Modest Votto humbled by the voting populace
PHILADELPHIA – He won red states. He won blue states. And of course he won the Reds’ state.
The overwhelming victory for Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto(notes) in the final fan vote that sent him to the 2010 All-Star Game righted the most egregious omission in years, one that banded together fan bases across the country. By the end of online balloting Thursday, Votto received 13.7 million votes – about 20 percent the number of President Obama in the 2008 election.
All of the campaigning worked – the Vote Votto T-shirts worn by his Reds teammates as well as himself, and the co-campaign with the Boston Red Sox urging their fans to cast an all-red ticket, and the outcry from across the game that a utility infielder and a pair of middle relievers would represent the National League and Votto wouldn’t. And so as he became a cause célèbre, it suddenly put him in the one place he hates: the spotlight.
If you want the anti-LeBron James, meet Joseph Daniel Votto, who also happens to be the best player in his league.
“I didn’t expect all the attention,” Votto said. “I didn’t expect that it would be this big. I appreciate all the votes and everything, but it became a popularity contest, which is not really up my alley.”
Cincinnati suits Votto quite well, actually, allowing him to put up star numbers amid witness-protection-level anonymity. The majority of the inquisitors on the conference call Thursday night to discuss his voting victory were from Canada, Votto’s homeland from which the Reds plucked him in the second round of the 2002 draft.
He answered all the questions dutifully and respectfully, if not excitedly. Even when he cracked a great one-liner – about the fans who voted hundreds or thousands of times: “They must really like Cincinnati Reds baseball and want to see a lot of guys go to the All-Star Game … or they have a lot of e-mail addresses” – Votto didn’t crack a smile. This all was a little overwhelming, particularly a year after the most trying one of his career.
Depression stemming from his father’s death sidelined Votto for nearly a month last season. When he returned, Votto was open about the struggles, the triumphs, the equilibrium he so desperately wanted balanced. The only question was whether he would overcome his issues, as Kansas City ace Zack Greinke(notes) did, or continue the long battle former San Diego shortstop Khalil Greene(notes) does.
Votto finished last season with the third-highest on-base-plus-slugging in the NL, behind MVP Albert Pujols(notes) and Prince Fielder(notes). And he’s exceeded both this season, his 1.012 OPS best in the NL and fourth in baseball. Tack on Gold Glove-caliber defense and a keen baserunning sense, and Votto shouldn’t have been the last player placed on the All-Star team; he should have been the first.
To see, then, Charlie Manuel sitting in the dugout across the field from Votto on Thursday was indeed rich. Manuel picked the NL reserves. Fans weren’t going to overlook Pujols. Players had every right to pick San Diego first baseman Adrian Gonzalez(notes), the best player on the best team in the NL. Manuel’s choice of Ryan Howard(notes) – a star, yes, but a far inferior player in 2010 to Votto – smacked of favoritism.
And even after the fans overrode Manuel, he still tried to defend leaving Votto off by crying that Howard didn’t make the 2008 team.
“In 2008, go back and look at who was leading the league in home runs and RBIs and didn’t get on there,” Manuel said. “That was OK then, wasn’t it? What goes back around comes back around sometimes. There’s nothing like a memory. Memory counts in baseball.”
No, selective memory counts. See, if Manuel’s memory were as good as he’d like to think, perhaps he’d have remembered that Howard was hitting .234 at the break in 2008. And that his on-base percentage was .324 and slugging percentage .508. Maybe he’d have remembered that Howard ranked 30th in the league in OPS. And it’s possible he’d have remembered that, among NL first baseman, Lance Berkman(notes), Pujols, Adam Dunn(notes), Derrek Lee(notes), Mark Teixeira(notes), Gonzalez, Conor Jackson(notes) and Fielder – that’s more than half of the league’s first-base regulars – had a better OPS than Howard.
He won’t soon forget Votto hit his major league-leading 22nd home run off the Phillies on Thursday. His .417 on-base percentage ranks first in the NL. So does his .595 slugging percentage. He’s batting .314 for good measure.
“I think that what Charlie did was great,” Votto said, and if ever again you need proof of the kindness of Canadians, look no further. “I’ve got a manager in Dusty Baker who would do the exact same thing. I think any player that plays this game wants a guy that covers their back, a guy that will pick them first, a guy that rights the wrongs because there have been past instances where Ryan Howard wasn’t selected and probably should have.
“I like managers like that. I have a manager like that. I think that’s a really cool thing.”
Humility. Numbers. Overcoming adversity. A vote for Votto was as easy as a vote against the BCS. Now all Votto needs is to break the NL’s 14-year winless streak in the All-Star Game, which would necessitate Manuel using him, which might get in the way of Omar Infante’s(notes) playing time, heaven forbid.
“We’ve gotten used to Joey’s heroics,” Baker said. “That’s Joey. He’s getting better, and he’s going to be even better soon.”
It’s tough to go much higher. At 26, Votto is conquering the NL, his left-handed swing instilling fear in opponents while he tries to pull off the impossible: keep a low profile and resurrect the Reds to first place in the NL Central. The All-Star Game – it was a goal, sure, little more than gravy, though it is the tastiest sort.
“Now,” Votto said, “I get to play with the best players in the world.”
And now, thanks to 13.7 million clicks that got it right, they get to play with one, too.