Skip To Content

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe

A Jewish Giant gets slapped by a Cincinnati Red — and mostly shrugs it off

A baseball beef for the fantasy football generation.

A pregame altercation between Jewish San Francisco Giants slugger Joc Pederson and an opposing player Friday actually had little to do with baseball — and everything to do with…fantasy football?

In one of the oddest sports beefs in memory, Cincinnati Reds outfielder Tommy Pham approached Pederson during warmups and, with seemingly no words exchanged, slapped him across the face. The two were then separated by teammates.

The story only gets stranger.

After the game, Pederson, seemingly mostly bemused by the whole thing, said the incident stemmed from a disagreement that arose more than a year ago about roster maneuvering in the fantasy league he and Pham played in with several other MLB pros. Pederson said Pham accused him of cheating in a group text.

Pederson said there was “no real argument” immediately preceding the slap, which earned Pham a three-game suspension.

“He kind of came up and said, I dunno, ‘You remember from last year?’” Pederson recalled. “And I was like, ‘Fantasy football?” And he was like, ‘Yeah.’”

He added, “I don’t think violence is the answer.”

Reminiscent of the Will Smith-Chris Rock slap at the Academy Awards earlier this year, the incident involved two of the sport’s most confident and colorful players, who took vastly different paths to the big leagues — which may help explain how each handled the dispute.

Pederson, the son of a former MLB player, was once one of the sport’s top prospects, and made the All-Star team as a 23-year-old rookie. He developed a reputation as a clutch home-run hitter on World Series runs with the Dodgers and Braves. And he’s famously one of the game’s quirkier characters — wearing a pearl necklace during last postseason, and choosing Abba’s “Dancing Queen” as his walkup song this year. When Pham smacked him, Pederson was sporting a mohawk and a thin blonde walrus mustache.

On the other hand, Pham was mired in the St. Louis Cardinals’ minor league system through his late-20s. When he finally broke out as a 30-year-old, he told Sports Illustrated that the team’s front office didn’t respect him. Not as high-profile — or as highly paid — as Pederson, Pham’s brash competitiveness is legion. He’s what people around baseball reverently refer to as a gamer.

So he objected to Pederson’s late-season transaction — of putting a player listed as out for the week on his roster’s injured-reserve list and adding a replacement — and apparently harbored the grudge for more than a year.

Informing reporters of his suspension, Pham, describing himself as a “big dog in Vegas,” told reporters that “too much money was on the line” — buy-in for the league was $10,000, The Athletic reported — to let Pederson’s roster manipulation go unaddressed.

But he also added that Pederson had said some things I don’t condone, so I had to address it.”

Indeed, simmering underneath Pederson’s controversial transaction was a GIF image Pederson sent to the fantasy league group chat last year, as the San Diego Padres — then Pham’s team — struggled down the stretch. 

In the GIF, three weightlifters — one representing each of the Giants, Dodgers and Padres — throw weights high in the air. The weight thrown by the Padres lifter comes down on his head.

“It was kind of making fun of how they were not playing well to make the playoffs with a very talented team,” Pederson said.

Pham didn’t laugh.

“Joc, I don’t know you well enough to make any jokes like this,” was his text response, which Pederson read from his phone.

Pham also reportedly warned Pederson that next time he saw him, he would give him a “pimp slap.”

“It was supposed to be lighthearted,” Pederson said of the GIF. “I understand everyone takes things differently, so I apologize for that.”

Pham said in an interview Tuesday that Pederson had sent “four or five” GIFs to the group and that several other members of the fantasy league, which reportedly included MLB stars Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, had reached out to him for support.

The suspension will cost him about $111,000.


Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.