Votto proves he still has it at 38 and has high expectations for 2022

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Joey Votto interview: Oct. 2, 2021

Reds first baseman had individual success but sad to miss playoffs in 15th season

The phrase “Votto still bangs” was everywhere during the 2021 season. On Twitter. On Facebook. On T-shirts.

Ever since Votto asked Jesse Winker, “Do I still bang?” during an interview with C. Trent Rosecrans, of The Athletic, in 2019, it has become part of Votto’s story and an annual question. Does Votto still bang? Can he hit as he ages?

In 2021, the answer was yes. Votto drank from the same fountain of youth as Tom Brady in his 15th season with the Cincinnati Reds. He hit 36 home runs and drove in 99 runs in 129 games. Considering how many games he missed, those numbers were just as impressive as the 37 home runs and 113 RBIs he had in his MVP season of 2010, though his average dropped from .324 to .266 and his on-base percentage fell from .424 to .375.

Votto turned 38 in September. He was 26 in his MVP season. He still has two years remaining — plus a club option for 2024 — on the 10-year, $225,000,000 contract he signed in 2012.

“It’s good to know I still have it,” Votto told reporters last weekend during the Reds’ final series of the season in Pittsburgh, “and that I can play. I can perform well and it can come out pretty easy and I can have fun, which is really a gift.”

Votto became the 10th player in baseball history to hit at least 35 home runs, drive in 96 RBIs and produce a batting average above .266, an on-base percentage better than .377, a slugging percentage above .560 and OPS higher than .937. That list includes some of the game’s greatest legends: Babe Ruth; Hank Sauer; Ted Williams; Hank Aaron; Edgar Martinez; Barry Bonds; Rafael Palmeiro; David Ortiz; and Nelson Cruz.

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Votto also made plenty of Reds history in 2021.

• Votto hit a home run in seven straight games in July, setting a franchise record and falling one game short of the big-league record.

• Votto moved into sixth place in Reds history in games played (1,900).

• Votto moved into second place in career home runs (331). He trails only Johnny Bench (389).

• Votto moved into fourth place in career RBIs (1,065).

Votto gained confidence this year with a change in approach he made last September. He made adjustments to focus more on hitting for power.

“Of course, you don’t know for sure,” Votto said. “Over six months, I had moments of doubt. But I was pretty confident after how I performed in September of last year. It was just more of like, ‘Will I be able to handle the test of six months with this style?’ And it turns out, ‘Yeah.’ I actually think I’m gonna play better next year, to be honest with you. I feel like I refined some of the changes and it’s come out easier. I’ve got high expectations for next year.”

Votto missed 28 games after getting hit by a pitch on this thumb in May. He might have hit 41 home runs and driven in 121 if he had played 162 games.

“Even though we’ve come to expect greatness, I think it is remarkable,” Reds manager David Bell said. “From his perspective and his expectations, I don’t know if he would see it as a remarkable. To me, it’s amazing — the season he’s had, the career he’s had. This season wasn’t easy. He had his struggles, but he was committed to not only having a great season for himself but just doing everything he could to help our team win. Having a good team, I think that helped Joey.”

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The Reds finished 83-79. That’s the fifth winning season in Votto’s 15 seasons. The Reds have made the playoffs four times in his career and are 2-9 in those four appearances. Both victories came in the 2012 National League Division Series when the Reds blew a 2-0 lead by losing three straight games to the San Francisco Giants at home.

The Reds have not won a playoff game in the last 10 seasons. They lost the wild-card game to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013 and were shut out in two games last season in the first round by the Atlanta Braves.

Votto knows time is running out on his pursuit of a championship.

“This the first year where I was legitimately sad when we were eliminated,” Votto said. “Don’t get me wrong, last year in the playoffs, of course, I was disappointed, and in years past, getting eliminated was disappointing. But for some reason, because I’m seeing the end, you know you will only have so many opportunities.

“I really enjoyed playing with these guys. I’m enjoying where I fit in. When you get eliminated, you’re realizing there’s an end to your time together. Of course, we’re going to play again next year, but this year, there’s a sadness because you have to transition to your own cities and families and friends, which is wonderful, but there’s a bond you build with your teammates. That’s really difficult to replicate. And if you’re doing it with a team that’s winning, it’s even more difficult to replicate because you’re expecting more and you’re supporting one another and you’re watching your teammates succeed. You know it’s possibly going to breed more time together. I felt genuine sadness. I felt really down. It’s a bummer. I’m hoping at some point some season I get to play ‘til the very end and get to share it with a group of guys that I really enjoy.”

Joey Votto, of the Reds, claps after being introduced in a pregame ceremony on Opening Day on Thursday, April 1, 2021, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff
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Joey Votto, of the Reds, claps after being introduced in a pregame ceremony on Opening Day on Thursday, April 1, 2021, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski