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The most absurd story of the 2022 MLB season (so far) started with a slap, but it may be more apt to say it ended with the slap.
The short of it is that Cincinnati Reds outfielder Tommy Pham slapped San Francisco Giants outfielder Joc Pederson before Friday's game over a dispute in their fantasy football league. Details were initially scarce, and it took a full day for video of the actual slap to emerge:
BREAKING: 96.3/92.5 The Big Jab has obtained exclusive rights to a never before seen video of Tommy Pham slapping Joc Pederson (via Chad McCormack’s sources) #JocPederson #Pham #tommypham #Joc @MorningJab @MannixBrothers @ThePMJab pic.twitter.com/0oXBwDDRdH
— Chad McCormack (@mccormack_chad) May 28, 2022
Pham would soon be scratched from the Reds' lineup that night, with a three-game suspension retroactive to Friday announced the next day.
As the two teams met with reporters, each player provided more and more detail on just how two grown-up millionaires could come to blows (or one of them, at least) over fantasy football. While you would think the two would disagree on such a contentious topic, their accounts seem to align pretty well on the facts, just with massively different opinions on fantasy football and group chat etiquette.
Here is what happened in this fantasy football league, from the two players' own words.
Joc Pederson: Pham was mad about IR rules
Apparently, the bad blood started when Pederson placed a player who was out in injured reserve, according to Pederson on Friday night:
"We were in a fantasy league together. I put somebody, a player, on the injured reserve when they were listed as out and added another player. There was a text message in the group saying that I was cheating because I was stashing players on my bench. I looked up the rules and sent a screenshot of the rules, how it says when a player is ruled out, you're allowed to put him on the IR. That's all I was doing.
"It just so happened that he had a player, Jeff Wilson, that was out, and he had him on IR. I said, 'you literally have the same thing on your team, on your bench.' I guess he was in two leagues and in one of them [Wilson] was on the IR and in one of them, he wasn't, so maybe that was a confusion. In the ESPN league we were in, it was listed as out. It feels very similar to what I did. That was basically all of it, there's not much more to it."
Pederson said this happened "over a year ago," so we are likely talking about the 2020-21 NFL season at the latest.
Pham: Pederson mocked the Padres
The next morning, shortly before Pham's suspension was announced, the outfielder responded by claiming Pederson had conveniently left out a "disrespectful" message in the league's group chat, though he also seemed to still believe Pederson had broken some kind of code with his IR move:
"There was some s*** that went on in fantasy, but what he forgot to tell you guys he said some disrespectful s*** in a text message and I called him out on it. It was regarding my former team ... I didn't like that and I didn't like the sketchy s*** going on in the fantasy. You have too much money on the line, so I look at it like there's a code. F***ing with my money and you're going to say some disrespectful s***, there's a code to this."
Pham said he no longer talked to Pederson about the incident, saying "This was strictly just about some money or winning some money." He also reportedly added “I’m a big dog in Vegas. I’m a high roller at many casinos.”
It is worth pointing out that a three-game suspension will also mess with a player's money, as the ban will cost Pham a pro-rated portion of his $7.5 million salary, a six-figure amount.
Pederson: Here's the GIF I used to mock the Padres
A few hours later, after the game on Saturday, Pederson again addressed reporters to confirm he had sent a message mocking the Padres last season.
"It's true, there was a lot of money involved in it. I did send a gif in the group chat that was making fun of the Padres. In the group chat, there was more than one Padres, maybe four or five. I'm kinda close with a couple of them. It was supposed to be friendly thing, just making fun of — they were playing bad, just talking back and forth. He did not like that and responded."
The fateful exchange:
Pham: "Joc, I don't know you well enough to make any jokes like this."
Pederson "It was meant to be all fun and games. No hard feelings. Sorry if you took it that way."
Pederson said Pham left the league two weeks later in Week 4 or Week 5 of the NFL season, with no communication until they met on the field that fateful Friday.
Neither player has revealed much about the league itself, though Pham told reporters Reds teammate Mike Moustakas was a part of the league. Back in 2021, Pham posted an open invitation to join a league with a $10K buy-in, in case you were curious exactly what kind of money we're talking about here. Among the players tagged in that invitation: Manny Machado (a former teammate of Pederson's), Eric Hosmer, Blake Snell and Jake Marisnick, who were all on the Padres at the time.
What GIF could have set Pham off so bad he left a big-money fantasy league? As Pederson showed reporters, it was three weightlifters competing with the logos of the Dodgers, Giants and Padres superimposed on them. The Padres weightlifter falters.
Fortunately for all of us, baseball fans found it:
This is the Gif that got Joc Pederson slapped pic.twitter.com/A3FBnJSi1Q
— hi🅿️ablo (@hipablo) May 29, 2022
At the time, the Dodgers and Giants were battling in the most competitive division race in MLB history, while the much-hyped Padres limped to a 79-83 record. Pham was then a member of the Padres, and had been a division rival of Pederson in 2020 when the Giant played for the Dodgers.
"They were a really good team, so it was kinda making fun about how they were not playing well enough to make the playoffs. I was teammates with some of them. It was supposed to be light-hearted and I understand everyone takes jokes differently. Like I said, I apologize for that."
After roughly eight months of radio silence, Pederson said Pham confronted him on Friday. Pham reportedly claimed to reporters that night Pederson was the instigator, but that's not how Pederson remembered it:
"There was no real argument. He kinda came up and said, 'You remember from last year?' I said, 'Fantasy football?' He said, 'Yeah' and ... yeah."
And that was that.