Some dream

Ken Griffey, Jr.; Ken Griffey, Sr.

The Griffeys—Hall of Fame outfielder Ken, Jr., respected outfielder Ken, Sr. (right)–after entering through the corn, slip their gloves on for a father-son catch.

Maybe the best part of this year’s Field of Dreams Game was what happened before the game was played. Two generations of outfield-playing Griffeys, Ken Sr. and Hall of Famer Ken Jr., both Reds once upon a time, entered the field through the corn when Junior looked at Senior and said, only partly puckishly, “Hey, Dad, you want to have a catch?”

Dad did. Father and son tossed a ball back and forth in the outfield, joined soon enough by other such parents and children playing catch from center to right field. And, by Reds manager David Bell, himself a third-generation Show player, with Athletic writer C. Trent Rosecrans, a longtime Reds beat writer for the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Rosecrans’s father once longed for a certain nine-dollar baseball glove growing up and finally got it by saving for it. The glove was a model for Bell’s grandfather, 1950s Reds All-Star outfielder Gus Bell. It went in due course to someone else, Rosecrans writes in a lyrical ballad about his own relationship with his late father, but it found its way back to his parents in due course.

In Dyersville, Iowa before Thursday’s game, Rosecrans writes, “Gus’ grandson looked at me and told me he was thinking of me and my dad. I told him I brought my glove. He asked me, ‘Want to have a catch?'”

That was far better to ponder than such doings as commissioner Rob Manfred present, accounted for, and even signing autographs at the fabled field. Or enough of the Twittersphere demanding to know why Pete Rose wasn’t invited for the pregame hoop-de-do. You’d have had a hard time pondering which would have been more absurd.

It could have been Rose’s presence in the immediate wake of his disgraceful dismissal of a Philadelphia reporter’s question about his ancient dalliance as a thirtysomething with a short-of-legal-age girl. Not to mention his well-deserved banishment from the game and from Hall of Fame candidacy for violating the rule written and imposed in the wake of the 1919 World Series gambling scandal tainting that year’s Reds’ Series triumph.

It could have been Manfred, whose love of the game is questioned often enough and with justification enough. Bleacher Nation on Twitter asked respondents, “Fox shows Rob Manfred signing baseball at the Field of Dreams Game. What is he writing as his personalised message? Wrong answers only.” One wag, mindful that Rose’s autographed baseballs often include small gag apologies such as “I’m sorry I shot J.F.K.,” replied, “I’m sorry I shot R.F.K.”

Manfred seems to have done everything except think about the one thing tied to the game that would have made him seem a baseball statesman. Apparently, it never crossed his mind to declare, once and for all, that the 1919 Reds were (are) legitimate World Series champions who could have and just might have beaten the Black Sox if the latter had played the entire set straight, no chaser.

Assorted Reds and Cubs past and present took in the locale, its history, and the penultimate message of the film lending the event its name. (The Cubs’ Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins threw a ceremonial first pitch to the Reds’ Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench.) Particularly Reds star Joey Votto, remembering to Rosecrans how the film bonded him to his father even further.

“I wish he was here,” Votto said. “I wish I could bring him to tonight’s game, we go out on the field and do something that we did from when I was eight or nine years old. It’s really eerie how much the movie allowed me to look back on that experience.”

If you build it, he will come, whispered the Voice of the late Ray Liotta’s disgraced-turned-romanticised Shoeless Joe Jackson to Kevin Costner’s Ray Kinsella in the 1989 film. They built it. (Actually, Chris Krug, once a Cubs catcher, built the original, with his Athletic Turf outfit.) But it cost a minimum $501 to be there Thursday. Fans in Iowa and some surrounding areas who couldn’t come couldn’t see the game at all, either, thanks to baseball’s arcane and insane broadcast blackout rules. Some dreams.

Putting the Reds into replicas of their 1919 uniforms should have been cathartic considering the 1919 Reds’ Series triumph was tainted too long by the disgrace of the Black Sox bent on throwing the Series for gamblers’ payoffs. Unfortunately, the catharsis wasn’t to be thanks to what the Reds couldn’t do Thursday evening.

