Tommy Pham wanted to be a Dodger. Now he's a standout and clubhouse hit for Arizona

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 28: Tommy Pham #28 of the Arizona Diamondbacks warms up.

Tommy Pham took his seat for the news conference wearing a T-shirt with an homage at Globe Life Field late Saturday night after starring in Game 2 of the World Series.

On it was a photo of David Ortiz, the Hall of Fame slugger, pointing to the sky. Under it: “MY DAWG” in red letters. It was a postgame gift from Ortiz, a Fox Sports analyst on hand to cover the World Series.

Pham courted questions as he usually does. He was deliberate, thoughtful and sincere. His first answer began with a reference to a book he read while with the St. Louis Cardinals. “Good Is the Enemy of Great,” he said, inspired him so much he passed his copy along to a friend.

Now 35, on his seventh team in eight years, Pham didn’t settle for good in perhaps the most important baseball game of his life.

The veteran finished Game 2 four for four with two runs scored as the Arizona Diamondbacks knotted the World Series with a 9-1 win over the Texas Rangers.

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It was Pham’s third career four-hit game in the postseason, tying Albert Pujols for the most in Major League Baseball history. The second instance came in Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Dodgers earlier this month.

Pham could’ve become the first player in MLB history to go five for five in a World Series game, but he asked manager Torey Lovullo to have Jace Peterson pinch-hit for him in the ninth inning of the blowout. He wanted Peterson, who entered the night with one postseason plate appearance, to experience a World Series at-bat.

He later explained his performance resulted from an adjustment he made after his uncomfortable first at-bat against Rangers left-hander Jordan Montgomery culminated in an infield single. The only blemish was getting picked off second base after his double in the sixth inning.

“I knew after my first at-bat, my approach wasn't going to work against him today,” Pham said. “So I kind of had to go to Plan B to work the right side to stay on that heavy sinker and that changeup. And it worked.”

After struggling in the National League Championship Series, Pham has been a weapon as the team’s designated hitter while batting fifth in the order through the first two games of this series, with success against right-handed and left-handed pitchers. In Game 1, he clubbed a solo home run off right-hander Nathan Eovaldi that, at the time, gave the Diamondbacks a 4-3 lead before the Rangers roared back for an 11-inning victory.

His presence behind the scenes, however, might have a bigger impact on the 84-win Diamondbacks’ improbable World Series run.

“He goes out there and bangs out four hits and has a really good approach,” Lovullo said. “But I think the thing he added was some toughness, some focus. And his ability to prepare became very contagious. There’s no nonsense about his workday. He’s a great teammate. He’s an unbelievable teammate.

“And I know we got better because of all the things that he brings to the table that don’t get seen in a box score.”

An alternate universe exists in which Pham isn't affecting a young Diamondbacks core and doesn’t compile six hits in the three-game sweep of the Dodgers. In that world, Pham gets what he wants and he’s helping the other side. How do we know? Well, as he operates around most subjects, he was blunt when asked about it.

Arizona Diamondbacks' Tommy Pham rounds third base as against the Chicago Cubs.

As Pham addressed it at Thursday’s World Series media day, he instructed his agent to call Andrew Friedman twice during the offseason when he was looking for a job. During the process, he said he heard from Dodgers players he knew telling him to try to make joining Los Angeles happen. Both times, according to Pham, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations said no.

Just about any team could have employed him at the time. He was available at a bargain coming off a disappointing 2022 season during which he batted .236 with 17 home runs and a .686 on-base-plus-slugging percentage for the Cincinnati Reds and Boston Red Sox.

But the Dodgers were looking for a left-handed-hitting outfielder. Pham, a right-handed hitter, didn’t fit the criteria. The Mets wound up signing him to a one-year, $6-million deal in late January. The Dodgers chose to sign David Peralta to a one-year, $6.5-million contract two weeks later.

Fast-forward five months, and Pham was available again, this time via trade before the Aug. 1 deadline. It was a surprise to Pham. He signed with the Mets expecting to finish the season with them. They were a projected World Series contender and he wanted to avoid getting traded for the third time in six years. But the Mets were an unrecoverable disaster by the All-Star break so they chose to sell.

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Knowing Pham was available, Dodgers teammates Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez vouched for him, according to Pham. A person with knowledge of the Dodgers’ thinking but not authorized to speak publicly confirmed Martinez “said good things about him" and Pham was among the targets they considered.

