If I remember right, I started doing Coffee and Votto on Twitter in the summer of 2016. It wasn’t something I meant to do. It happened because I was looking for ways to comfort myself after what had been an awful year. I’d roll out of bed, make breakfast for the kids, make coffee, and sit down at my desk to wake up and see what new statistical marvel I could find in Joey Votto’s numbers. It was soothing at a time when I needed something that soothed. Votto was unstoppable and, at least for me, he was also incredibly likable. Just what I needed.

I carried on with it, and it still runs from time to time. I need to do one again now that the season is over. Over the years, talking about baseball, the Cincinnati Reds, and specifically Joey Votto brought a lot of important people into my life. Including my wife. I never pushed it on the kids, but they both latched onto it anyway. And Votto was at the center of that. He was a little goofy. And he was smart. He was easy to talk about to my kids. And now, my youngest is obsessed with baseball, while my oldest enjoys a baseball game in a way that most of the other theater kids don’t really get.

My wife said to me, as we were preparing to go up for what might be his final home game, that she didn’t know how to be an adult baseball fan without Votto. I’m not sure I do either. I just started my 17th year as an English teacher and he just finished his 17th season as a major league player. His debut came a few weeks after I got my first job. It feels like several lifetimes ago.

But why Joey Votto? Why does he matter to some of us more than any other great player? I think it’s that, while baseball can be a place that pushes a lot of people away, he has been the type of player who welcomes everyone in. You can see how different Votto has always been in some of the early career comments and scouting reports I read while getting ready to write this. Of course, we all know the bit about him not having the tools, but there’s also stuff that syncs up with what he wrote recently about being bullied down in A-ball. He was different. He didn’t seem to fit in with the other guys according to some evaluators. It’s the kind of thing a lot of people have heard about themselves before, but not necessarily a lot of elite athletes. In sports, being like everyone else is often given much more importance than being a decent person. Fitting in matters a lot. He didn’t always fit in.

Joey Votto is different. Different in ways that matter. He is a nerd. He memorized Ted Williams’ book and has read books without pictures (to borrow from Bull Durham). And he is willing to listen and learn. I love baseball. I wanted to share it with my kids, but I’m also not the kind of person who can just look away or pretend that the off the field actions of (pick whoever you can think of from the laundry list) don’t matter. It does matter. And so, someone like Votto matters a lot.

Joey Votto is different. He is a Hall of Fame baseball player who has shown himself willing to listen and improve. It matters that he wore a Black Lives Matter shirt on the field. It matters more that he listened to Amir Garrett about what was going on. It matters that he briefly changed his walk up music to “Ohio” after Charlottesville (go read the lyrics if you don’t know the song). It matters.

On one level, sports are sports, and I get that. I know I’ve cheered for guys who were or ended up as less than stellar characters. As an adult, I can deal with that cognitive dissonance. Here is a beautiful game that is often played by abominable people. It’s the way of the world. But I’m an adult with kids. And it mattered that based on everything I’ve ever seen, Joey Votto tried hard to be a decent person. It helped doubly that he was a funny, self-effacing nerd. It helped triply that I can’t recall ever seeing anything bad about the guys he seems to get closest to on the various incarnations of the Reds. Whether it’s been Jay Bruce or Eugenio Suarez or Tyler Stephenson. He’s been a kind of guide to who the decent guys are.

Joey Votto has shown us recently that he knows what it is to be bullied. He’s shown us over and over that trying to be a decent person matters to him. And he’s shown us that if you are smart enough you can do things no one else thinks you can do. For years, he seemed to solve the puzzle of baseball. He didn’t make outs. He finished first in on base percentage in a way that only inner-circle guys ever had. Some less astute commentators wanted to know why he didn’t just hit more homers. And the answer was that he understood how baseball worked, probably better than they did.

In the end, I’m reminded of the famous dart scene from Ted Lasso – a show Joey Votto loves. “Be curious, not judgmental.” Walt Whitman didn’t write that (whoops, show!), but that doesn’t matter. Votto matters because he has been curious. He asks questions. He’s open minded. And he learns. So many of those who derided his approach were people who stopped learning about baseball years ago. So much of the criticism he’s seen directed at him has come from people unwilling to question themselves or what they know.