Putting the Cubs into replicas of their 1914 hats and late-1920s uniforms, a mismatch not unlike many a Cub loss from 1909 through 2015, said little more than “That’s just so Cubs” before the game began. So, naturally, they went out and beat the Reds, 4-2. Only the Cubs could display a fashion fail and win regardless.

That was a century plus three years ago: Black Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte hit Reds second baseman Morrie Rath with Game One’s second pitch to let the gamblers know the Series fix was on. This was Thursday, opening the Field of Dreamers Game: Reds starter Nick Lodolo got two quick enough outs before hitting Cubs third baseman Patrick Wisdom with the fourth pitch on a 1-2 count.

That’d teach him. Neither this year’s Reds nor this year’s Cubs are going to finish the season anyplace near the postseason. But after Wisdom took his base, the Cubs behaved like contenders for a change. Seiya Suzuki whacked an 0-1 pitch to the rear of left field to send Wisdom home, Nico Hoerner singled to more shallow left and took second as the Reds tried futilely to keep Suzuki from scoring, Ian Happ doubled to center to send Hoerner home, and just like that the Cubs had a 3-0 lead that proved just enough to count.

Cubs starter Drew Smyly could have seen and raised when he plunked Reds second baseman Jonathan India on a 2-1 pitch. Instead, he like India shook it off, survived a one-out base hit, then consummated five innings of four-hit, nine-strikeout ball before handing off to his bullpen

“The first couple of innings,” Smyly told reporters after the game, “it took me a little bit to kind of get into, like catch my sights. Just a whole different feel than pitching in your usual major league baseball stadium. But I caught a little groove there at the end and that’s just a lot of fun. It just was so unique and different than what we’re used to.”

These days winning is unique and different for a Cubs team stripped of almost all the last remnants of their 2016 World Series conquest. They may be in third place in the National League Central but they have a 46-65 record after Thursday’s win. The Reds are in the division’s rock bottom at 44-67 with the fans they have left still smarting over last winter’s before-and-after-the-lockout final tear-down.

This game didn’t have a fragment of the pennant race significance last year’s Field of Dreams Game—with the White Sox’s Tim Anderson winning an 8-7 triumph over the Yankees with a bottom of the ninth home run into the corn.

But it couldn’t hurt to watch. Not really. Not even when the Reds got just frisky enough against the Cubs bullpen to open the bottom of the seventh with a double (Jose Barrero), a walk (pinch hitter Jake Fraley), and a two-run double (Mark Reynolds), before Cubs reliever Michael Rucker got the next three Red batters out in order.

Not when the Cubs threatened to actually blow the game wide open in the top of the fourth, with back-to-back inning-opening singles setting first and third up for Nick Madrigal to send Nelson Velazquez home with the fourth Cub run.

Then Willson Contreras—the veteran catcher who may not be a Cub after this off-season, and who had a scare an inning earlier when he dinged his left leg running around second on Wisdom’s base hit, tumbling to the ground as he was thrown out at third—flied into a double play when Reds right fielder Aristides Aquino caught his opposite-field drive and gunned Cubs first baseman P.J. Higgins down as Higgins dove futilely into third.

Meanwhile, somebody had the bright idea to plant a hologram of longtime Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray in the booth for the seventh-inning stretch, from which emanated Caray’s once-familiar bellowing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” The crowd in the stands sang along but they all but ignored Harry the Hologram. Except perhaps to shudder.

“Creepy,” tweeted another Athletic writer, Eno Sarris, uttering perhaps the most polite way to put it. “Please don’t make a hologram out of me when I’m dead.” Sarris probably has no worries on that score. But if anyone gets the bright idea to do a Vin Scully hologram for a future Field of Dreams Game (it won’t be played next year thanks to adjacent youth sports complex construction), there’s liable to be a war broken out.

Mr. Commissioner, meet the real faces of the game

Rob Manfred, Liam Hendriks

Commissioner Rob Manfred with White Sox relief pitcher Liam Hendriks before last year’s Field of Dreams game. (The Athletic.)

Having a read of ESPN writer Don Van Natta, Jr.’s profile of commissioner Rob Manfred, I was almost convinced that maybe, just maybe, there really was more to Manfred than met the eye. Or, more than what comes forth in his stiff presence and often clumsy remarks.

