‘So damn frustrating’: Padres’ Tommy Pham among players in financial limbo as coronavirus shuts down MLB

PEORIA, Ariz. — San Diego Padres outfielder Tommy Pham sits on a bar stool in his kitchen. There are two black bags and a box on the dining room table. A large black suitcase on the living room floor. A package of Solo Cups, sunflower seeds and packs of gum strewn on the kitchen countertop. And inside the garage, the entire back of his Cadillac Escalade EXT is filled with boxes and bags of shoes.

It’s moving day.

A week earlier than he planned.

He’s talking when his phone buzzes with an email, the latest update from the players union. He reads it, puts down his phone, and softly says "this is a mess. A huge mess.’’

He stares ahead, slowly shakes his head, closes his eyes, and raises his voice for emphasis: “A (expletive)-up mess!’’

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Pham, who celebrated his 32nd birthday a week ago, and on the brink of being seriously paid with two years left before free agency, recoils at how his life, and everyone in the sports world, dramatically changed in a matter of a few days.

He’s getting ready for the upcoming season one day, the NBA is shut down the next, then the entire sports world, including Major League Baseball. Now, everything is coming to a standstill, with California joining others states in a virtual lockdown, with restaurants and bars closing, and people ordered to stay confined at home.

“When I was doing my own research and reading about the coronavirus, I thought it was minuscule compared to the flu, hepatitis, cancer, and other things killing hundreds of thousands of people.’’ Pham told USA TODAY Sports in a two-hour interview Monday.

“I didn’t think it was going to wipe us out like this. This has affected everyone.’’

And turned the world upside down.

Pham, the Padres’ prized acquisition in an offseason trade with the Tampa Bay Rays, was planning to stay in Peoria, Ariz., along with his teammates as long as baseball’s shutdown continued.

He still had hopes of everyone staying together when he pulled into the Peoria Stadium complex Monday for a mandatory noon meeting. He listened to the Padres front office and coaching staff. They were recommending that everyone go home.

The complex wasn't closing, but there would be no organized workouts. Nothing even informal.

“It was a gut-punch,’’ Pham says. “Just so damn frustrating. This is the time of year when everybody is ready to break camp and go play, and then you get news like that.

“I didn’t put all of the work I did in the offseason to be sitting around right now.’’

Pham was traded to the Padres from the Tampa Bay Rays this offseason. (Photo: Elaine Thompson, AP)

Commissioner Rob Manfred announced Monday that MLB would be delayed further than April 9. He offered no timetable, instead following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation to restrict events of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks.

“This ain’t good, man,’’ Pham says. “The vibe we’re getting here is June, maybe July. If we follow the guidelines, who knows, August may be realistic. I know the owners will want to have full stadiums when they open up to make up for the lost revenue.

“I just want to play baseball. That’s what all of us want. That’s what people are forgetting, is just how much we love to play this game.’’

The latest news from the players union is that it will provide a weekly allowance of up to $1,100 a week until April 9, when hopefully each club will start taking over expenses.

It was just this winter he splurged and bought himself a luxurious present when he signed a one-year, $7.9 million contract – a loaded $300,000 black Bentley coupe. He figured he’d live in luxury in San Diego, too, renting a penthouse with spectacular views.

“I don’t know if any of us will get paid," Pham said.

“But you look around, I got friends in the NHL, they’re getting paid. The guys in the NBA are getting paid. How’s it going to look if we’re the only major sport, and the richest sport bringing in the most revenue [$10.7 billion last year], and we’re the only ones not getting paid?’’

Pham, who says lost he $92,000 in the stock market on Monday alone, was planning to use this year’s salary to save money in the event of a strike next season. The labor agreement expires on Dec. 1, 2021. And this is a critical season for him with one more year of salary arbitration and free agency around the corner.

“I’m not getting paid, the stock market is killing my ass, and we have no idea when we’ll be playing,’’ Pham says. “I definitely would have done things differently this winter if I had known this. I sure wouldn’t have been so aggressive in the stock market, that’s for sure.

“I don’t know if scared is the right word, but there’s a lot of nervousness. I know I can’t afford to miss an entire season.’’

Pham isn’t asking for anyone to feel sorry for him, or any of his peers who are established major-league players. You want to have pity? Look at the thousands of minor leaguers and wonder how they’ll financially survive. They haven’t been paid since last August. They won’t be paid again until they start playing. How many will give up their dreams of playing baseball and get a real job?

“They don’t have the finances major-league guys do,’’ Pham says. “The whole nation is pretty much on shutdown, so what jobs can they find. What money do they have? How can they support themselves and their families, but also stay in playing shape? They’re at a huge competitive disadvantage.’’

Pham still is awaiting word whether any players will get paid anything during the shutdown. What happens to their service time? Will he get credit for a full year and still become a free agent after the 2021 season? How will this affect next winter’s arbitration hearings?

“We have so many questions, and nobody is giving us any damn answers,’’ Pham says. “Are they going to pay us. Are they going to pick up our lease? What happens when we do come back?

“That’s what makes it so frustrating, no one is telling us anything.’’

The players, Pham says, want to know what MLB plans to do with the schedule, no matter how many games are cut off.

“You can’t pick up where the schedule left off,’’ Pham says. “That’s bull … because certain teams might have a competitive advantage. That’s the biggest concern I have from the competition standpoint. How do you fix that? That’s not fair. Everyone in the same division should have the same schedule.

“We could play games through October for sure, and even play the World Series at a neutral site, but this really could be a (expletive)-show.’’

Perhaps during this time, Pham says, the union and MLB can start negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement. 

“This already feels like a work stoppage,’’ Pham says, “we don’t want the real one. The fans sure don’t want to see it because two sides can’t come to an agreement. I think the

fans will look at other sports, compare the state of those sports to ours, and with baseball generating the most revenue, wonder how can we not come to an agreement?

“We’ve got to figure this whole thing out and save baseball.

“Might as well start now.’’

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