Votto desperately wants to win a championship with the Reds

Joey Votto interview (Feb. 21, 2021)

First basemen entering 15th season and year eight of 10-year contract

First baseman Joey Votto wants to return to Cincinnati after his baseball career ends not to celebrate his career but to celebrate a championship.

Votto has played 14 seasons with the Cincinnati Reds and experienced four winning seasons, two National League Central Division championships and four postseason appearances but no playoff series victories and nothing close to a world championship, something the franchise hasn’t won since 1990.

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“I‘m really uncomfortable with any sort of personal adulation,” said Votto on Sunday when position players reported to spring training in Goodyear, Ariz. “Of course, I want to do well, but I feel much more comfortable sharing things and I desperately want to come back and be able to celebrate a championship with the city, with the team — a shared moment. We had a few of those at the very beginning of the playoffs last year, and I’d like an entire month’s worth of those. Truly, that’s what I care about. I’d like that experience before I’m done playing for sure.”

The Reds finished 31-29 last season and reached the expanded 16-team playoffs by winning 11 of their last 14 games. The momentum didn’t carry into the Division Series as the Reds lost 1-0 and 5-0 to the Atlanta Braves.

“We started so poorly, and we finished with a winning record, which I’m proud of,” Votto said, “and then as far as the playoffs, that was obviously a disappointment. We had all the tools to do good things. Every year that we don’t have a championship it’s disappointing.”

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Votto went 2-for-9 with a walk in the two playoff games, ending a season that saw him record the lowest batting average (.224) and on-base percentage (.354) of his career. Of course, it was a relatively small sample size. Votto played in 54 of the 60 games. It also marked the fourth straight season Votto’s have declined in those categories.

Votto is 37 now and entering the eighth year of the 10-year, $225 million contract he signed in 2012. He spent the offseason at home near Toronto and said he’s healthy and strong as spring training begins. He doesn’t have specific numbers in mind when it comes to his production this season but said he wants to be dangerous at the plate.

Votto has made adjustments he hopes pay off in his 15th season.

“When I first came to came to the league — and certainly in the minor leagues — I was a bit more aggressive,” Votto said. “When I was a younger player, I idolized Todd Helton and Barry Bonds and a few other modern players of the early 2000s, and I loved the great players of the past: the (Ted) Williams; and the (Babe) Ruths and the (Hank) Aarons and the (Willie) Mays. When I first played in the minor leagues, I was so dead set on cutting down my strikeouts because I wanted to be a well-rounded hitter. And eventually over the past maybe six, seven years, I started really making that adjustment and seeing that change.”

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In the course of making those changes, Votto said he lost some of his earlier strengths: “hitting the ball hard; hitting the ball all over the field with power; and being difficult to defend.”

“I did that in exchange for command of the strike zone, putting the ball in play, being a tough at-bat,” Votto said, “And it zapped my power. In (2017), I played really really well because I had that nice combination of low strikeouts, tons of power, lots of walks. It was like the dream season for me. I stuck to that the last couple years. And in (2019) a little bit and especially last year, I had to let that go and get back to what got me to the league.”

Votto hit .320 with 36 home runs and 100 RBIs in 2017. Two years ago in baseball’s last full season, he hit .261 with 15 home runs and 47 RBIs.

Last season, the Reds benched Votto for three games in late August because he was slumping, and he responded by going 10-for-26 at the plate in the next seven games. He said the adjustments he made were natural. He stood up taller, the way he’s always hit the ball.

“I’m back to kind of a more comfortable place in terms of hitting,” Votto said. “It’s going to come with of course some more swings and misses and some strikeouts, but as long as I’m productive and as long as I’m dangerous at the plate, it’ll pay itself off.”

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