*Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) on life as Canada's highest-paid athlete .... 2012 Canadians in the Minors 2012 Canadians in College 2012 Canadians draft list Letters of Intent
By Bob Elliott
CINCINNATI - Joey Votto remembers reading about Larry Walker’s six-year, $75 million deal with the Colorado Rockies in 2000.
And Justin Morneau's six-year, $80 million deal with the Minnesota Twins eight years later to become the highest-paid Canadian ball player.
“I didn’t know if it was possible, but I wanted to some day be the highest paid Canadian player,” said the Cincinnati Reds first baseman this week at the Great American Ball Park.
“I’m sure Brett Lawrie feels the same way.”
Every major leaguer is competitive or he would have peaked at double-A and be working 9-to-5.
Votto’s desire to be the highest paid can be traced to draft day, 2002, when the Reds took him in the second round.
We recall leaving a message to set up a picture. Votto phoned back around 8 o’clock — too late for a picture, but time for a story, so we began by saying “congrats ... guess it’s been a great day.”
“Not really,” said Votto. “My coach has been yelling at me all day for agreeing to sign for $600,000 ... when my slot was $900,000.
“I remember the guilt and shame I had that night. I thought how can I make up for it? That night I made up my mind to negotiate better in future on anything, whether my first home, or a car, or ...”
Or signing the fourth largest baseball contract in history and becoming Canada’s highest earning athlete.
His most influential coach with the Etobicoke Rangers — Bob Smyth — who may have been critical on draft day, has moved from Etobicoke to Ladysmith, B.C.
Once in a while a shipment arrives: Votto’s framed jersey from his debut with the Reds in 2007, Votto’s framed World Baseball Classic Team Canada top from 2009 and a duplicate of Votto’s MVP award from 2010.
The earnest pupil has not forgotten to say thanks to his teacher for all his lessons — hitting and life.
* * *
The highest paid Canadian athlete is not a hockey player?
“As the old saying goes,” said Reds’ hall of famer Joe Morgan, now a broadcaster, “they can’t hit a curve. Joey can.”
* * *
When he heard the words Votto didn’t know what to say.
“They’re offering a 10-year, $225-million extension,” his agent Dan Lozano told him.
Votto was stunned as he sat in his Arizona apartment.
“I didn’t say much,” he said. “It’s an incredible amount of money, but the years astounded me most. At the time it wasn’t ‘let’s celebrate.’”
The next day he sought out general manager Walt Jocketty at the Reds facility in Goodyear, Ariz. Votto shook Jocketty’s hand and said simply: “Really?”
He then thanked Jocketty, told him it was a great honour to receive such an offer and said his agent would be calling.
“He was pleasantly surprised, that we made that bold a bid,” Jocketty said.
Maybe Votto should not have been so shocked as the Reds signed free-agent Ardolis Champan to a six-year deal, worth $30.25 million and right-hander Johnny Cueto to a four-year, $27 million in 2010. This spring reliever Sean Marshall was given a three-year, $16.5 million extension.
For Votto though, it remained an offer.
* * *
“We know Joey,” said Reds assistant GM Bob Miller. “He’s not going to do anything rash. He’s going to think about things. The handshake was to say thanks. He’s courteous.”
* * *
What downside could there be to a 10-year, $225 million extension?
“It was a daunting situation,” said Votto. “The Reds were committing a high percentage of a their team payroll. Was it too much for a small-market team to give one player? What if they decided on a fire sale? What if they asked me to leave?”
Votto asked himself if he wanted to play that long.
He thought of going through the free-agent process, as any elite player would have after watching Peyton Manning whizzing from NFL city to another on private planes.
It would have been tempting, Votto said, to sit back and “pick a cool place to play.”
A big-time hoops fan, Votto gives a basketball analogy, saying if he was an NBA free agent, he probably wouldn’t sign with San Antonio.
“No offence to the city, but I doubt a lot of players would go there,” Votto said. “Now, if they phoned and said ‘hey do you want to play with Tim Duncan?’ That makes it a cool place to play.”
With two years remaining on his current deal, the 10-year extension offer and an option could carry him through 2024.
“I would be obligated to play here until I was 41 or 42,” Votto said. “At the end of the contract, when all is said and done, I’d have spent more than half my life ... 22 or 23 years with the Reds. It was a big decision.”
Votto spoke to Reds owner Bob Castellini about the team’s future. He sought advice from teammates Scott Rolen and Jay Bruce, his mother Wendy Votto and Smyth over a four-day period.
“As the days went on, after I talked more and more, I was thinking ‘you’re going to do this,’” Votto said. “Then, all I had to do was worry about the press conference.”
“Bobby told me ‘Joey you’ve got to take it.’
“When an adult, a father-figure says that it made me feel so proud,” Votto said.
* * *
Smyth, who can be called crusty on his upbeat days, was asked if he celebrated when Votto agreed to terms?
“Ha! I celebrate him every day,” Smyth growled. “He wants to buy me this dang MLB Extra Innings package. I said ‘Joey I don’t need it, I saw more pitches than you did ... and you were hitting.’”
The former coach asked why when his wife, Cathy Smyth phones or emails, Votto answers right away, yet when Smyth calls it takes three days for Votto to answer.
“Because,” Votto said, “I don’t always have three hours.”
* * *
There was talk about the Blue Jays and the Chicago Cubs chasing Votto at the trade deadline this July, in the off-season or the July trade deadline in 2013.
“Most elite players want to maximize the length of the contract, no matter the money,” Votto said.
The Jays had to acquire Votto by trade, because with their five-year maximum policy for contracts, it was unlikely they’d get him the free-agent route.
“It would be tough for a position player to sign for five years, no matter how fond a person is of the city, players have to maximize the number of years,” Votto told John Heyman of CBS Sports in mid-March.
Jays policies do have a way of changing. The Jays let Jim Clancy and Jimmy Key walk rather than giving them four-year deals.
Now, Jose Bautista and Ricky Romero are on five-year contracts.
Votto said he talks t Morgan, who played 116 games with the Oakland A’s at age 40. And Steve Nash, 38, of the Phoenix Suns who “has Votto’s ears,” after texting him when Votto won the AL MVP Award in 2010.
He watches every second of Roy Halladay’s preparation.
* * *
Marty Brennaman, the voice of the Reds since 1974, and a Ford. C. Frick winner said his audience was surprised by the financial outlay.
“There’s always a risk of injury with a long contract like that,” said Brennaman inside his booth. “If I had to pick a guy to give it to, he’d be the guy. His work ethic is unparalleled. His intensity sets him apart. It wasn’t so long ago (2006) when he was in contention for the triple crown at double-A Chattanooga, the ball club privately wondered where he’d play. He worked at it. Now he’s a Gold Glove first baseman.”
* * *
When Votto arrived in Cincinnati in 2007 as a September call up from triple-A Louisville he walked around downtown Cincinnati for two hours.
“I wanted to try and get a feel for the city, wanted to see who I was playing for,” Votto said.
He now lives with his girlfriend, Jeanne Paulus, on Mount Adams overlooking the city, 10 minutes east of the downtown core.
“Some visiting players come in, say the city is ugly,” Votto said. “I look out and all I see is the green of Ohio and Kentucky, a beautiful view, across the Ohio River in Covington and Newport.
Votto can see the Civil War battle fields.
The Underground Railroad Freedom Center is in Cincinnati, where slaves made their way north.
“Cincinnati is a prettier city than people give it credit for, I like it here, like the people,” Votto said. “They’re so polite.”
Votto praises Cincinnati for a lack of traffic, unlike his hometown Toronto, and how it’s a family-oriented city.
* * *
Tom Brennaman, Marty’s son, has worked Reds TV for the previous six years after breaking in with Johnny Bench doing Cincinnati TV in the late 1980s, before doing Chicago Cubs and Arizona Diamondbacks broadcasts. He tells of a 14-inning game the Reds lost to the Marlins on a throwing error in Miami in 2009.
“I couldn’t sleep, so about 6:30 a.m., I go downstairs to the exercise room,” he said. “I walk in and there’s Joey working out. That’s a guy I want leading my team.”
* * *
Votto shops for groceries at the Whole Foods Market.
“People recognize me, but they treat with me respect, they’re not overbearing,” he says. “Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Larkin told me that, they were right.”
His favourite restaurant in Cincy? Either Morton’s or a place called Nada, the few nights he takes out guests.
“When you are raised in a restaurant you really don’t want to go to one that often, I’d rather cook,” he says.
His late father Joe and mother Wendy ran The Meeting Place in Oakville for five years. Then Joe became head chef at the Island Yacht Club and at golf clubs. Wendy works is a sommelier at Via Allegro Ristorante in Etobicoke on weekends and for Fettah Wine Services during the week.
* * *
Hal McCoy had been covering the industry’s oldest franchise since 1973. The J.G. Taylor Spink award winner said Votto approached him after signing the new deal.
“He said ‘Hal, you’ve seen all the greats, Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Barry Larkin, Frank Robinson,’” McCoy recalled. “Then, Joey says ‘let me know if I ever get out of line.’”
* * *
We’ve all heard the manager say about a player “he’s the first here, the last to leave.”
That’s not Votto.
His average day consists of working out at 10 a.m., then taking a hockey player’s game-day nap of a couple of hours. Then he’ll take his dog to the Eden Park, which houses Krohn Conservatory, sit on a bench and toss the frisbee.
His dog, a mixed Lab, is named Maris. Roger Maris was born Sept. 10. Votto shares the same birthday.
Balance, Votto says, is important.
The biggest compliment Votto has received since the new deal might be the simplest and it is ...
“You deserved it.”
“It didn’t set in what it meant or how happy people were for me until about the 50th ‘you deserved it,’” Votto said.
Will Votto’s position as the highest paid Canadian athlete impact baseball enrollment across Canada?
“Hopefully more kids are drawn to baseball,” Votto said. “As long as kids are playing, staying out of trouble.”
* * *
“Do you need me?” Votto asked Reds public relations man Rob Butcher after a 7-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals Monday.
In a clubhouse that means: does anyone need me for an interview?
Votto had been hitless as Homer Bailey gave up three first-inning homers.
“No, not tonight,” answered Butcher, who won the 2006 Robert O. Fishel award.
As Votto headed to his locker, Butcher shook his head and said “he asks me that every night, I mean every night.”
How many players do that?
“Very, very, very few,” said Butcher, who broke in with the 1993 New York Yankees.
* * *
Votto, who can be heard on radio doing an ad for Cincinnati Bell, claims he doesn’t wake up to scan box scores.
“Later in the season I’ll check out how the better power guys, Miguel Cabrera, Jose Bautista and Albert Pujols, are doing.”
That’s the company he’s keeping.
“Votto is one of those scary hitters,” said Cleveland Indians manager Manny Acta, who sees the Reds during inter-league play and before that when he managed the Washington Nationals.
“Toronto has Bautista, the Angels have Albert,” Acta said. “Votto does play in a hitter’s park. His swing does not have any holes. He’s disciplined, he’ll get his 100 walks. He’s aggressive with discipline.”
Jocketty began working with the Oakland A’s in 1980, staying for 14 season, one year with the Colorado Rockies, 12 with St. Louis and he was hired by the Reds in 2008.
“In my years the two most dedicated, disciplined individuals I’ve ever seen were Mark McGwire and Albert Pujols,” said Jocketty. “Joey has that same dedication and discipline. He’ll come up and ask me ‘how did Albert do this, how did he do that?’ He wants to learn from experts.”
* * *
Marty Brennaman relates a story from a friend.
“He’s telling me how he’s taking his four-year-old to Cooperstown to see Larkin inducted in July,” Brennaman said. “He says ‘I saw Barry, I remember Barry. My son does not. It dawned on me my son may never get the chance to see a Reds hall of famer.
“Well, this guy Joey’s got a chance now that he’s going to be here.’”
Final two years of three-year $38 M
Extension $10 yrs $225 M
14: $12 M
15: $14 M
16: $20 M
17: $22 M
24: $20M club option ($7M buyout)
(full no-trade clause)
LARGEST AMOUNTS COMMITTED BY TEAMS TO CANADIANS
Name Year Amount Team Years Avg. Annual Salary
Joey Votto 12-yr $261.5 M, Reds, $20.9 M
Jason Bay, 4-yr, $66 M, Mets, $16.5 M
Justin Morneau, 6-yr $80 M, Twins $13.3 M
Ryan Dempster 4-yr, $52 M, Cubs 13 M
Steve Nash 6-yr $65 M, Suns, $10.833 M
Eric Gagne, 2-yr, $19 M, Dodgers, $9.5
Sidney Crosby, 5-yr $43.5 M, Penguins $8.7 M
Vincent Lecavalier, 11-yr, $85 M, Lightning $7.73 M
Steven Stamkos, 5-yr $37 M, Lightning $7.4 M
Jason Spezza, 7 yr $49 M Senators, $7 M
Mike Richards, 10-yr, $69 M, Flyers, $6.9 M
Brad Richards, 9-yrs $60 M NY Rangers $6.7
Rick Nash, 5-yr $27.5 M, Blue Jackets $5.5 M
Duncan Keith, 13-yr $72 M, Black Hawks, $5.54
Roberto Luongo, 12-yr, $64 M, Canucks, $5.3 M
TOP CANADIAN WAGE EARNERS THIS YEAR
Jason Bay, Mets, $18.125 M
Ryan Dempster, Cubs $14 M
Justin Morneau, Twins $14 M
Brad Richards, NY Rangers $12 M
Steve Nash, Suns, $11.7 M
Vincent Lecavalier, Lightning $10 M
Joey Votto, Reds $9.5 M
Sidney Crosby, Penguins $9 M
Duncan Keith, Black Hawks, $8 M
Jason Spezza, Senators, $8 M
Steven Stamkos, Lightning $8 M
Joe Thornton, Sharks, $8 M
CINCINNATI REDS MVPs
Joey Votto, 2010
*Barry Larkin, 1995
George Foster, 1977
*Joe Morgan, 1976-75
Pete Rose, 1973
*Johnny Bench, 1972, 1970
*Frank Robinson 1961
Frank McCormick, 1940
Bucky Walters, 1939
*Ernie Lombardi, 1938
(*Hall of Fame member)