NEW YORK — Mike Trout, the best player in baseball, the greatest of his generation, faced a bank of television cameras and a clutch of iPhone recorders. At long last, after 12 seasons, nine All-Star appearances and three MVP trophies, a blemish had emerged on his Hall of Fame résumé: He may not, according to at least one contemporary, be the most capable fantasy football commissioner.
“Am I going to resign? I haven’t made that decision,” Trout said Wednesday afternoon before the Angels were slated to play at Yankee Stadium. “I don’t know. But every commissioner I know always gets booed.”
Trout sounded more amused than ashamed when interrogated about his stewardship of Major League Baseball’s most famous fantasy football league, the competition at the heart of a recent dispute between Cincinnati Reds outfielder Tommy Pham and San Francisco Giants outfielder Joc Pederson. A disagreement about the rules of the injured reserve and the etiquette of group chats led to Pham slapping Pederson before a game May 27.
In the aftermath of the incident, Pham accepted a three-game suspension. Both men aired separate sides of the story. Pederson said Pham accused him of manipulating the roster rules; Pederson insisted his maneuver was legal, and one Pham himself was utilizing. Pham suggested Pederson had said “disrespectful shit” about Pham’s former team, the San Diego Padres. “It is true, I did send a GIF making fun of the Padres,” Pederson said in response. “If I hurt anyone’s feelings, I apologize for that.”
Back from his suspension Tuesday, Pham revealed another layer to the story. Part of the blame, he explained, fell at the feet of the league’s commissioner. That man, Pham said, was Michael Nelson Trout.
“Trout did a terrible job, man,” Pham said Tuesday. “Trout’s the worst commissioner in fantasy sports. Because he allowed a lot of shit to go on and he could’ve solved it all.”
The entire roster of the 12-man league, which required a $10,000 buy-in and featured an additional $10,000 penalty for the last-place finisher, is unclear. Other competitors included former All-Stars like Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, The Athletic reported. Pham said the responsibility for running the league fell to Trout because “nobody wanted to be commissioner. I didn’t want to be the fucking commissioner. I’ve got other shit to do. He didn’t want to do it. We put it on him.”
The thanklessness of the job only became more apparent after Pham mentioned Trout publicly. On multiple occasions before Wednesday, Trout had declined entreaties from The Athletic to discuss his rumored involvement in the league. (Pham contacted Trout to apologize for disclosing his role, according to a person familiar with the conversation.)
Trout would have preferred not to talk about the kerfuffle. But the Angels had previously organized a press conference for Wednesday afternoon. This weekend the team visits Philadelphia, which is near Trout’s boyhood home of Millville, N.J. Several reporters had traveled north to ask Trout about the homecoming. Trout pronounced himself excited to play again at Citizens Bank Park and elated about the offseason moves of his beloved Eagles. He was less thrilled when asked about Pham’s comments.
“I ain’t talking about fantasy football,” Trout said.
Then, in a sheepish but genial fashion, he proceeded to talk about fantasy football. Trout indicated he had spoken with both Pham and Pederson. He chalked up the slap to the heightened emotions brought forth by the thrill of competition.
“Everybody’s competitive,” he said. “Everybody loves fantasy football. Who doesn’t?”
He added, “Tommy, everybody who was involved in that, is very passionate about fantasy football. A lot of people put their hearts into it. I do, too. I lost that league.”
Trout was less forthcoming about the particulars of the argument waged by Pham and Pederson. The initial charge from Pham was that Pederson had illegally stashed someone on the injured reserve and picked up an additional player. Pederson countered that Pham was doing the exact same thing with San Francisco 49ers’ Jeff Wilson Jr. Pham indicated Tuesday there was a difference between what was allowed on ESPN’s fantasy football app and the league’s own codified rules.
The commissioner declined to adjudicate. Did Pederson, as Pham suggested, break the rules?
“I’m not answering them questions,” Trout said.
Was Trout surprised this story was now entering its sixth day in the news cycle?
“I think it’s you guys dragging it on,” Trout said.
Could Trout acknowledge the hilarity of the situation? Pham had just gotten a suspension, worth a three-game cut of his $7.5 million salary, over fantasy football.
“I ain’t commenting on that,” Trout said.
After a while, an Angels spokesperson asked reporters to change the subject. Trout heartily agreed with that suggestion. He was eager to move forward, to a game against the Yankees, to a weekend in Philadelphia, to anything besides more inquiries into his role in the sport’s silliest story of 2022.
“It’s in the past,” Trout said. “You guys are dragging it on. But it’s a legendary fantasy football league, that’s for sure.”
(Photo: Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)