Ten Who Missed: No. 3, Joey Votto
Happy Friday! Today we continue our “Ten Who Missed” series — a companion to The Baseball 100, It features 10 players who just missed The Baseball 100 (those 10 players were chosen by you in a survey that Tom Tango and I did a while back). We’ll have a new “Ten Who Missed” essay every Friday. Here are the ones we’ve had so far:
Bonus essay: Zack Greinke
No. 10: Vladimir Guerrero
No. 9: Eddie Murray
No. 8: Shoeless Joe Jackson
No. 7: Turkey Stearnes
No. 6: Harmon Killebrew
No. 5: Barry Larkin
No. 4: Minnie Miñosa
A few years ago, when the Cincinnati Reds fired manager Dusty Baker for the crime of winning merely 90 games and then losing in the wild-card game, the team hired someone named Bryan Price. He had been a big-league pitching coach for a good while, had a good reputation, and won a couple of awards for his coaching prowess.
But there was a pressing question: Was he up to the job?
Or, more to the point, was he up to getting star first baseman Joey Votto to stop taking so many damn walks?
“I asked [then-general manager] Walt Jocketty,” local journalist Dennis Janson said, “if Price is up to the task of disabusing Joey of the notion that a base on balls is as beneficial as a run-scoring sacrifice fly.”
Hmm. So what did Walt say about Price’s ability to convince Votto that making an out with a runner on third is much better than not making an out?
“Walt gave me an emphatic ‘yes,’” Janson said, and thank goodness.
“But he added,” Janson continued, “‘that is something more of us in the organization will also try to convey.’”
Yes, well, it takes a village to enlighten one of the best hitters this game has ever known. Votto might have believed that his job was to NOT make outs. He might have seen that pesky RE24 run matrix that shows having runners on first and third leads to more runs than using an out to score the runner from third. He might have been aware that pitchers tended to pitch around him with runners in scoring position —he had just led the league in intentional walks, for crying out loud, and there were plenty of intentionally unintentional walks on top of that.
But, then, it has always been Joey Votto’s baseball lot in life to be misunderstood and underappreciated. Marty Brennaman, the legendary Reds announcer, said before one season that if Votto was happy just to lead the league in on-base percentage — something he has done seven times — the Reds would be in a lot of trouble.
Most times leading the league in on-base percentage:
(1) Ted Williams, 12
(2) Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth, 10
(4) Rogers Hornsby, 9
(5) Ty Cobb and Joey Votto, 7
“He’s not paid to walk,” Brennaman told columnist Paul Daugherty, another Votto skeptic for many years. “Walking is a byproduct of being a good hitter. He’s paid to drive in runs.”
“I think they should fine Votto for every time he walks with a runner on third,” one talk radio caller said a while back … that was the only one that I heard say anything like that, but then I’m not often in Cincinnati, and I don’t often listen to talk radio. I’m going to guess there were others.
“How was your offseason?” reporter John Fay asked Votto on the first day of spring training in 2016.
“A lot of sleeping, a lot of walks,” Votto said. “The Cincinnati fan base can be excited about the future of my performance. I’m rested. And I practiced walking a lot.”
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