If someone with Joey Votto’s situational awareness and spatial relationship skills still cannot find his way around Cincinnati after eleven years of driving them on a regular basis. there is absolutely no hope for me. The former first baseman admitted recently that despite spending his entire career here, he’s still baffled by our tangle of trade routes, rumrunner switchbacks, and hill avoidances.

This revelation came in the middle of his Instagram goodbye to the Reds. He referred to our insane ball of roads as “charming,” I call it “an utter assault upon the dyscalculic driver,” but let’s award the point to the outlander.

The Staggering Contract

Unless at some point Joey Votto begins to consult, coach, or commentate for the Reds, he will no longer enjoy the delights of making a 90-degree left-hand turn to stay on the same road on which you were already driving. Earlier this week, the Reds announced that they have no intention of picking up the option on the staggering contract we first learned of in 2002.

If you weren’t around when this happened or were too young to remember it, allow me to reassure you that the idea of paying one man $251.5 million dollars over 12 seasons left us winded for weeks. The 2023 season was so far over the horizon that seemed like it should only be spoken of in terms of Olympics planning.

Who was this kid? Over a decade of this guy? Who was that good? We looked at the teenager sitting behind the signing table: We were stuck with him, or he was stuck with us, until he was 40.

And what if this nice young man became the star the Reds promised and morphed into a divafied, fur coat-wearing nightmare? If this man turned out to be a disaster wagon of a human being before the age of 20, we were all smoked.

The Gamble

The Votto long contract still shines as one of the boldest decisions this ballclub has ever made– a rarity in baseball and a near-impossibility for the likes of Cincinnati. It seemed unthinkable for a team with the sports landscape we were then experiencing to spend so much money for such a long time. That was Yankee talk.

Perhaps even more surprisingly, the gamble paid. Joey Votto provided a service to the Reds that even modern sabermetrics can’t measure: He provided rare stability in a sport that trades its employees mid-game. And he kept an early bedtime.

Votto kept his mouth (mostly) shut and his nose clean. He approached the role of once and future clubhouse leader with the seriousness it deserved. No matter what you have to say about Votto’s numbers, for the face of your franchise to maintain a completely blank arrest record is quite the 21st century accomplishment, and he should always command respect and gratitude for that.

Karma Chameleon

Now Votto finds himself  in the highly dubious position of team icon whose team doesn’t want him anymore. When the Reds declined to pick up Votto’s option, gently closing the door on him with Instagram thanks and the promise of a swell retirement party, they left him with very few options.

For the front office to issue such a definitive statement means they’ve broken up with Votto and blocked his number. Nick Krall has said otherwise, but to wave him out of the harbor with “based on our current roster and projected plans for 2024, as an organization we cannot commit to the playing time Joey deserves” means “We’re not collapsing into sentiment. Not this time.”

With a .202 batting average, Votto does not recommend himself as a DH. His main asset at this point is as a stabilizing elder statesman in a clubhouse full of people who have never owned a CD. And as a man who was born the year that boasted “Karma Chameleon” as its best-selling single, the only place Votto can really do that effectively is in Cincinnati, where the roots are deep and the fan proprietorship is heavy.

The Intersection

I have lost count of the number of times I have heard Joey Votto say, “I just want to play ball,” and given his thoughtful approach to the game and lack of strippers gyrating through his cash, he’s no doubt invested wisely. This isn’t about money for him– and neither was it, rather pointedly, about money for the Reds either. The man is simply not ready to let go of the love of his life. Not yet.

For the first time in his life, Joey Votto will ponder offers from other teams in alien cities. Votto now stands at a three-branched intersection: He can take a breath in this space and retire after all and wave at the folks at Reds Hall of Fame events for the rest of his life– which will happen anyway at some point.

He can continue to play and force us all to see him in an enemy uniform, struggling to manage the increasingly fast physical decline of a 40-year-old baseball player.

Or can continue to play and force us all to see him in an enemy uniform, batting a steady .404.

Joey Votto says he still doesn’t understand our roads, but he no doubt has a good grasp of this one. The scenery he will have from here on out, and the way he picks his way through the path he chooses is now up to him.