Yet the team chose to acquire Kiké Hernández and Amed Rosario as their right-handed-hitting reinforcements “before the Mets were willing to move and really engage.” Ultimately, the Diamondbacks acquired Pham in the final hours before the deadline to be an everyday player.

“I don't have any hard feelings toward it,” Pham said. “I look at it like I need to play better. They don't think I'm a fit, then so be it. I have no feelings.”

The average American knows Pham as the guy who slapped another baseball player (former Dodger Joc Pederson) before a baseball game over a fantasy football league disagreement last year.

A combat sport practitioner, Pham once threatened to fight Luke Voit, a burly first baseman most people would avoid engaging in hand-to-hand combat. He was stabbed outside a San Diego strip club three years ago. He’s been on five teams since 2021. He isn’t afraid to share unfiltered thoughts, including candidly sharing publicly that some of his Mets teammates didn’t work hard enough earlier this year and that he called for a meeting with team brass to ask for more playing time.

The profile doesn’t scream beloved clubhouse presence. Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen knew that.

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Hazen was in search of a right-handed-hitting outfielder to acquire before the trade deadline. His club was free-falling through July. They needed a jolt to resurrect their playoff hopes.

Pham was a popular target among playoff contenders. The Diamondbacks and six other teams showed interest, but the price wasn't high. Hazen’s front office, knowing the oddities surrounding Pham’s career, did the homework on Pham, the person. They discovered one thing was certain: Pham doesn’t like to be around players who don’t work hard.

“And we felt like, ‘Well, we have a clubhouse filled with guys that work hard so that’s going to be an easy match,’” Hazen said.

In the end, Hazen agreed to trade a 17-year-old minor leaguer to New York for him. Three months later, Hazen’s assessment of Pham’s effect on the club doesn’t begin with anything on the field.

“Culturally, he's helped us a ton,” Hazen said. “He's a very serious worker and baseball player and wants to be a perfectionist. And I think he demands a lot of his teammates to work hard and to improve. He wants to be the best. And that is a big contribution to a clubhouse.”

Tommy Pham rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the Texas Rangers in Game 1 of the World Series on Friday.
Tommy Pham rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the Texas Rangers in Game 1 of the World Series on Friday. (Brynn Anderson / Associated Press)

Pham is the kind of player the Dodgers could’ve used in October. He would’ve been a fiery outlier on a roster filled with docile characters — though Pham acknowledged he probably would’ve been limited to starting only against left-handed pitchers as a Dodger.

“I thought the Pham deal at the deadline was fantastic,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said before Game 2 of the NLDS against Arizona.

Pham’s teammates noted his off-field presence has proved invaluable. Diamondbacks star rookie outfielder Corbin Carroll noted Pham’s “blue-collar mentality” spreads to other players. Veteran third baseman Evan Longoria, the only player on the Diamondbacks older than Pham, found him energizing.

“He's as prepared as any teammate that I've ever been around,” said Longoria, 38. “He cares as much as any teammate I've ever been around. And he’s constantly thinking about how you can get better, which is an inspiration to me, being that he's a veteran guy too.”

Diamondbacks outfielder/first baseman Pavin Smith was initially cautious around Pham. It became apparent that the veteran, indeed, loves fantasy football so Smith makes sure not to criticize Pham’s team. Other than that, Pavin said, he’s just a passionate co-worker.

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“He's definitely someone you want on your team and maybe from the outside looking in — because he's all about his team — you might not like him as much because he's just trying to beat you,” Smith said. “He's just an intense guy that loves to win.”

Rangers pitcher Max Scherzer was Pham’s teammate in New York until Scherzer was traded to Texas in July. Their relationship featured constant trash talking and mutual respect.

“I really enjoyed playing with Tommy,” Scherzer said. “He's a great baseball player. Hard-nosed player. Really came away raving about him as a teammate.”

This winter, Pham will return to free agency looking for another home. He joked that he’ll ask for a no-trade clause in his contract to avoid another midseason relocation or at least an assignment bonus to make some money off a trade.

“Free agency should be different for me this go-around,” Pham said. “I would anticipate it would be a lot better for me.”

It would only get better if the Diamondbacks, with Pham in the middle of their lineup, win three more games.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.