Greatness has no expiration date
Courtesy of Mark Sheldon, the Reds beat reporter for MLB.com, that nonpareil who more commonly goes by the name Joey Votto, said this the other day:
“Personally, until Trout came into the league, I thought every year I would be in the conversation for best player in the game and he [messed] that up for everybody. Babe Ruth and Ted Williams included. He’s ruining it for everyone. You can’t be in that conversation unless you do every aspect of the game and I love competing against the best and it’s something I take a lot of pride in and it’s something I think I fell a little bit short on this year. Offensively, I felt I was as competitive as I could compete with anybody in baseball but defensively, I feel like I’ve got a ways to go. And it’s exciting to have another challenge to overcome, so I’m grateful for that.”
It was another honest and revealing moment from The Batmatician, lost amidst the usual season-ending goodbyes, the farewell of the great Vin Scully and the flotsam and jetsam of Game 162 angst and upcoming wildcard gab. For all the things Votto does magnificently, his defense has been an annoying pimple on an otherwise unblemished career.
A Gold Glove award notwithstanding, the defensive numbers don’t love Joey. Fielding metrics are for me, a soup with too many cooks. But, whether your favorite flavor is Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) or Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), the math in 2016 reaches the same conclusion: Joey Votto was not only a bad man with a glove; he was a man with a bad glove.
First, let’s acknowledge the obvious: Votto plays first base. Outstanding fielders do not usually play first base. First base is where you traditionally go to hide a really good hitter cursed with inclement leather. Therefore, a good first baseman must hit. Hit for power. And not make outs.
And as we all know, Votto does all these things in spades. While D.J. LeMahieu was hiding on the bench all weekend, successfully absconding with the batting title—what is now known as the Tony Gwynn Batting Championship—Mike Trout and Votto were finishing up a season that saw them post weighted runs created plus (wRC+) scores of 171 and 158 respectively, making each the true batting champions of their leagues.
Here’s what August Fagerstrom over at Fangraphs had to say about Votto just before the 2016 season commenced:
Remember how people who watched Ichiro take batting practice in his heyday said he could hit 20 homers a year if he wanted to? The fun thing about Joey Votto is it feels like he could do that, too, except with any part of his game. There might not be a player more in-tune with his swing, more curious about the game, more open to questioning himself and embracing change than Votto. He just feels in control. If Votto wanted to troll everyone and hit a bunch of singles in a quest for 200-plus hits, I think he could do it. If Votto wanted to hit 37 homers again, I think he could do it. Hell, I kinda think if Votto wanted a .500 OBP he could do it. Do you even realize how close he was last year? I bet you didn’t. But any of those specific goals would detract from other parts of Votto’s game, and the best version of Votto is the one that does it all — sprays the ball around, hits for power, gets on base more than anyone in baseball. That’s the one we’ve got.
When talking Joey Votto, it doesn’t get much better than that, but I’ll give it a go.
I grew up during the heyday of the Big Red Machine. I watched Bench and Rose from every vantage point Riverfront Stadium had to offer. No matter how far away you were, whether it be the loge seats in right field, those padded and pampered club level seats, or the centerfield concourse 450 feet away, greatness radiated. You knew when they came to the plate, something big could happen. Heads snapped. Pulses quickened. For two years, I got to watch Joe Morgan at his peak, hands down the best player in the game, ply his craft. Watching Joe take his outrageous lead from first base—planting first a right foot, then a left outside the sliding box onto the plastic turf that defined the infield, signaling the pitcher and everyone in the stadium that he was about to take second base and no, nobody could do anything to stop it—was magic. I saw a superman named Eric Davis before his own kryptonite—injuries—took him down.
All of these players demanded you watch them. And when their days were done, I knew I would never see their like again in my lifetime. I’d seen my share of greatness. I’d had my front row seat. And I was good with that.
Joey Votto is, for me, a gift I have no right to ask for, but will gratefully receive. I thought I was done seeing this kind of outsized excellence in a Reds uniform.
I’ve seen more than I have a right to see from those seats on the Ohio River, some long gone. Still, being the selfish bastard that I am, I have one more wish: to see Joey Votto play in a World Series. To see the baseball world bear witness to this incomparable baseball player.
To: The Offices of the Cincinnati Reds Baseball Club
100 Joe Nuxhall Way
October 4, 2106
To Whom It May Concern:
Make it happen.