By Hal McCoy
This is not to dump all the misery and frustration on the head of Joey Votto. There is enough blame populating the Cincinnati Reds roster to feed a small Niger village.
There was a time, not long ago, when fans didn’t take a potty break or make a sandwich run when Votto was at the plate.
Something special might happen, and often did.
Unfortunately for Votto and the Reds, those days are absent without leave.
And it is easy to squash Votto’s baseball reputation because he is taking $250 million from the Reds and for years he has been the face of the franchise.
His numbers in the past were Hall of Fame calibre, but tarnish is showing up all over his uniform.
Right now his bat is slow. He is either popping up with shallow fly balls or he is striking out, mostly taking too-close-to-take strike threes.
And batting him leadoff is counter-productive. Yes, he draws a lot of walks. But when he gets on he clogs up the basepaths because he is not only slow-footed but he is not a good base-runner.
It is hard to believe that he once won a Gold Glove because his defense is so suspect these days.
It isn’t because he doesn’t work hard or doesn’t care. He is indefatigable with his work ethic and his outward display of frustration and self-anger is evident.
It looks as if Father Time is sitting on his shoulders. He is 36 and while he keeps totally fit, advancing age slows down for nobody.
Entering a doubleheader Thursday in Milwaukee, Votto is 0 for 16 and struck out all four times he batted in Tuesday’s game.
Manager David Bell has gone with him, gone with him and gone with him, most likely out of the respect Votto has earned.
Finally, Bell planned to give Votto a day off Wednesday, but that game was postponed and we shall see if he plays in one or both of Thursday’s seven-inning doubleheader games.
So what is an organization to do? His contract runs for four more years for $95 million, with a $7 million buyout after the 2024 season. With that contract, he is not tradeable.
After he won the 2010 National League Most Valuable Player Award, Votto called me aside and said, “You’ve been around this game a long time. So if I ever change, please let me know.”
He has not changed. He remains cooperative and incisive with the media, if you can find him.
He doesn’t hang around in the clubhouse before games to chat-up the media. He usually is in an off-limits to the media workout room, getting ready for the game.
After games? He quickly sheds his uniform and heads for that workout room and rides a stationary bike and works out for a long period of time.
If you want to talk to Joey Votto, you almost have to make an appoinment. That isn’t to fault him. He is working to make himself better. But it is frustrating for the media that would like to talk to him once in a while.
No, Votto isn’t the primary reason for the failures of this team. Eugenio Suarez, Shogo Akiyama, Mike Moustakas, Nick Castellanos (lately), Tucker Barnhart, Freddie Galvis and the bullpen are making negative contributions.
But Votto remains the face of the team and right now it is not a smiley face.
It was fashionable before the season to call the Cincinnati Reds the team-to-watch in the National League and the Chicago White Sox the team-to-watch in the American League.
The White Sox are complying, led by their face-of-the-team 33-year-old first baseman Jose Abreu. The White Sox are 19-12 with Abreu hitting .322 with 11 home runs and 28 RBI.
The Reds are 11-and-17 with Votto hitting .191 with three homers and eight RBI.
Votto has had slow starts to other seasons and suddenly bolted upright and tore it up. And it could happen again.
But this convoluted season is only 60 games and it is half over.
Votto, and the rest of them, need to turn the spigot on full blast or they’ll all be remembered as the most underachieving Reds team ever.