There is no doubt that newly acquired outfielder Tommy Pham provides more than just offensive firepower to the San Diego Padres.
In the midst of an offseason that saw him get traded from the Tampa Bay Rays to the San Diego Padres, outfielder Tommy Pham opened up the floor to questions. On Instagram, that is.
Using a Q and A feature on the app’s stories, the 31-year-old fielded queries from fans about baseball, his personal life, and his offseason activities. One person simply asked him what he was most excited about in his upcoming season in San Diego. Pham’s one-word response was succinct but made his point very clear.
“Winning,” Pham replied on the app, was what he was most excited for next season with the Padres.
An example, perhaps, of the hard-nosed, motivated attitude that he will bring to the team this spring.
Pham’s all-out, edgy style of play and role as a leader is no secret. He has the words “Believe in yourself” tattooed on his left biceps. Pham has played on through a rare degenerative eye condition that briefly threatened his career. And across his stays in both St. Louis, which drafted him, as well as with the Rays, the impact he had on each team’s clubhouse was well-documented.
During Tampa Bay’s playoff run last fall, fellow Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier told the Tampa Bay Times that “(Pham) knows one way: all the way.”
In a similarly-timed interview with the same publication, his previous manager, Kevin Cash said that “Whatever intensity level (Pham) gets to during the regular season, he’s got another one he can get to in the postseason.” A good fit, perhaps, for a Padres team that is looking to crack the postseason for the first time in more than ten years.
The point is that Pham is a gamer, a grinder, a competitor — whatever term you want to use to describe him, he’s a guy you want on your team — especially if you’re a Padres fan. He’s a guy you want on your team alongside superstar third baseman Manny Machado, who has been a tremendous leader for the Padres and has been rightfully lauded for both his performance and his mentorship of the young Fernando Tatis Jr. as they hold down the left side of the infield.
But Machado’s demeanor, his modus operandi, is to be more laid back — calm, cool, and collected between moments of freakish athleticism and game-winning intensity. His all-around coolness is a trait that’s an asset to both him and the team.
The aforementioned Tatis Jr.’s youthful exuberance has electrified Petco Park in a way the ballpark hasn’t seen in years. But with less than a full season of service time under his belt, he may lack the experience necessary to step up as a veteran leader.
And so, the styles and traits of both Machado and Tatis Jr., as dynamic as they are, should leave room for another type of leader to step into the home clubhouse at Petco Park, someone who can be the “yin” to Machado’s metaphorical “yang.”
Room for a player who’s words were, as The Athletic’s Josh Tolentino wrote, “always well-received by teammates, who respected him for his no-BS attitude and gamesmanship.” A player who, as Tolentino elaborated, was there to step in “whenever the team was in a slump and needed accountability,” calling out teammates during a tough September stretch of games to ask for more effort, sparking a run to the playoffs in October.
For some fans, talks of clubhouse leadership and intangibles conjure images of agent Scott Boras being insistent of now-Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer’s “prestige value,” prompting a jaded feeling. Still, it’s a potentially justified eye roll in the face of Hosmer’s slide in performance, ever-so-slight it may be.
But for as real as Pham’s hard-working ethos and leadership skills appear to be, his value should go beyond his intangibles, his ability to be a sparkplug and rally his team.
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Most notably, Pham will bring a much-needed boost in on-base percentage to the Padres with his .369 on-base percentage in 2019 being higher than all San Diego players except for Fernando Tatis Jr. and Greg Garcia, the latter of whom started in only 74 games. As an everyday player, Pham posted a .273 batting average, higher than all on the Padres except for, again, Tatis Jr. And his numbers don’t seem to be a fluke.
His 2019 batting average and on-base percentage are within three to four points of his career numbers. And his 68 RBIs last year are a career-high. Combine this with solid, dependable defense, and you have the type of well-rounded player in the outfield the Padres may have been lacking in recent years.
With rumors of a Padres trade for superstar Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts looming on the horizon, the Padres’ acquisition of Pham may be quickly overshadowed as the team negotiates what could shape up to be a blockbuster deal.
But what shouldn’t be overlooked is the value both on and off the field that Tommy Pham can bring to the Padres in what may be shaping up to be a make-or-break year.
Anderson Haigler is a freelance sports journalist from Escondido, California. This year is his third contributing to the East Village Times. Anderson recently graduated from the University of San Diego with a degree in Communication Studies, where he won three awards from the CCMA for both his sports and breaking news coverage for The USD Vista.