Before the chicken-dancing, there came the betrayal.
Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez were traded March 14. Joey Votto appeared on social media on March 22, and the Reds were more than happy to tell you all about this.
? JOEY'S ON SOCIAL MEDIA ?
— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) March 23, 2022
I strongly doubt there’s a giant conspiracy afoot here. You’ve met this front office. They’re not tremendously good at cleaning up their own messes.
What these events do tell us is that, entertaining and amusing as Votto is, the fact is that this season’s highlight is likely a video of him in a golf cart singing “Mockingbird” with two spring training staffers. After 153 years of existence, your Reds are no longer simply leaning on their first baseman’s bat and clubhouse leadership. They’re desperately in need of his dentist chair selfies as well. We could do worse.
The little writing Votto has done online reveals, as expected, a heavy reader who understands how words and commas work together as tools of communication. He’s posting sad-face emojis when Joe Burrow asks if he isn’t a little old to be on TikTok. He’s high-kicking past the Eiffel Tower (the actual one, not the somewhat-smaller version in Warren County.) There is dancing, coordinated dancing, dancing that requires original choreography, several takes, and a great deal of rehearsal.
What are we to make of this?
The Grand Takeover
In a podcast with Jim Day, taped before his account went live, Votto mentioned that he was thinking about joining social media. I’m not saying that Votto purposely rushed to the Gram with chicken dance videos to soothe and distract a furious fan base. I’m saying that the Reds signaled pre-defeat on March 14 and that Joey Votto instituted his grand takeover of all social media on March 22, that’s all.
Frankly, I don’t care how it happened. The Joey Votto virtual world has been created, and it is good. Twitter and TikTok followed upon Instagram, and when we feel too sad about having the worst record in a baseball season that’s all of two weeks old, we can watch Votto dancing in the Braves clubhouse on an endless loop.
Original media output from Joey Votto is most welcome. He is thoughtful. He is funny in a way that only smart people are funny. And after years of keeping a newcomer’s respectful silence, his 2020 interview with Day revealed that he isn’t a standoffishperson, merely managing anxiety and reluctant to reflect poorly on his team.
In the wake of that interview, this is what I wrote:
We pieced together what we could. Given his expansive vocabulary and penchant for complete sentences when Votto did speak, we suspected high intelligence; there was scattered evidence of a screwball sense of humor. He’d lay low for months and months and then show up on national television in a Mounties uniform. Nothing but highly guarded sentences would suddenly give way to fake-pumping foul balls into opposition crowds. He screamed at umpires, but rarely put his name in for general autograph sessions; he was among the first out of the dugout in a fight, then did his best to calm the waters. This is not a shy person.
But this is a complicated person.
Most intelligent people are. Joey Votto, in a larger market and with a louder voice, would have easily become a pop culture phenomenon. He’d have hosted Saturday Night Live–assuming doing so were still relevant–and appeared in smirky commercials with Martha Stuart. He’d make cameo appearances in Farrelly brothers movies. He’d do brunch.
Such a thing could still happen, assuming Votto would like his life’s course to unfold as such. But, as he said to Day, that’s not why he put his phone on selfie mode: “I just keep thinking about the gripes about baseball not being fun, and there’s ways to connect two separate things.” He mentioned wanting to reach the youths he mentors. It was an extremely Votto-like conclusion.
Joey Votto These Days
There are grumblings that Votto’s debut on the socials is evidence that the old guy knows he’s not getting a ring, so he might as well eff it all and give himself over to the likes and the shares (his DMs are open, ladies!) Well, why not. Who has earned it more assiduously? Why shouldn’t this man launch himself into a pending retirement with a celebration of Haiku Poetry Day?
— Joey Votto (@JoeyVotto) April 17, 2022
These are mostly reactions from non-Cincinnati media, who express surprise that our first baseman knows how to put a sentence together: “This guy is suddenly the most interesting man in baseball. Who knew?” Well, we did, but you didn’t care to pay attention. Because he wasn’t on Instagram.
“That’s Joey Votto these days,” said the commentators on ESPN’s coverage of the Red’s first game (if it didn’t happen here, it’s not Opening Day.) They mentioned Votto’s decision to get a tattoo in Brazil with an artist who wouldn’t tell him what it would look like before firing up the needle. They said he was out on the field early during warmups, working on defense.
That’s not Joey Votto “these days.” That’s Joey Votto always–fascinating, hardworking. This isn’t news. This is just Votto being Votto, only with an iPhone in his face.
Temps and College Brochures
Joey Votto is running out of time. At no moment, ironically, was this more apparent as the Bengals approached the Super Bowl. I mentioned the contrast of his career with Burrow’s a couple weeks ago:
You have to wonder about the thoughts and emotions of Votto, who came semi-close to smelling the night air of October a couple of times, as he watched Joe Burrow sweep in here and throw his football and smoke his cigar and in twenty-four months get his trip to the big dance.
If Joe Burrow’s Bengals career were measured in child development years, he’d be a toddler, pacifier and blankie, still not old enough for preschool. Joey Votto, on the other hand, has been with the Reds long enough to be a junior in high school. He’s got his temps and started getting college brochures last month.
Over the tenure of Votto’s residency, we have come to know this guy, or at least we know him better than we did–but on his terms. And that’s understandable. (Will Smith just texted me. He agrees.)
“I also can’t wait to share each and every one of my meals,” Votto deadpanned in his Instagram introduction. These posts are throwaway, brain-surface stuff, and he knows it. They are not the full measure of him as a man or as an athlete.
Joey Votto is on social media solely because it is in the service of baseball. He expressed to Day his misgivings about becoming the center of attention as a social issues commentator, perhaps alluding to photographs of him in a Black Lives Matter shirt during batting practice: “I don’t want to drag the average fan down with reality,” he said. “And I’ve certainly done that in the past.” He has become aware of the importance of time, place, and consistency.
We are blessed with a man who understands that the very understitching of baseball–the simple act of playing catch–is a two-way operation. It is impossible to play catch alone; it requires interaction with another human being.
“You have to make eye contact,” he pointed out to Day. “You have to be considerate when you’re playing catch. You have to serve the other person when you’re playing catch… and the other person feels that.”
And so now Joey Votto is lobbing us photos of himself with his mother and holding his right hand in the air at his naturalization ceremony. He is making eye contact with us in the way we make eye contact these days. But no, as he indicated to Jim Day, it’s not for the Gram.
“I love baseball,” he said.