This is the kind of person Joey Votto can be. One minute, he’s his own kind of crazy. Especially with a bat in his hands. The next, he’s . . . well, the word is onorevole in Italian. In Yiddish, the word is mensch.
On 19 July, in San Diego, Votto fumed over a call at the plate in the first inning, resulting in himself and Reds manager David Bell being tossed. Votto thought he’d checked his swing on a 1-2 pitch missing up and away. The plate umpire sought help; the third base umpire said Votto went. Replays showed it was hair-thin close. It could have gone either way.
Votto and the arbiters kept it civil until the third base ump, apparently, said something to trip Votto’s trigger. Votto could be seen (and heard?) saying, “what the (fornicate)?!?” The plate ump interjected, as if to suggest Votto had no business talking to the third base ump. Bell hurried out to protect his player to no avail. Both got sent to bed without their supper.
In the Petco Park stands (the Reds were playing the Padres), a six-year-old Los Angeles girl named Abigail—wearing a Votto T-shirt, attending her first live major league game—cried because she wouldn’t get to see her hero play all game long. Another fan tweeted a photograph of Abigail in tears.
Somehow, someone on the Reds caught the tweet and made Votto aware of her. So he sent Abigail a ball he signed, “I am sorry I didn’t play the entire game. Joey Votto.”
The next afternoon, there were Abigail and her family in the Petco field boxes, courtesy of Votto and the Reds. Votto went out of his way to meet her, in her Reds T-shirt and a large bow with baseball stitching in her hair. He signed anything she handed him and left her with a grin about equal to the distance of a textbook Votto line drive hit.
Now, this is the kind of baseball player Abigail picked as a hero: As the irrepressible Jayson Stark has exhumed, Votto’s one of only six players in Show history to lead his league in on-base percentage seven times or better. He’s done it seven times. The other five: Ted Williams (twelve), Babe Ruth (ten), Barry Bonds (ten), Rogers Hornsby (nine), and Ty Cobb (nine). You may have noticed all but one of them are Hall of Famers.
A Canadian who grew up with a poster of Williams tacked on his bedroom wall, Votto will be a Hall of Famer in due course.
Spare me the lack of three thousand hits (he isn’t likely to reach that number) or five hundred home runs (he isn’t likely to get there, either). The Hall of Fame was supposed to be about greatness, not raw totals. With two more years on his current Cincinnati contract and at age 37, Votto isn’t going to join the 500 bomb club or the 3,000 hit club unless he swings a telephone pole for a bat before he’s Jack Benny’s (alleged) age.
But he’s going to be remembered for all-around greatness. The sole legitimate question around Votto’s Hall of Fame case is whether he’ll make it on the first try or have to wait a few.
As of Wednesday morning Votto’s was A Space Odyssey hit total: 2,001. Guess what. According to my Real Batting Average (RBA) metric (total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches), if Votto’s career ended the instant I wrote the words he’d become the number three Hall of Fame first baseman whose career came entirely or mostly in the post-World War II/post-integration/night-ball era:
|HOF First Base||PA||TB||BB||IBB||SF||HBP||RBA|
Stark narrows his seven-or-more OBP titlist list to those who won seven in any ten-year period. The list shrinks to Hornsby (eight), Williams (seven), Ruth (seven), Cobb (seven), and Votto (seven). “How’s that,” Stark asks, knowing the answer good and well, “for a Mount Rushmore of OBP?”
How’s this, too, for a winning player? Baseball-Reference says the Reds would win 75 percent of their games if they could run a lineup of nine Joey Vottos to the plate. Since they’re playing a 162-game season this year, that would equal 122 wins. A Reds lineup of nine Vottos wouldn’t be eight and a half games behind the National League Central-leading Brewers. But they might be about 28.5 games ahead.
You might care to know, too, that among active players the guy Reds fans call Vottomatic is number two for career OPS+ with 148. That’s 27 points behind the active leader. A fellow (albeit still on this year’s injured list) named Mike Trout. You can do an awful lot worse than pull up second behind Trout.
