It happens at some point every year.
We just start to get a handle on the baseball season and somehow football finds a way to barge in and steal the spotlight. Only this time, two baseball players were the reason.
For those who had actual plans over Memorial Day weekend and didn’t follow all the drama and new developments over the 48-hour story arc, here’s a quick recap:
During batting practice before their game on Friday, Cincinnati Reds outfielder Tommy Pham accosted Joc Pederson of the San Francisco Giants because of a dispute in their fantasy football league last season.
“I slapped Joc,” Pham later admitted. “He did some (expletive) I don’t condone, so I had to address it.”
The scuffle resulted in players from the bullpen and the batting cage rushing to the spot in the outfield where Pham and Pederson were. No additional punches were thrown and both players left the field.
Pham was originally in the Reds starting lineup for the game, but was later removed. That seemed to be the end of it. However, the story wouldn’t die.
Through dogged reporting, we later found out Pederson had picked up a replacement for a player on his fantasy roster who was out that week due to an injury. Pham felt it was cheating because the player was inactive, but wasn’t officially on injured reserve.
Additionally, Pederson shared an image in the league’s group chat of three weightlifters representing the Dodgers, Giants and Padres, with the weightlifter under the logo of the Padres (Pham’s team at the time) getting hit by the weight and falling over.
Is that enough to warrant holding a grudge for roughly eight months and then slapping someone?
As someone who’s played in a number of fantasy leagues with different formats and quirky rules, I have some thoughts.
First of all, I don’t know Joc Pederson or Tommy Pham personally. But I do know that just about every fantasy league has someone like Joc Pederson and Tommy Pham.
They’re easy to recognize. There’s the person who doesn’t mind bending the rules to his advantage. And when he does, there’s usually someone else who likes to complain about it.
Not to mention there’s the person who sometimes tends to take trash-talking a bit too far. And another who tends to take those comments – however good-natured they may have been – a little too seriously.
“It was supposed to be a friendly thing, just making fun of they were playing bad, and just talking back and forth,” Pederson said.
Pham called it “disrespectful.”
And yes, all too often there’s the guy who gets mad, throws a fit and quits the league in the middle of the season. That’s apparently what Pham did a couple weeks after the dispute.
The sad part about the whole story is … it didn’t have to be that way. And it doesn’t have to in any fantasy league, especially now that we have high-profile examples of what NOT to do.
It’s pretty simple. Don’t be a (synonym for “Joc,” also a man’s name).
If you’re playing in a league with casual acquaintances, don’t assume everyone has your same sense of humor.
Pederson, who spent his first seven MLB seasons with the Dodgers, was friends with some of the other Padres players in the league. So while he may have felt comfortable joking about the Padres’ second-half collapse, Pham wasn’t amused.
“Joc, I don’t know you well enough to make any jokes like this,” he wrote in the group chat.
It probably didn’t help matters that Pederson, who won a World Series ring with the Dodgers in 2020, went on to win another one last season as a member of the Atlanta Braves. The Padres, a franchise that’s been in existence since 1969, have never won a World Series.
And when he was questioned about what happened, Pederson was happy to show reporters the group texts and the GIF in question to support his case.
Being a sore winner isn’t a particularly good look.
It isn’t easy running a fantasy league. As someone who’s overseen the original fantasy baseball experts league – Sports Weekly’s League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) – for the past 17 seasons, the job can be stressful at times.
And as is probably the case in a fantasy league with MLB players, I’ve also had to deal with some pretty healthy egos. The most important thing I’ve learned is to have a clear set of rules, follow them as closely as possible and be transparent when you need to interpret anything that’s not covered.
In this case, I can’t help but feel that having a commissioner clarify immediately whether or not Pederson’s pickup was legal could have prevented the dispute from festering and causing Pham to quit the league.
Coincidentally, just this past week we had a situation in LABR in which I had a request to put a player on the injured list because his vaccination status prevented him from crossing the Canadian border. But I denied it on the grounds that the player was put on MLB’s restricted list for just those three games, making it different from being on the 7-day concussion or COVID IL. He could still bench the player, but couldn’t add someone else to the roster to replace him.
This particular circumstance wasn’t specifically covered in our league rules (always have them written down somewhere), but when I explained my logic he reluctantly accepted the decision. And the rules will be amended to avoid any future confusion.
Fantasy sports are supposed to be fun, but when taken to the extreme, things can get nasty.
A sense of perspective is essential, even if there’s money on the line. In this case, they were apparently playing for a significant amount.
Pham had a right to be upset if he felt Pederson was cheating, but quitting the league and stewing about it since last fall isn’t the way to handle it. Confronting and then slapping someone definitely isn’t.
MLB didn’t think so either. Pham received a three-game suspension, covering all three games the Giants played over the weekend in Cincinnati.
Three games, without pay.
So on top of losing his league entry fee, the altercation also ended up costing Pham $111,000 in salary.
For anyone who thought unwritten rules were a big problem in baseball, it just goes to show things can be even worse in fantasy football.
Steve Gardner is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame. Follow him on Twitter @SteveAGardner