Whether he ever plays another game or not, Joey Votto is going to be in the Hall of Fame. He’s going to be in the Hall of Fame not because the gods reached down and gifted him with all the physical tools, but because he worked hard and thought hard and asked questions. Because he was curious and diligent.

Whether he ever plays another game or not, he was a superstar who worked at being decent and made it easier for a dad to show his kids about baseball. He put the title from a poem on his jersey once. Votto put “Who” on it another time. He plays chess and he reads books and he tries to do the right thing. He’s curious, not judgmental.

33 Responses

  1. Michael

    Excellent read Jason. It blows my mind that I was 27 when he made his Debut and now we are both middle aged men

  2. RedsfaninTX

    Jason, I really enjoyed your article. I normally click on this site just to read what happened to yesterday’s game if I missed it. I grew up with the big red machine and then the 90’s team. I am also a big Joey Votto fan. I am going to miss him. I hope they can bring him back for one more year. I think Joey doesn’t want a farewell tour but I bet most Reds fans would enjoy it.

    • Tom Reeves

      I’ve long said Votto is the nerd who made it. He outsmarted and outworked baseball. That’s why he’s my favorite.

  3. Klugo

    Run it back with him on a restructured deal and a different role.

  4. LDS

    What Votto the player was, he isn’t anymore. It’s time to leverage Joey the person in Cincinnati, whether in the broadcast booth, a hitting instructor, a fan ambassador, etc. It’s sad to see him continue to play as a shadow of his former self. Buy him out, find a job for him, and use the money elsewhere. Give him Bell’s job, just don’t keep running him out there to hit .200 and decay in public – he deserves better, even if he doesn’t see it himself.

  5. Jedi Joey

    Joey is a great guy. I love how he has let people in to get to know him. He is a caring and funny man. It’s been a pleasure to watch him all these years. Whether it’s now or in a year or two, it will be tough to not see him out there playing baseball. It just seems all is right in the world when number 19 is playing ball for the Redlegs.

  6. TR

    I appreciate your article, Jason, about the great Joey Votto and his dedication to the Reds. I’ll miss him at first base and his hitting technique and ability to get on base. But there comes a time when all of us must move on from a certain station in life. I’d like to see Joey in another capacity with the Reds because he has a lot to offer other than as a player.

  7. Rob Malmgren

    If he doesn’t want to play any longer I think he would be a great hitting coach. Just to have him in the dugout with the young guy would benefit them.

  8. greenmtred

    Thanks, Jason, for the really thoughtful and insightful article. I’ll miss Joey, too, but hope that, if it fits with his post-retirement plans, he’ll stay with the Reds in some significant capacity.

  9. rednat

    great piece Jason.
    I think he makes it to Cooperstown for sure.
    if character can keep you out of the hall I think it can help you get in as well.
    yes he doesn’t have Babe Ruth or Stan Musial stats but neither did Jackie Robinson or Barry Larkin.
    i enjoyed watching the growth of JV As a human being.from a shy introverted rookie to last year calling the game on national tv. certainly HOF WORTHY!

    • Klugo

      We need LH bats, too. More than likely we aren’t gonna go after Ohtani or Bellinger. So, who’s in the next tier? We could trade for a LH OF who is dispensable and/or unhappy with another team, but he’d be dispensable for a reason and wouldn’t we rather use our trade assets for pitching? I would, especially given our home ball field. Go get Hicks, Hader and a couple SPs, play Steer in the OF and run it back with JV as a pinch hitter and play him at 1B every 3 or 4 days.

    • Melvin

      In my view there are two ways to look at Votto’s 2023 season. Was he bad because he’s old and washed up or was he pretty good considering everything he’s been through and still recovering. Will he be better in 2024 being fully healed? Most believe it’s the former. Personally, I’m not so sure.

      • BK

        Exactly, for us on the outside we simply don’t know his medical prognosis.

