ST. LOUIS — If this was it for Joey Votto, he went out on his own terms — or at least on the strength of a few of his own well-chosen words.
The only question by the third inning of Sunday’s season-ending 4-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals was how far down the road Votto might have gotten driving his bus out of town.
Playing in what might have been his final game as a Cincinnati Red — maybe even the final game of a potentially Hall of Fame career — Votto struck out swinging in the first inning, played in the field in the bottom of the inning, checked his iPad in the dugout between innings and then stepped toward the field and let home-plate Shane Livensparger know what he thought about one of the strike calls during the at-bat.
Votto was quickly ejected, stepped out of the dugout to discuss it further, was joined by crew chief Phil Cuzzi, and then before leaving the field gave both umps a friendly pat.
Then he headed out of the midday sun, threw a few things in the dugout and descended into the shadows of the tunnel.
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Wherever he and his 17-year big-time, big-league career might go from here, Votto offered this explanation a few innings later via X/Twitter:
“I cannot holler at the umpire from our team’s bench. He was completely justified in ejecting me. For those that wanted to see me play today, I am sorry.”
As it turned out, Votto hadn't quite boarded his bus after the game and addressed it further with reporters.
“I disagreed with a call and exited the bench,” said Votto, who said he takes “very seriously” staying in the game.
“I just ignored my own rules,” he added. “My rules are you bit your tongue, stick it out, stay in the game. And it was one of those things where the emotions just got the better of me, and I just couldn’t handle it, and I overreacted. And rightfully so, the umpire sent me out of the game.”
It’s been a stutter-step finish to the season for Votto since returning from a 10-month recovery for shoulder surgery in June with a home run in his season debut.
He battled through lingering issues with the shoulder until taking two weeks on the injured list to work on it — returning Sept. 10 and hitting another homer, his 14th and last one of the season.
Joey Votto on his ejection Sunday. pic.twitter.com/GBovQuNPVq
— Gordon Wittenmyer (@GDubMLB) October 1, 2023
He went 8-for-38 (.211) in September, starting 11 of the team’s final 16 games, but just one of the final three in St. Louis with playoff hopes on the line each of the two games he was on the bench.
If this 2,055th game as a Red was his final one, he leaves as one of the most decorated, successful players in franchise history, a six-time All-Star, 2010 MVP and Gold Glove first baseman who was part of four Reds playoff teams.
Votto wanted no part of talking about his future before Sunday’s game.
Asked if he’d given more thought to what’s next for him, Votto said, “I’ve got a big-league start today. I’ve got to get ready for that.”
Afterward, he said he still wasn't ready to focus on that.
A week earlier during the final home game of the season, Votto received lengthy ovations from the fans both before his first at-bat and again when he left the game late for a pinch-runner. He gave an emotional interview on the field afterward, over the public address system.
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Votto reiterated after that game that he planned to wait until after playing the final game of this season before focusing on what he might want next.
I cannot holler at the umpire from our teams bench. He was completely justified in ejecting me.
For those that wanted to see me play today, I am sorry.
— Joey Votto (@JoeyVotto) October 1, 2023
During a conversation with the Enquirer two weeks ago and then with Bally Sports this past week, he left open the possibility of playing next year for a team other than the Reds.
Whether the Reds would allow that to happen without fighting to try to keep him — and what that other team might be — was anything but clear.
His hometown Toronto Blue Jays does not seem to have an obvious fit, although the Jays’ lefty DH, Brandon Belt, is under contract only through this year.
“Joey’s a player on this team that I have just an amazing amount of respect for,” manager David Bell said, “for everything he’s done in this game, for what he’s done for this team, the unselfishness he’s displayed, how much he cares about every one of the players on our team and every staff member in there.”
The Reds have a $20 million club option for Votto in 2024 (with a $7 million buyout).
Team president Nick Krall said the club’s decision on whether to pick up the option or otherwise engage Votto in talks to return under different terms has not been made.
“We’re going to sit down at the end of the season and make a decision,” said Krall, who pointed out that he doesn’t have his 2024 budget yet (anticipated in a few weeks).
Krall said more than on-field performance value or even Votto’s impact in the clubhouse on younger players and the team culture goes into the decision — including such things as the marketing and community value.
“I would say for most players, no, but him, yeah,” Krall said. “Everything factors in with Joey. He is a franchise icon. You have to factor in everything with where you are to try to figure out what’s the best decision to make at the end of the year.”
Teammates have been consistent about what they think of Votto's future.
“Joey’s a fantastic teammate; he’s a great player,” said right-hander Hunter Greene, who closed out a 4-7 season (4.82 ERA) with a five-inning start Sunday. “I know he’s going to come back, and he’s going to work super hard to be here for next year.”
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Bell demurred when asked about how Votto might fit the Reds’ roster plans for next year and how he evaluates Votto’s ability to come back next year as a productive, everyday player.
“I want Joey to go through that process. I want Nick and the organization to go through that process,” Bell said. “I love having Joey part of this team. I love everything he does for our team. And, yes, it starts with being a player who can help us win. But or us, there is a lot more to it.
“I’ve loved and I love having him on our team. I love everything he does and bring and everything about who he is.”
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Joey Votto ejected from what might be final game with Cincinnati Reds