Just maybe, the man isn’t the baseball-hating or baseball-illiterate Rube Goldberg-like abecedarian the caricatures so often portray. He did, after all, grow up a Yankee fan in upstate New York and can say proudly enough that he’s the only baseball commissioner ever who played Little League baseball. “All glove, no bat,” he remembers of being a Little League infielder.

My parents received a set of classic Revere copper-bottom cookware as a wedding present eight years before Manfred was born. (I still remember the fragrance of that special powder used to clean the copper bottoms, too.) Who knew Manfred (three years my junior) was the son of Revere’s production supervisor at their home plant in Rome, New York? An hour’s drive from Cooperstown, as it happens.

Born in 1958, Manfred took in his first live major league game at Yankee Stadium with his sports-obssessed father, sitting between the plate and first base on an Old Timers’ Day. Come game time, Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle crashed a pair of home runs and the Yankees beat the Twins, 3-2. When he finally became the game’s commissioner, he handed his father the first baseball with his stamp upon it.

“This is really an unbelievable thing,” Manfred, Sr. told his son. “I can’t say I disagree,” Manfred, Jr. told Van Natta.

A couple of hundred fathoms down, though, Van Natta noted that “more than once” Manfred told him what few baseball commissioners have dared to admit, that being the buffer absorbing the heat that should go to his bosses, the owners, is part of his job. Even if it’s about as pleasant as your private parts being caught in the vacuum cleaner’s handle.

And then it came.

“Every time it’s me, it ain’t one of those 30 guys—that’s good,” Van Natta quoted Manfred as saying. “Look, who the hell am I? I don’t have $2 billion invested in a team. I’m just a guy trying to do a job. I mean it. [The owners] deserve that layer. I believe they deserve that layer of protection. I’m the face of the game, for good or for bad.”

Mr. Manfred, unless it’s to boo and hiss your heads off over this or that piece of mischief, you may rest assured that no baseball fan anywhere in this country is paying his or her hard-earned money to head for the ballpark to see you or your bosses.

But I’m going to do you a small favour, as if you know me from the greenest bat boy on any professional baseball team. I’m going to introduce you to the true faces of the game. The ones whom those fans do pay their hard-earned money to see at the ballpark regardless of the machinations and deceptions of your bosses and theirs.

Mr. Manfred, meet Mike Trout. This is the guy you blamed once upon a time for not being baseball’s face, based upon his committing no crime more grave than letting his play and his clubhouse presence and his agreeability with fans before and after games speak for themselves, with no jive about the magnitude of being him.

Meet Shohei Ohtani. This is the two-way star who lights up the joint just by flashing that thousand-watt grin of his, never mind when he strikes thirteen out on the mound one night and belts baseballs onto the Van Allen Belt the very next. Between himself and Mr. Trout, you should be asking what on earth is wrong with the Angels that they still can’t find quality pitching enough to keep them in a race after they start in one but sputter unconscionably.

Meet Aaron Judge. This is the Leaning Tower of River Avenue who sends baseballs into the Delta Quadrant one moment and then, when made aware, goes out of his way to meet a Canadian kid to whom he’s number one among baseball men and who was handed one of his mammoth home run balls by an adult fan who knew the boy wanted nothing more than to catch one Judge hit out.

Meet Joey Votto. This is the future Hall of Fame first baseman who got himself tossed from a game early last year, but—after he learned his ejection broke the heart of a little California girl to whom he’s a hero above heroes—sent her a ball with his handwritten apology and autograph on it, prompting his team to drop game tickets and a little extra swag upon her the very next day.

Meet Bryce Harper. This is the guy who never apologised for being on board with letting the kids play. The guy now on the injured list with a thumb fracture and surgery to repair it after getting hit by a pitch thrown with one of the baseballs you and yours still can’t see fit to manufacture uniformly and with allowance for fairness on both sides of it, fairness for the pitchers and for the hitters alike.

Meet Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. and Bo Bichette. One is the son of a Hall of Famer who did last season what even his old man never did: led his league in on base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, and OPS+, and led the entire Show in total bases. The other is the son of a respected major league slugger, has quite a lethal bat in his own right when his swing is right, and currently leads his league in trips to the plate. Together they’ve put some zip back into the Blue Jays.