Allow me to tell you what RBA says about Votto by leverage. We’re talking about the most game-on-the-line moments in which Votto’s checked in at the plate over his entire career through this morning. No one can premeditate the situation in which a batter will step up to the plate at any time–unless he’s being sent out to pinch hit. But RBA says Votto’s one beast you wish you could save for premeditated high-leverage plate appearances:
Essentially, he’s the same batter overall in low as in medium leverage, adjusting for a few particulars. (His combined RBA in those two situations: .600.) But he’s 109 points more monstrous in the highest leverage moments, the moments when the game’s likely outcome is most squarely on the line or close to it.
As a defensive first baseman? A guy who’s 55 defensive runs saved above his league average, lifetime, isn’t exactly lame with the leather out there. He’s not the rangiest first baseman ever to patrol the pad—but neither was Lou Gehrig. He’s gotten the job done and then some. He’s probably also used the position to keep fans at home and on the road entertained with more than a few amusing quirks and tricks.
Small wonder fans in road ballparks forgive Votto his periodic needles and horseplay at their expense. (He once needled a friendly road fan with, “I remember you when you used to be thin.”) Small wonder young fans like little Abigail in San Diego weep when he gets tossed too early for arguing with umpires who still think (erroneously) that they’re Gods, Jr.
Small wonder, too, that fans such as another young girl in Atlanta last week think they can will Votto to prolific evenings.
A week ago, the Braves beat the Reds in eleven in Truist Park, 8-6. Votto did everything he could think of, short of spiking the Braves’ Gatorade with a liquid sedative, to enable a Reds win. He had a little help from his new young friend, to whom he gave his game jersey as he walked off the field following Ozzie Albies’s game-ending three-run homer.
What a surprise he’d do that: She coaxed him all game long. Votto swore the young girl called every one of his four hits on the night: a line single to somewhat deep center in the top of the first, a two-run homer in the top of the sixth, a line single to right setting up first and third in the top of the seventh, another two-run homer in the top of the ninth to tie the game at five. (Apparently, she didn’t call the full-count, bases-loading walk he coaxed out of Braves pitcher Touki Toussaint in the top of the third.)
The fact that both homers made Votto the first Red since Hall of Famer Frank Robinson to hit fourteen bombs in a twenty-game stretch—after becoming the eighth in Show to hit one out in seven straight games—was almost irrelevant. Almost.
“We made an agreement before every at-bat,” Votto told the press after the game. (When you like us, we’re the press. When you hate us, we’re the media.—William Safire.) “I talked to her a little bit mid-at-bat and she was screaming at me and supporting me. I’m not sure if it’ll end up on social media, but she was incredibly supportive despite lots of people that were not on her side. We almost did it together.”
Just another night at the park for Crazy Joey Votto, also known as future Hall of Famer Onorevole Mensch.
Since having a WAR over 60 seems to be the criteria these days, it looks like he’s a lock for the HOF. I never really thought much of Votto. Perhaps because he played in Cincinnati, or maybe because he was a plodding first baseman? Either way, he was a “meh” in my book.
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Gary—Think of Votto as one of the sleeper Hall of Famers who more or less snuck up on you as the years went passing by. Hall of Famers do not live by WAR alone, of course, and he does travel in very elite company as an on-base machine. In Votto’s case WAR shakes him out as the number thirteen first baseman ever to play the position.
I suspect Votto’s real problem is that—as was once said of Jacob deGrom viz a viz the Mets—it’s not that he doesn’t know how to win, it’s that he doesn’t know how not to be on the 2007-2021 generation of the Reds.
As for the part about Votto being a “plodding” first baseman, well, a) Lou Gehrig wasn’t exactly an acrobat at first base, and b) they can’t all be Keith Hernandez. (As the arguable greatest defensive first baseman ever, Hernandez—himself a bit of an on-base machine—deserves second, third, and fourth Cooperstown looks.) A guy who’s 55 defensive runs saved above his league average isn’t “plodding,” he’s getting the job done.