Three lessons to be learned from Joc Pederson-Tommy Pham-Mike Trout fantasy fiasco
It is inarguably true that the biggest story in baseball over the past week has been a fantasy football saga. This fact probably tells us something about the relative popularity of MLB and the NFL, but let's just set that question aside. My role here is not to explore such matters.
Instead, as this nation's foremost arbiter of petty fantasy disputes, I am here to bring some clarity to the Joc Pederson-Tommy Pham fiasco while offering a few takeaways that are broadly applicable to all leagues.
First, we should enumerate the agreed upon facts of the case:
* Pham slapped Pederson in the head during a brief but weird on-field encounter prior to the Giants-Reds game on May 27, leading to a three-game suspension imposed by MLB;
* The altercation stemmed from a months-old fantasy football feud which began when Pederson executed an injured reserve transaction that was allowed by his fantasy platform, but perhaps prohibited by the league's rules, enraging Pham;
* Pederson, who styles himself off the field as Adult Caillou, used the fantasy league's group text to playfully tease various members of the Padres about the team's late-season collapse, further enraging Pham;
“It is true, I did send a GIF making fun of the Padres, and if I hurt anyone’s feelings I apologize for that.” pic.twitter.com/lE0enI2Ril
— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) May 29, 2022
* The commissioner of the league in question happens to be Mike Trout, a three-time MVP and irrefutably one of the greatest ballplayers of this or any era.
We should also note that the league's buy-in was $10,000, a substantial sum for most of us. But when we compare median U.S. household income to the median income in a fantasy league consisting of Trout, Pham, Pederson, Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer and other prominent MLB players, this entry fee was basically the equivalent of $50-$75 for a normal human—not a completely trivial amount, but also not life-altering. Pham's three-game suspension cost him over $100,000 in lost salary and he doesn't exactly seem to be consumed by regret.
This episode has drawn a ridiculous amount of attention, due in part to the names involved and also due to the fact that it's so incredibly relatable. Anyone who's participated in a longtime fantasy league understands the characters involved. We have a highly volatile manager who objects to almost anything that might benefit another player (Pham). We have a do-nothing, hands-off commissioner (Trout). And of course we have the manager who exploits any identifiable loophole or grey area in the league rules (Pederson).
Because this league feels at some level so familiar, there are important lessons we can all learn from the turmoil that threatens to end it. The first and most essential of these relates to conflict resolution...
We don't need Tommy Phams in our fantasy leagues
Simply put, no fantasy incident should ever end in actual violence. If you play in a league with someone who threatens to throw hands when a rules interpretation or trade review doesn't go their way, then you should exit that league at your first opportunity. Better yet, your commissioner should remove and replace any problematic managers. Fantasy sports are supposed to be lightly competitive and entirely fun. We're talking about a diversion within a diversion here, with modest payouts on the line. In a high-stakes league the ratio of competition to fun is going to change a bit, but under no circumstances does anyone need to get slapped.
Also, it sounds as if Pham abandoned his fantasy roster at some point in the middle of the season following the initial dustup with Pederson, a plainly disrespectful and disruptive thing to do. Unresponsive deadbeat managers who fail to maintain teams are the absolute worst. It's inexcusable. No legitimate competitor would ever do it. So, again: If there's a Pham in your league, they have to go.
We also don't need Mike Trouts running our fantasy leagues
In fairness to Pham, Pederson and everyone else who was dragged into this way-too-public fantasy story, the commissioner definitely failed this league. Trout apparently never wanted to take on commish responsibilities, but, at some point, he did. This league needed a wartime consigliere; instead, they had Trout. It seems perfectly clear that he could have resolved an issue as simple and insignificant as his league's IR-eligibility rules without much difficulty. Just make a call, commish.
Every serious fantasy league — even those without managers as excitable as Pham — needs to be run by a commissioner who, when necessary, is capable of ruling with absolute authority and clarity. Generally speaking, we need our commissioners to be tyrants. Trout seems like a genuinely nice guy — well-liked and respected and whatnot — who just wants to rake at the dish, play catch with fans, launch bombs at Topgolf and never, ever make anyone mad. Good dude, terrible commish candidate.
There's always a Joc Pederson in our leagues, so don't overcomplicate the rules
Let's not forget that the root cause of this spectacular fantasy kerfuffle was Pederson's use of an IR roster spot to stash a player who was merely listed as "out" and not technically on injured reserve. This was understandably allowed by his fantasy provider, but may have been a violation of the league's specific rules. While it might be a stretch to characterize Pederson as some sort of fantasy mastermind, pressing every small rules edge he can find, such managers are definitely present in every league. In fact, if you've ever finished a Yahoo draft without selecting a kicker or defense (allowable on our platform), then you might actually be your league's preeminent loophole exploiter.
It should be obvious that any advantage gained by Pederson through his out-vs.-IR shenanigans was hilariously small. It definitely did not determine this league's champ. We never want to overlegislate or overcomplicate any of our leagues, layering needless and highly specific rules on top of the perfectly acceptable settings offered by most major providers. When a league creates rules that aren't practical for any commissioner to enforce (and are certainly beyond the capabilities of, say, Mike Trout), they need to hit reset. In fantasy, fewer restrictions and complications will usually result in a more enjoyable experience.
But hey, leave it to baseball players to drag ambiguous and possibly unwritten rules into what should be a simple game.