you aren't competitive enough. I'll tell you this much. If the Cardinals want to compete for the likes of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado this winter, they need to have an attitude like Pham's. Ruthless, just classy enough, and full of pride. Marquee players want to play for winners, but they also want to play with chest-beating personalities. Pham's words will light a fire under this team and help them win. The quiet poised Cardinal days are over. Thank goodness!
Do I agree with all of Pham's comments? No. I think he could have given at least a small amount of appreciation to the franchise for constantly giving him opportunities. I think he could have held back a bit in certain areas, but when you are being asked for the truth, it's not easy to hold back.
Every reporter or columnist asks questions before and after games, begging for some real hardcore honesty for their articles. No writer wants to transcribe the same old recycled quotes from months ago. They want real clarity. Pham gives you that every day. That's what he gave SI writer Jack Dickey. Honesty. I can dig it.
In March, I said that Pham's desire to play for his next contract is gold on the ceiling for the Cardinals. After reading this candid interview, I am even more sure of it. Pham is placing all the onus on himself to come through. He knows the odds and will bet on himself anyway.
If Pham's comments offended you, you're too soft. If they fired you up, you're just right.
Here's what I think. If Mike Matheny turns to Pham in September 2016 instead of Brandon Moss, the Cardinals make the playoffs. They missed the playoffs by one game. Pham's bat was worthy of more at-bats while Moss couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. Moss played more and the Cards missed out.
Finally, in 2017, Stephen Piscotty got hurt and Pham had no more blocks in front of him. He took off, playing so well that Fowler would start 2018 in right field and Piscotty and Randal Grichuk were traded away. When given a legit shot by his team and his body, Pham blew people away.
I expect 2018 to be a successful, if slightly less robust, season for Pham. I don't think last year was an outlier. Pham's early going in the young season backs that up. He's taking control of center field and putting together at-bats at the plate. The only problem I have with Pham is his backup location for his contact lenses, but that's an easy fix.
Today, Pham made a few enemies in Cardinal Nation for speaking honestly about a tumultuous situation. Maybe fans want their heroes on the field to be stoic and silent. I don't. I like loud and audacious types. Like Brett Hull, Larry Walker or Lance Berkman. Talk to me for real! That's all Pham did in the Sports Illustrated piece.
It may not be the Cardinal Way, which is overrated and stinks. It is the way the Cardinals should be if they want to attract big names to come to St. Louis. Be bold and see where the chips fall.
You have a guy who wants to prove his worth, while in return, he could bring you another six WAR season for a bargain price, and make your city more attractive to bigger names. The Cardinals can't lose.
You can't keep Tommy Pham or his ability quiet anymore. The only person standing in his way is the image he sees in the mirror. He's ready, at an older and wiser age, to take over. I'd get out of his way and watch. Perhaps write about it.
Whatever the Cardinals do, they shouldn't deny it. Instead, promote Pham's bold attitude.