Updated: Feb 5, 2020
Forbidden Love is a Cubs DNA series where our staff waxes poetic about a player on a team other than the Cubs. Maybe even one you think they should hate. In our first installment, Staci rhapsodizes about her love for Cincinnati Reds first baseman and MLB villain Joey Votto.
Courtesy of the Cincinnati Reds
"That man is a treasure." It was all I could think as I watched him stalk around shallow right field stomping on paper airplanes with more contempt than the average Cubs fan has for Ryan Braun. I didn't remember Joey Votto being this surly in years past. I had always had a little soft spot for him because he unreasonably reminded me of my husband. I also knew he was always a Cub Killer--if the man couldn't beat you by lacing a double into the gap, he'd simply annoy you by taking the most borderline pitches possible and working improbable walks at the most inopportune times. He was a perpetual base clogger. Or base clearer. Whatever you didn't want him to be against the Cubs, he was exactly that at exactly the wrong time. But this? This was something new.
You see, Joseph Daniel Votto was no longer content to just annoy opposing fans with his bat. Now, he had decided to actively troll other fan bases seemingly for his own devilish delight.
"You want this? Ehhhhh... nah."
As a known snark-bot myself, this new, "improved" version of Votto was something I found irresistible. I had always respected the man's baseball abilities--this is your 2010 National League MVP, after all. That year, he beat out a little known St. Louis Cardinals superstar named Albert Pujols with a .324/.424/.600 slash line and 6.9 fWAR, 37 home runs and 113 RBI for a Reds team that won the NL Central.
I bet you forgot how good Votto was in 2010, didn't you?
Many of those stats came at the expense of a very bad Cubs team that finished with a .463 "winning" percentage, of course, but how can you be mad at that sort of greatness? Plus, he beat out Pujols, and isn't that really the important thing for any Cubs fan?
But now Votto had taken up messing with fans as a hobby. You might spot him faking out a fan begging him for a foul ball, only to drop it in foul territory and walk away. Or even throwing a ball all the way onto the roof at Wrigley, daring fans to catch it as it rolled back down. Or my favorite--stomping paper airplanes at Dodgers Stadium to the chagrin of the thousands of people who didn't really come there to watch a baseball game. It was sports performance art, and I loved every second of it.
Savvy fans who paid attention, though, could see that Votto didn't really take himself as seriously as he might let on. In between all the trolling, Votto continued doing thoughtful interviews about the art of hitting just as he always had. He continued to be the player that is probably, actually your favorite player's favorite player, explicitly named as such by Kris Bryant (whither Bryzzo, Kris?) and his 2-strike approach showing up in the at-bats of guys like Anthony Rizzo. This is also a player who hadn't popped out to first base in his entire career until the 2019 season. I just... I mean... how?
On a more serious note, Votto also fostered a special friendship with young cancer patient Walter Herbert in early 2017 that even melted my cold, dead heart. Reds fans knew the 6 year-old superfan as "Superbubz," and Votto could be seen giving the boy high fives between innings whenever he was at the Great American Ballpark. Sadly, Herbert passed away in October of 2017 and Votto attended his visitation with no fanfare, no announcement, and wanted no special treatment. It appears that on the inside, our Joey does indeed have a heart. Perhaps a fairly large one.
Votto is also allegedly very polite. At least, Jerry Seinfeld and David Letterman would have you believe so, as he thanked them both for coming to games while they were in progress. He might also be a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in his spare time, riding a horse named Nibbles that he even brings to the ballpark with him.
I'm sorry, but that's hot.
Joey clearly knows how to have fun with the media. The excellent Reds social media accounts love him, and I can't imagine he protests much. From inserting him into famous memes:
To helpfully trolling naysayers with his stats:
#AtReds understands the value of a charismatic villain just as much as I do. Or maybe a future school district employee? As recently as last season, Votto expressed his burning desire to be a school bus driver when he retires. The fun thing is I think he was serious! Every mom in the school will fight each other to chaperone the field trips, and I will need a video of it thank you very much.
Our dear Joey had a rough season in 2019 with a .261/.357/.411 slash line--all lows in what has been a stellar, HOF caliber career. Do I think he's in decline? Perhaps, but my bet is on our cunning hero to figure it out this offseason so he can come back in 2020 and torture us in only the way he can. You may not love him for it, but I guarantee you that I'll be smirking through the pain.
See you in 2020, suckers!