Reds' Votto having MVP-caliber year

Reds' Joey Votto tips cap during yesterday's workout.
Reds' Joey Votto tips cap during yesterday's workout.
Posted: October 06, 2010

PHILLIES MANAGER Charlie Manuel made news this season when he left Joey Votto off the National League All-Star team in favor of Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard.

Yesterday, when asked whether he would vote for Votto for the league's MVP award - he cannot vote for his own players - Manuel replied, "Yes. I'd vote for him."

Votto, in his third big-league season, made the All-Star team anyway in the Final Vote, and he actually called Manuel's decision a "cool thing," since Manuel said he was making up for Howard being wronged in 2008.

That's the kind of guy Votto is: honest, and generous, and utterly appreciative, an MVP kind of guy.

He has great stats, too.

Votto, 27, led the league with a .424 on-base percentage. His .324 average with 37 homers and 113 RBI ranked second, third and third, respectively - and each is best among players in the playoffs, since the Rockies' Carlos Gonzalez and the Cardinals' Albert Pujols now are vacationing.

"I think he's MVP, big-time," said Votto's manager, Dusty Baker. "I mean, you see like last year when we lost him for 6 weeks where we were without him. That was a long time, and life wasn't very pleasant without Joey Votto on the field."

Life wasn't pleasant for Votto off the field, either.

An illness limited Votto in mid-May and heightened his lingering depression and anxiety related to his father's death in 2008. He missed 21 games beginning May 30, and the Reds went 8-13.

Still, in his second full season last year, he hit .322 with 25 homers and 84 RBI in 131 games.

"Last year was a difficult battle for me, but I still had a successful year," Votto said. "This year, I think I took it up a notch."

All the way to the top, he hopes. The members of the Baseball Writers Association of America have voted; the results will be announced next month.

"I would be totally full of it if I said, 'No, I don't want to win the MVP award.' I've played well. I've given myself an opportunity. I've done what I can," Votto said. "If an award of that magnitude comes my way, that's fantastic. I would really appreciate that.

"Some players who have said they don't care about it - maybe they're withholding it, saving it for themselves. Speaking for myself, if I end up winning it, it's a great thing."

His candor is as refreshing as the wind that rushes in from Lake Ontario in his native Toronto.

Asked whether he was surprised he put up such outstanding numbers, he replied:

"No, not at all. I think I made some improvements, from experience. Playing on a better team, in a better lineup. There's something about playing for a winning team - where you go through a weeklong stretch and you haven't even checked your line. You don't even care. And all of a sudden, you've done some damage."

Like most players, as his experience grew, his personal line has become less important than his team's standing.

"It's now a team thing. I could go [hitless] for the entire playoffs, and we win the World Series, that's a pretty successful year. If I go [hitless] in however many games in the regular season, I'm a pretty unhappy camper," Votto said. "It's getting to the point in my career where all I care about is wins. The postseason is it."

Votto said removing emotion and concentrating on execution brought him to this point. Baker said Votto is focused to the point of being boring.

That paints a less-than-accurate picture. Votto is focused, and candid, but he's clever, too, as evidenced when he was asked whether he and other young Reds players have gone to playoff veterans for guidance:

"You can approach a Scott Rolen or a Miguel Cairo - and I try to avoid Miguel as much as possible," he joked.

Or when he was asked about Roy Halladay being appreciated more now that he's not pitching in Canada:

"Now that he's gotten to Philadelphia, he's getting his due. At Toronto, you get to the border, with the exchange rate and everything, a lot of times you don't get the respect you deserve."

But, mainly, he's direct.

MVP or not, he has done his best and he has moved on: "I don't have to validate anything."

Baker said that Votto, like Pujols or Yankees bomber Alex Rodriguez, "makes your lineup. I mean, you know when Joey Votto's coming up . . .You hope you're [done with] the game with this guy in the hole, not even on deck. Because you know when the pitcher sees him on deck. This is what great players do. You're worried about them even though they're not up at the plate."

Taking care

Behind the batting cage yesterday, Cuban defectors and Phillies relievers Danys Baez and Jose Contreras introduced themselves to Aroldis Chapman, the 22-year-old Reds lefthanded reliever who throws 105 mph, and shared with them the pain of leaving his world behind.

They hope to meet with Chapman away from the field before the teams finish the series.

Chapman defected July 1, 2009. He signed with the Reds in January and made his big-league debut Aug. 31.

Yesterday, through an interpreter, Chapman declined to discuss his defection, which meant leaving behind his girlfriend who was pregnant with their daughter (since born). Baez understood all too well the maelstrom of emotions Chapman must feel.

"I haven't seen my brother in 11 years," Baez said of Dennis Baez, 6 years his senior. "When you make big decisions, you better be ready to pay a big price."

And handle the big rewards.

"You're coming from nothing, and you get the [best] of everything. You're coming from the bottom of the world," Baez said. "In Cuba - everybody knows how slow it is there. You come here and you face a lot of things - a clubhouse full of media attention. And you throw 100 miles an hour, you're going to be on TV all night long. It's completely different."

That's just on the field.

"You're coming from Cuba and you don't know anything. You don't know how to write a check. You don't know what credit is," Baez said. "He probably doesn't know where he wants to live. You have to start from zero."

When the three meet, Baez is sure to stress one point:

"He has to learn English right away. Always, in this country, people are ready to help you."

Contreras, Chapman's idol who defected in 2002, still speaks through an interpreter. *

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