Meet Oneil Cruz. The bat has yet to come to full life but the footwork, the glove, the throwing arm, have shown so far that you can be as tall as Frank Howard, J.R. Richard, and Randy Johnson and still play shortstop as though the position was created for you and not the Little Rascals in the first place. They’re falling in love with him in Pittsburgh, which needs all the love it can get, but they ought to fall in love with him all around the Show—except when he’s going so deep into the hole grabbing a grounder or a hopper that an enemy batter loses his lunch when he’s had a base hit stolen from him.

Meet Clayton Kershaw. He’s been around the block a few times. He’s a Hall of Fame lock as maybe the best pitcher of his generation. He’s still a quality pitcher and a class act. They still buy tickets on the road when they know he’s going to take the ball for the Dodgers. He’s faced his baseball aging curve with grace under pressure. And, for good measure, he’s the one active player who was seen fit to be part of the ceremony when the Dodgers unveiled that statue of their Hall of Fame legend Sandy Koufax this month, and you know (well, you damn well should know) what a class act Koufax was on the mound and has been in the decades since off it.

(You’re not still P.O.ed that Koufax waxed your Yankees’ tails twice while his Dodgers swept them in the 1963 World Series when you were seven, are you?)

Meet Justin Verlander. Missed a year plus recovering from Tommy John surgery. He has a 2.23 ERA and a 3.53 fielding-independent pitching rate so far this season. For any pitcher that’d be a remarkable return so far. For a future Hall of Famer who’s still suiting up at Jack Benny’s age (that’s a joke, son), it’s off the chart so far.

Meet Verlander’s 25-year-old Astros teammate, Yordan Álvarez. He’s leading the entire Show with his .667 slugging percentage, his 1.081 OPS, and his 206 OPS+. If there’s one untainted Astro who’s must-see viewing whenever he checks in at the plate, it’s him.

Meet Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers. The left side of the Red Sox infield is a big reason why the Olde Towne Team yanked themselves back up from the netherworld into second place in that rough and tumble American League East. Did I mention that Devers currently leads the entire Show with 177 total bases?

Meet José Ramírez. The Guardians’ third baseman is giving Devers a run for his money in the All-Star balloting that closes today. That thumb injury has put a crimp into his bat for now, and it’s had its role in the Guardians’ sudden deflation at the plate, but this guy just may be the face of his franchise right now. He ought to be one of the faces of this game.

Meet Mark Appel. This is the guy who went from number one in the draft to injuries as well as pressures and even to an exit from the game only to try giving it one more try—and finally coming up with the Phillies, nine years after that draft, and tossing a scoreless inning . . . at age 30. That’s as feel good a story as it gets for the oldest former number one to make his Show debut, no matter what happens with the rest of what remains of Appel’s career. They don’t all go to hell and back.

Those are only some of baseball’s faces, Mr. Commissioner. They’re the ones the fans want to see and pay through the nose to see. Despite your tinkerings. Despite your often erroneous readings of the room. Despite your inability or unwillingness to demand the same accountability of umpires that you do of players, coaches, and managers.

Despite your inability to let your professed deep love of the game come through without tripping over itself because, as an improvisor, well, if you were a musician the consensus would be that Miles Davis you ain’t.

Where Votto sits

Joey Votto

Father Time may have something to say about Joey Votto’s major league days soon enough. But Grandfather All-Time has wonderful things to say about Votto’s career as a Red.

Earlier this month, Cincinnati magazine published an audacious looking article proclaiming Joey Votto the greatest Red of all time. The hype of that headline alone was probably enough to bring Votto’s critics to a boil, and that was before such social media cracks as:

Seriously?

LMAO!!!!!!!!!!!

In your Dreams!!

Frank Robinson Pete Rose Johnny Bench Joe Morgan Concepcion just to name a few not even mention the pitcher.

They were All Much Better ballplayers and Definitely More Valuable to Their team! I might take Tony Perez at first before Votto!

Way too many crack smokers out there.

Against my better judgment, I responded to that next-to-last one first, reminding the entrant it wasn’t Votto’s fault that he didn’t (and doesn’t) have the caliber of teammates Perez had. That was after mentioning that Votto’s 63.7 wins above replacement-level (WAR) as a Red are 18.1 higher than Perez’s.