23 Responses

  1. Mark Moore

    “His main asset at this point is as a stabilizing elder statesman in a clubhouse full of people who have never owned a CD” pretty much sums it up for me. I’ve said my peace elsewhere, so I won’t go into that here again. I’m still a big Joey fan, but time and circumstance largely dictate what is happening.

    I spent more than a little time during the summer of 2006 on the UC campus and roaming places closer to the river and downtown. I didn’t find it all that challenging to navigate, but that’s just me. And I didn’t have a GPS phone in those days either.

    We’ll see what transpires in the coming months. But my Reds gear is ready to show up again. I may even repeat that trip up to DC when they come into town. That was a blast. And all navigation was on foot and via the Metro. No big challenges there.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Downtown is pretty much the only sanely plotted area around here– it’s flat, right next to the original settlement, and laid out at a time when people had a chance to think about it. It’s when we grew into the hills right by downtown that things started to get un-navigable.

  2. AMDG

    If memory serves correctly, Jockety was targeting Pujols in 2012 with a large chunk of $ on a 10-year deal. And when Pujols spurned them for the Angels in January, the Reds later offered a slightly less $225-10yr deal to Votto which was agreed to in April.

    It makes one wonder how things would have turned out if Pujols had signed with the Reds, which likely would have seen Votto traded or leave after his contract at the time expired.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Ohhhhhhhhhh I forgot about that! But people were kind of dismissive about it because they didn’t think it would actually happen? I’m glad it worked out the way it did.

  3. LDS

    I keep hoping Votto decides to retire and move on with the next phase of his life. The Reds could help – give him Bell’s job. He couldn’t possibly be worse.

  4. RedsGettingBetter

    Well said…
    I had hope of Votto playing in 2024 again as a bech player in a good-bye tour thru all parks. Something similar to Miggy last year. But , maybe Krall is right too…

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I’d love for him to retire here. And I actually almost put in a paragraph about the only bearable enemy alternative being the Blue Jays but ran out of time… should’ve kept it in… I’d have looked like a genius.

  5. Votto4life

    Fans wanted Joey to retire because he was injured and unable to produce like they wanted. Now, they want him to retire because they can’t stand the thought of seeing him playing in another uniform. Well, you don’t get to have it both ways.

    Votto has thanked the Red’s fans for their support and now has decided to test free agency. That is his right and he no longer has as obligation to the Reds, their fans or the city of Cincinnati.

    People here will have to find someone else to complain about in 2024. If the Reds, play next year, like the way they did the last two months of the 2023 season, they will have plenty of options.

      • Votto4life

        Yeah, I think the young players help soften the blow for many fans.

        As with most everything else, when people say “It’s not about the money.” It is almost always about the money. This is especially true when the Castellinis are involved.

        As always Mary Beth, very nicely done. You write so well.

    • AMDG

      I think that is 2 different groups?

      The ones who don’t want to see him play for another team are the ones who think he can actually get more hits than K’s, and return to his form of 5 or 10 years ago.

      While those who were ready for him to retire don’t care what he does next year, and will happily let him produce a negative WAR for some other team.

  6. Scott C

    “Dyscalculic”? It is not often I look up the definition of a word but when I do, I look up math words. Way to go Mary Beth, you added to my vocabulary, although I hope you don’t mind but I’ll probably never use it. As far as Joey goes, I personally hope that he retires and the Reds bring him back in a coaching position. I really would hate to see him in another uniform. Especially one like the Brewers, Cubs, Cards or Pirates. Please Lord none of those.

      • Seth

        For me it’s hard to see him leave because he helped me and a lot of others learn to love the game of baseball I wish he would just retire and be a coach for the reds.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        That may still come to pass. I think even though he knew this was coming he needs to let things sink in for a while.

  7. Mike

    I was hoping that they could reach a one year deal (truthfully probably all he has left in the tank) to keep Joey here. He’s a great role model for the young players (practically the whole team), and could still add a little depth. I think ge could also be a good hitting coach, the way that he would sit down with the younger players and talk about the game.
    I still hope that this might come to be.

    • Melvin

      I think that would actually help the team win this year…provided David Bell uses him properly.