CINCINNATI — Anybody who ever put on a Little League baseball uniform at some time heard his coach yell at him while he was in the batter’s box: “Don’t swing at any bad ones, a walk is as good as a hit.”
Joey Votto still subscribes to that mantra and is not about to change to satisfy dissatisfied fans.
There are those in Cincinnati Reds country who believe Votto takes too many walks, takes too many close pitches, that he should be the team’s RBI man by swinging at marginal pitches with runners in scoring position.
Votto leads the National League with walks and it isn’t even close. He has 95, 14 more than the second most, 81 to teammate Shin Soo-Choo.
Because of the walks and a .316 batting average, Votto also lead the National League in on-base average and it isn’t even close, either. He is at .434, .019 higher than the second best, also Choo at .415.
“Pitchers can be kind of picky when they face me,” Votto said. “I strike out a lot (106) walk a lot and that leads to a lot of balls not put into play.
“But I’m hitting for a high average (.316),” he added. “It is a real, real difficult game and to be successful you just can’t swing at anything. I’m an extremely greedy player. I come from the Pete Rose school of playing ball — take every last ounce of this game that you can get by paying respect to your opposition and playing at the highest level and doing the best you can for your team. And if that last ounce ends up being a walk, that’s all I can do.”
Votto doesn’t go up looking for a walk, plotting to take a base on balls because he says, “I’m a greedy blankety-blank and I want every single RBI, I want every every single run, I want every single home run. But I can’t do it, I can’t do it.”
Votto says he hears the mumbling of discontent about taking too many walks and not driving in a box car full of runs.
“Yeah, sure, I hear the complaints and I think they are unfounded,” he said. “People think I’ve switched my hitting approach in general, but I’m the exact same guy, the exact same greedy blankey-blank. I do other things, too. I’m in the top five in batting average om the top five in slugging. I just have to be more efficient with it because I get less opportunities, but that’s OK.
“All I want to do is do what I can,” said the 29-year-old first baseman who heard no complaints in 2010 when he took 91 walks and won the National League MVP. “Sometimes I take a pitch, but I might be timing a pitch and looking at it for a future swing. Sometimes I take a pitch in the middle of the plate and people say, ‘Ah, man, how can he take that pitch with runners in scoring position?’ Well, if I don’t see that pitch why swing. And it might result in a better swing later in the at-bat and a better day in general.
“Sometimes being passive is better in the long run,” Votto added. “Sometimes there is a pitcher you just can’t read, there are shadows, thousands of reasons. But sometimes I just need to see the ball to prepare my timing. Nothing drives me crazier, nothing, than going up to the plate ill-prepared and rushing to the first available pitch and making a quick out. That’s when I’m at my angriest.
“I’d much rather have tougher at-bats, see more pitches and do what I’m doing now,” he said. “I don’t want to go just go up and flail at pitches because that approach does not work for me in the long run. I’ve tried it and it just doesn’t work for me.”
Votto goes historical, not hysterical, when RBIs are discussed. He has 58 to the 91 owned by clean-up hitter Brandon Phillips.
“I’ve looked up Mickey Mantle’s years, Ted Williams’ years, Barry Bonds’ years — guys who walked a lot — and some years those guys only drove in 70 or 80 or 90 runs and they were hitting 45 home runs. And I only have 18. I walked 120 or 130 times it becomes quite difficult to drive in all those runs. I have hit some balls very hard when I’ve chances to drive in runs and guys were standing there making cathes. That’s part of the game.”
Votto is acutely aware of how he is perceived. Those on the inside, those who see him every day, know there isn’t player on the planet who outworks him or prepares more than he does.
“I just hope the fans know that as long as I put a uniform on I’m in survival mode, always trying to do the very best I can,” he said. “Always trying to get the last drop of everything I have.”