The article’s author, Chad Dotson, mentioned that since Votto’s Show premiere in 2007 only two players have more WAR than Votto: Mike Trout, and Robinson Canó. (Canó may or may not be compromised by two suspensions for actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances, of course.) When you’re third in the WAR race since 2007 you’ve got a powerful case as one of your time’s genuine greats.

Votto has been an on-base machine for the most part; his seven league OBP titles are matched only by Hall of Famers Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, and Ted Williams, plus should-be Hall of Famer Barry Bonds. Votto’s also done something only Hornsby, Williams, and Hall of Famer Wade Boggs have done: win four straight OBP titles.

Which doesn’t impress the Votto critics—including his former general manager Walt Jocketty—who think he walks too much and passes by too many chances to put a ball in play, including (as Dotson observed) taking pokes at pitches out of the strike zone. Oh. The hor-ror. Taking pitches out of the strike zone. Didn’t they used to call that a great batting eye?

“[J]ust on the surface, it’s clear that there is more to Votto than standing in the batter’s box, bat on shoulder, waiting for ball four,” Dotson wrote. “After all, the guy has led the league in slugging percentage, doubles, and OPS and has pounded 24 or more homers in nine different seasons . . . He’s a well-rounded player who has been one of the game’s best for a long, long time.

There’s more to Votto than just those league leaderships and his career average 28 home runs per 162 games, too. Wait until you see Votto measured by way of my Real Batting Average metric. The Votto critics will discover that, among the top six WARriors as Reds, Votto looks a lot better. Not that they’ll pay attention.

One more time: Real Batting Average (RBA) does what the traditional batting average fails to do to the point of it being a fraudulent statistic. The oldest fart among baseball’s statistic traditionalists should be made to answer why we should continue living by a stat that a) treats all your hits equally and b) determines its champion by a minimum number of plate appearances even though it goes no further than dividing all hits regardless of value by official at-bats alone.

RBA accounts for just about everything a man does at the plate and uses the sum of the following parts:

Total bases (TB), which treats your hits with the unequality they deserve. (If you still think a single’s equal to a double’s equal to a triple’s equal to a home run, get thee back to sixth grade math and that may be giving you too much credit.)

Walks (BB). The only thing insulting about a walk should be that you read the strike zone better than anyone else in the park. If that’s a crime, Votto should be only too happy to plead guilty and serve sentence—namely, a trip to first base. The last I looked, one of your most valuable assets in a batting inning is baserunners.

Intentional walks (IBB). You deserve to be credited separately for the other guys preferring—for whatever reason, whether it’s your formidable swinging or the lesser man behind you they’d prefer as the easier out—that you take your base instead of their pitchers’ heads off.

Sacrifice flies (SF). Unlike the sacrifice bunt—in which you’re giving up a precious out to work with on purpose, on behalf of an advance that gives you team a better scoring chance after your bunt than before it in only one of six known “sacrifice bunt” situations—you’re not trying deliberately to make an out here. You didn’t check in at the plate thinking boy, I’m gonna hit that slop all the way for . . . an out, but your fly out brought him home. And you should damn well get some credit for it.

Hit by pitches (HBP). Their pitcher puts you on first the hard way? Let it be to your credit and on his head. You didn’t ask to get drilled, but—assuming you didn’t start a bench-clearing brawl over it and get thrown out of the game—there you are on first base. You just gave your team that much more shot at, you know, scoring.

We take the sum of all the foregoing and divide that sum by total plate appearances to get your RBA. And this is Votto as a Red according to RBA, and compared to the five other franchise WAR leaders (none of whom happens to be Tony Perez):

Player (as a Red) PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Frank Robinson 6410 3063 698 129 53 118 .634
Joey Votto 8241 3523 1309 147 48 69 .618
Joe Morgan 4973 1885 881 39 52 22 .579
Johnny Bench 8674 3644 891 135 90 19 .551
Barry Larkin 9057 3527 939 66 67 55 .514
Pete Rose 15,890 5752 1210 167 79 107 .460

Think about that. RBA places Votto as the number two Red in the history of the franchise and shows him as one of only two players among the franchise WAR leaders with a .600+ RBA in in Cincinnati uniform. The only thing missing on his resume is beyond his control. It isn’t Votto’s fault the Reds have never reached, never mind won a World Series with him.

