By: Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
Within just a few hours, he became both the man named the No. 1 Most Influential Canadian in Baseball and the highest-profile Canuck to decline a roster spot on Team Canada at the upcoming World Baseball Classic.
The 33-year-old first baseman is undoubtedly one of the best in the game right now, making him simultaneously as impressive as he is disappointing, at least for those hoping to see the veteran big leaguer represent his home and native land against international competition as Canada looks to advance out of the opening round of the WBC for the first time.
Hailing from Etobicoke, Ont., Votto is one of the most talented players ever born north of the border, originally drafted as a second-round bargain by the Cincinnati Reds out of Richview Collegiate Institute in 2002.
Votto won the National League MVP award in 2010, he’s a four-time All-Star, a Gold Glover, and at the beginning of December he won his sixth Tip O’Neill award, an honour that goes to the Canadian player “judged to have excelled in individual achievement and team contribution while achieving the highest ideals of the game of baseball.”
Turning down the invitation to play for Canada in March, Votto released a statement through the Reds saying, “I have decided to decline this year’s WBC event. There were some aspects of my performance in 2016 that I have decided were lacking. I would like to use 2017 Spring Training for preparation.
“I am thankful to the Baseball Canada program for inviting me to join the team. It is an honor to represent my country. I made this decision with much reflection because of the pride I have wearing the Canadian flag on my uniform. I look forward to cheering the team on and watching them win the 2017 event.”
During the 2016 season, he hit .326/.434/.550 with 29 home runs, 34 doubles, 101 runs scored, 97 driven in, and 108 walks to 120 strikeouts over 158 games. Votto led the National League in both on-base percentage and with his 160 OPS+. In the second half, the first baseman was seemingly unstoppable, leading the majors with a .408/.490/.668 slash line, a .478 wOBA, and 201 wRC+, and leading the NL with 4.0 WAR, behind only Mike Trout’s 4.1 mark after the All-Star Break.
It would be easy to question Votto’s use of the word “lacking,” though baseball has never been short on critics, and performance can be broken down in so many different categories that there are plenty of ways for anyone to see the glass half empty.
Also not hard to find are reasons to criticize the infielder’s patriotism, dedication to his Team Canada teammates, allegiance to the national team program and more. It wouldn’t take long to find the line of players who would do anything to take his place in the red-and-white jersey, nor will it take any time at all in March to understand that competing for Canada at the WBC is the best thing that some of those players will ever do.
But he made a decision from a position that no one else is in.
And it is probably next to impossible to try to understand Joseph Daniel Votto.
He’s a guy who, before a spring training game a couple of seasons ago, turned to one of his teammates and said, “Watch this.” Votto told him he was going to hit 10 foul balls into the opposite dugout that afternoon. That was his goal.
When he got up to the plate for his first at-bat, he hit the first pitch he saw into that dugout. Second pitch, same thing. After taking and fighting off a few more pitches, Votto eventually struck out. He came back to the home bench, excited, and nodded and smiled at his teammate, who just shook his head. A couple of at-bats later, he was 0-for-3, he had achieved his objective, and was heading out of the ballpark satisfied with the day.
Votto is also a guy who rolled up to another day of spring training in a brand new Ferrari garnering the attention of – likely everyone, but – two minor leaguers in particular. They worked up the courage to ask the vet if they could take a picture with it, even going so far as to stretch the request to get a picture sitting in it.
By the time the pre-season game finished that day and those minor league players were free to go, Votto was long gone. But he had left them a gift. The keys to their low-end rental car were missing, and in their place were the keys to the Ferrari.
There was no note, no words had been exchanged, and because they had no idea when they might have to give the luxury vehicle back, they spent the first night with it driving in circles around Scottsdale. Votto exchanged the keys a week later.
He’s a guy who very few seem to understand. He spends time in the cage skimming balls on the net, jamming himself inside, and working in ways that no one around him has even ever seen before. Votto declined an opportunity to play for Team Canada to do what he needs to do in order to improve his performance.
It’s hard for those of us not at his level – anyone and everyone – to get that, because his performance exceeds so many of the traditional expectations. That’s what makes him the best. Votto has spent 10 seasons in the big leagues, racked up 9.027 years of service time at the highest level, earned a number of accolades and has achieved more than everyone outside of a handful of people, if that many.
What he’s doing seems to be working for him. The remaining hope now – aside from a national team unaffected by his absence – is that he will have more opportunities to represent his country in the future, as one of the most influential Canadians in baseball.