      • greenmtred

        I’m not sure, either. Even playing at less than 100% his home run totals expanded to a full season would have been 30 or more. I realize that’s an oversimplification: he wouldn’t get a full 600 abs, to start with, and his homers–this from memory–came relatively early in his return and pretty much disappeared later; why, I don’t know. If I were the Reds, I’d keep my collective mind open: he very possibly would have some value as a pinch hitter, infrequent back-up first baseman and de facto second hitting coach. But the Reds are likely to be hurting for free roster spots with the amount of young talent on the team or nearly ready to be.

    • Old-school

      Reds will decline team option and pay the $7 mil exit fee

      The next question becomes Would votto come back at a reduced rate and reduced role.

      If he agreed to a 1 year $5 mil deal and back up first base and lefty DH with understanding hes not playing every day and CES is the first baseman, I suppose the Reds could take it work month to month and see how it plays out. I dont see Votto getting $10 mil and a guarantee to play first base and DH every day anywhere on a good team

    • wkuchad

      It would hurt to see Joey in another team’s uniform.

      • greenmtred

        Yes it would. And I briefly felt that everything was right with the world when he smacked a homer this season.

      • Shel Keitel

        Agreed. JoeyBoy Votto is a throwback to the days that still exist only in the memories of old-timer Boomer Baseball Fans who traded loyalty to the team in exchange for the loyalty of great Reds players whose loyalty was to Cincinnati and the Reds. Johnny Bench springs to mind. (MLB is no longer the national pastime; MLB is the national pastime of billionaire moguls whose loyalty is to the bottom line and their way of keeping score is how many of us pass through the turnstiles. Earlier this season, I heard a cliché-spouting airhead announcer hype the [enter your own label here] “Day” out at the ball park where you can get a hot dog and a beer for only $9.00!) But Joey—he’s caught in limbo somewhere between Johnny Bench and Elly K la Cruz and the other highly promising wunderkinder on whom the future success of the Reds largely rests. Yes, Joey is a round peg sitting on a square hole but none the worse for that. My fear is that Joey is now just meat for management to leverage their bottom line; my hope is that he finds a niche within the organization that is as satisfying for him as I hope it will be for Reds fans. But then I recall the legacy of Johnny Bench, by whom I was both surprised and disappointed that he did not find anything after retirement from the game that would allow him to continue making a contribution in the coaching or managerial ranks of baseball. Bench would not have been a well-loved skipper, but he surely would have had his players’ respect. Bench was justified in depriving MLB of his talents and enjoying whatever it was he did in retirement (…spray-paint commercials?) JoeyBoy would be as well, and I hope he does.

    • Mark Moore

      Thanks to my fellow RLN commenters for piling on thoughts. The one flashing yellow caution light with Joey on the roster is the propensity for HDTBell to “play with toys” even when it’s clear (to those of us watching) that it isn’t working.

      I’m in complete agreement that we just don’t know. I also believe that Joey has the discipline to come to camp in top shape for who he is at that age.

      That’s why I’m on the fence. I have a lot of optimism for the young core.

      • Melvin

        Yeah. The problem is ANY player could go into a prolonged slump and Bell might still play him only giving him days off when he’s hot. lol There’s no way of telling in that respect.

  10. Brian Rutherford

    Thanks for the thoughtful article Jason. It took me back to when my kids were young and I hoped they would love baseball as much as I did. Joey Votto will always be one of my favorites. I hope the Reds find a way to have JDV run it back one more time.

  11. Roger Garrett

    Old school’s idea is a good one and would love to see it play out exactly that way but i just don’t see it.Joey is a part time DH at best and with most managers now using the DH to rest regular players from playing the field that role gets smaller.Bell did it religiously just to rest guys and get others some at bats.If Joey doesn’t bang he brings nothing to the team and with several players that have multiple skills that can play first base and how Bell uses the DH it really means Joey doesn’t have a job.Never been a 41 year old baseball player but I am a 70 year old man and well it is what it is for both of us.Great guy and one of my favorite players in my 60 years of following the Reds but its time for the Reds to move on from Joey.

  12. JDG

    Thanks for the article. Very good. Joey means more to this organization than just what he does on the field. Just one example is the Reds Youth Academy. Not only does the building bear his name, but he routinely shows up after games and on his off days and inspires youth baseball and softball players to learn and play the game the right way. His dedication is impressive. I hope the Reds take this into account when deciding what to do….