The only alarm that ought to be raised over Votto now is whether age (he’s 38) is overtaking him for keeps at long enough last. (His .407 RBA for 2022 as of this morning is 211 points below his career mark.)

The Reds didn’t exactly look like the Dreads hosting the Cubs at Great American Ballpark Thursday afternoon. Not when they beat the Cubs 20-5 with a twenty-hit battering after the Cubs held a 3-0 lead following an inning and a half. Not with a two-run second, an eight-run third, a single-run fifth, a two-run sixth and seventh, and a five-run eighth.

Votto had only a small hand in the Reds’ destruction, scoring on a two-run single in that third. He walked twice, struck out once otherwise. But if he’s always been the kind of player who cares about improving his craft, he’s also been one of those men who couldn’t care less about his own numbers so long as his team wins.

The wins these days are about as easy to come by for the Reds as summoning up his longtime brio has been for Votto this year. About the only thing remaining intact from his younger years is Votto’s continuing passion for the game.

Remember: This is the guy who got thrown out of a 2021 game early, arguing a check swing call against him, then learned a young fan in San Diego at her first live major league game was disappointed at not being able to see him, her favourite player—and sent her a ball he signed that also said, “I am sorry I didn’t play the entire game.”

The spirit remains willing even if the reflexes are no longer fresh and the swing is no longer swift. Even if he admits to being embarrassed by the Dreads’ 14-30 season’s record thus far. Father Time may be starting to tell him that his major league days might be numbered at long enough last. Grandfather All-Time says Votto may not be the greatest ever to wear a Reds uniform but he’s at least the number two man at the plate in their long, long, storied, long history.

You tell me who needs to retire the crack pipe now.

Crazy Joey Votto, Cooperstown bound

Joey Votto, looking like a man infected with a combination of St. Vitus Dance and laughing gas. If it helps get him to Cooperstown, he won’t complain.

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
Jim Thome 10313 4667 1747 173 74 69 .653
Jeff Bagwell 9431 4213 1401 155 102 128 .636
Joey Votto 7978 3433 1265 143 46 63 .620
Willie McCovey 9692 4219 1345 260 70 69 .615
Harmon Killebrew 9833 4143 1559 160 77 48 .609
Orlando Cepeda 8698 3959 588 154 74 102 .561
Eddie Murray 12817 5397 1333 222 128 18 .554
Tony Perez 10861 4532 925 150 106 43 .526
HOF AVG .597

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:

Joey Votto PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
High leverage 1510 687 274 77 19 13 .709
Medium leverage 2769 1140 442 30 22 21 .598
Low Leverage 3699 1606 549 36 5 29 .601

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 van 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.

Waste not, want not

Like Trevor Bauer in Game One, Luis Castillo’s Game Two effort was wasted by the Reds’ absentee bats and futile running.

Joey Votto said going in that his Cincinnati Reds in the postseason, however rough and tumble things had to be to get them there, would be a “[fornicating] nightmare.” He just didn’t bargain on every man in a Red uniform at the plate or on the bases being their own worst nightmares.

If the Reds wish to remain postseason competitive, waste management means waste avoidance. Because if you don’t avoid waste, no matter how efficient your pitching might be, you’ll get wasted the way the Atlanta Braves wasted the Reds late but imperatively Thursday afternoon.

The Reds’ irregular season’s grind just to claim one of this year’s ten wild cards got wasted, too, even worse than Marcell Ozuna and Adam Duvall wasted relief pitcher Raisel Iglesias’s canteloupes.

Nobody wants to take anything away from the National League East-winning Braves. They clung stubbornly in their wild card set, held on to win Thursday, 5-0, and didn’t let the Reds’ stellar starting pitching blow the spirit out of them no matter how long it took. The Reds made it a little too simple for them in the end.

The Reds won’t live this one down too readily. They’re going to have to try explaining how they became the first team in Show history to be shut out for an entire postseason set, 22 innings worth, even if it was a mere best-of-three.

They’re going to have to try explaining how Trevor Bauer in Game One struck out twelve Braves without walking a soul or surrendering a run, without getting credit for a win, but with the Reds losing in the thirteenth inning on the game’s only run—on a measly RBI single by likely National League Most Valuable Player Freddie Freeman.

They’re going to have to explain how Luis Castillo’s first-ever postseason start produced seven strikeouts in five and a third innings, only one run surrendered, only one batter walked, and Iglesias getting blown up in the eighth after Lucas Sims spelled Castillo with an inning and two-thirds of spotless relief.

Ronald Acuna, Jr. doubling home Austin Riley off Castillo with two out in the fifth only made it 1-0. But Iglesias walking Freeman to open the eighth was flirting with death. Death accepted the invitation when Ozuna found a 1-0 meatball so irresistible he yanked it into the empty left center field seats.

Walking Ozzie Alibes after striking Travis d’Arnaud out following that launch wasn’t advisable, either. How inadvisable came too clear when Duvall licked his chops at an even meatier, 0-2 meatball, and sent it out down the left field line.

“Such a professional hitter,” Braves rookie starting pitcher Ian Anderson said of Ozuna after the game, calling Ozuna the life of the club all year long. “Loves the big moment. And I know it was getting to him a little bit, the way his at-bats had unfolded up until that point. Yeah, he couldn’t have been happier, and we couldn’t have been happier for him. That was a huge hit for the team. You could kind of sense that the dugout relaxed then, just a little bit.”

The Braves now wait to see who wins the win-or-be-gone game between the Miami Marlins and the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field, which might have been played Thursday but for the rain saying “not so fast.”

The Reds are also going to have to explain why they couldn’t find more than two hits off Anderson but found their way to nine strikeouts against the rook making his first postseason start following six irregular season assignments and a shimmering 1.95 ERA.

Those thirteen runners the Reds stranded need some explaining, too. So does having nothing to show against three Braves relievers from the seventh through the ninth.

They’re also going to have to explain why a team with baseball’s worst collective batting average (.212) despite a few offensive upgrades last winter couldn’t find ways to avoid becoming baseball’s first to be shut out of an entire postseason series.

How many times did the Reds answer opportunity’s knocking with “Go away, we gave at the office?”

When they greeted Max Fried in Game One with back-to-back singles giving them first and third and nobody out, only to see Votto—Mr. On-Base Machine—ground out to first, Eugenio Suarez line a badminton shuttlecock to Ozzie Albies at second base, and Mike Moustakas ground out?

When manager David Bell thought he could get away with a play that even the Little League won’t try all that often, having Kyle Farmer on first and Aristedes Aquino on third try a double steal the Braves could smell from about five minutes prior to attempt, with Aquino bagged in an even more kiddie-looking rundown?

When Bell sent spaghetti-bat veteran Freddy Galvis out to pinch hit for Shogo Akiyama with two out and two on in the top of the twelfth, despite Akiyama hitting well enough down the stretch to earn the opportunity, and Galvis rewarded Bell for his unexpected faith by looking at strike three right down the middle?

When they spent Game Two with no non Venezuelan-born Red getting a single base hit, and no Red from any geography reaching base between Galvis’s walk in the second and his off-the-pillow base hit up the first base line in the fifth? When no Red from there got so much as a hit by pitch to reach base and seven out of the final thirteen Red batters struck out?

Their number one irregular season issue, their inability to hit in multiples in most innings, swallowed them deeper than the Braves’ own pitching turned out to do.

“You can look at the defensive positioning, you can look at hard-hit balls that didn’t go for hits,” Bell said after the Game Two loss. “But, it’s something we have to take a closer look at because all teams are really good at defensive positioning and can hit into bad luck at times. Why did that happen for us? We just have to really take a close look at it. We did all year. Yeah, I say, we absolutely do believe in our guys, we made adjustments as much as we possibly could. But we have to find a way to get better.”

Right he is. Every Reds position player except for three will be back in 2021, and enough of them will be on the far enough side of thirty years old. They’ll still have most of their solid pitching, though the Braves didn’t get to see Sonny Gray this week, but Bauer could walk into the free agency market this year with as many potential suitors as a debutante.

Another, older Ian Anderson, leading a British band known as Jethro Tull, sang the epitaph for this year’s Reds a little over half a century ago: It was a new day yesterday, but it’s an old day now.