  13. Brian

    I’m not sure why my original post was deleted. I guess that honest dialogue isn’t appreciated here. Noted!

  14. MK

    Is being the best player on your favorite team, which has been the lowest period in your lifetime in your team’s history (for me that goes back to 1960) is something I should revere. He has had a very nice individual career, and he has nothing to complain about, being compensated for it. But he is no longer that player and his compensation is a big reason the team hasn’t added many potential free agents. The Reds can no longer afford a roster spot on Joe as a bench player with limited defensive skills, offensive occasional power, good idea of strike zone but a much diminished hit tool. If the team decided to move on from Tony Perez. Pete Rose, and Joe Morgan, then Joe V. is a no brainer.

    As far as your reference to his A Ball experience, I was involved with a booster group that served the Dragons breakfast meals before their road trips and he had the personality of a rock. Even when he came back to A ball for a rehab assignment, he did everything he could to avoid the local writers, to the point of evasion. Maybe he brought on some of his problems on.

    So, thanks for your service Joe, it has been greatly appreciated. Retire his number and move on.

  15. CFD3000

    Thoughtful, and much appreciated. JDV is one of my favorite Reds through 50 years of fandom (+Bench and Larkin). He’s a future Hall of Famer, and will have helped redefine hitting excellence over the course of his career. Joey Votto and Sabermetrics grew into their own together. And it has been gratifying seeing his transformation from a reluctant public figure – I suspect he didn’t “bring it on himself” early in his career so much as he had to gain confidence and comfort in the public eye – to an articulate, intelligent, captivating interview every time. I feel lucky that somehow he ended up as a Cincinnati Red for so long. Most fans don’t get that privilege on their favorite team.

    But oh, what to do in 2024? My take remains the same. I honestly think if Votto is healthy and at full strength he can again produce like he did in 2021. A resurgent, difference making season. And if he is, the Reds shouldn’t find a way to re-sign him after paying the $7M buyout, they MUST. But if he’s not, then as sad as it makes me to acknowledge, his productive career is over and the Reds should indeed move on. So I’m hoping the Reds and Mr. Votto wait until next spring to finalize details depending on his health, or that they agree to an incentive heavy contract for 2024. If he’s healthy enough and contributes, he’ll play, and he’ll get paid. If he’s not then he won’t play, at least not for long or not much, and the Reds can let him go. I wouldn’t have even suggested that approach two years ago, but after Akiyama, and Moustakas, and a couple of other “sunk cost” decisions – smart but unexpected – I trust Nick Krall can figure that out. But if he is healthy there’s no way I’m betting against a solid year from Votto. As hard as he works, and as much as he adapts, it’s not age that might end his career (at least not yet) it’s injury. And therein lies the rub. I hope he’s healthy, and I hope he’s back. But either way I’m grateful for Joey Votto.

  16. doc4uk

    I agree with an incentive laden contract once the 7 million has been paid. Perhaps a heavy dose of spring training to see where his starting point is will tell Joey what he should do?

    Having stated this I am skeptical. Shoulder fatigue or weakness may play a role in how hard you hit a ball or even how far. But does it play a role on whether or not you make contact . Age does play a role in hand eye coordination and also depth perception as well as bat speed. Perhaps I am wrong but JV had a much higher strike out rate over the past three years. And yes 95 mph plus pitchers are now the rule and not the exception and it makes it tougher to make contact.

    So if he is not tearing it up in Spring Training then it is time for JV to assume the role of hitting coach and player development. He loves to teach and wants to be around the game . If not this then for sure the broadcast booth. Time to start the clock for the Hall of Fame induction

    • Pete

      This is the best solution that I’ve heard yet. It’s a fine line between not insulting the man and also looking out for the best interest of the ball club.

      • Michael E

        Only if Krall can fire David Bell for cause if he over-starts Votto in 2024. Put in a clause somewhere. A .190 hitting Votto, starting 100 games would be maddening, irritating, grating and bad for Reds 2024 playoff chances.

        A full-time pinch-hitter, maybe that would be his best role. One AB every game and a couple of ABs in a few xtra inning games or a double-header.