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Opinion: If you love Joey Votto, you have to let him go

a bald man in a white cincinnati reds uniform looks up and waves at the crowd inside great american ball park
Aaron Doster
Cincinnati Reds' Joey Votto acknowledges the crowd after being taken out of what was likely his last game as a Reds player in Cincinnati, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023.

Like most lifelong fans of the Cincinnati Reds, I feel sadness in saying goodbye to Joseph Daniel Votto.

But no anger. No bitterness toward the Reds management.

Just acceptance of the inevitable.

As Joey himself has said many times, Father Time is undefeated. In baseball, as in life.

Seventeen seasons is a lifetime in big league baseball. Plenty of time to sit back and admire the skill, the grace, the humanity of a ballplayer like Joey. It has been a privilege, a pleasure.

I want to be there in Cooperstown on the day when JDV is inducted into the National Hall of Fame, even if they have to wheel me in on a stretcher.

I want to be there to see this remarkable human become a baseball immortal, alongside so many of my Reds heroes of the past — Frank Robinson, Joe Morgan, Barry Larkin and the rest.

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Over the weekend, thousands of Reds fans poured out their anger and frustration when they learned the Reds, at the end of a 10-year contract that saw Votto earn $225 million, had declined to pick up a $20 million option for the 2024 season.

Instead, they gave Joey a $7 million buyout and made him a free agent for the first time in his career.

joey votto, in a red baseball jersey and white baseball pants, mid swing
Ross D. Franklin
Cincinnati Reds' Joey Votto watches his home run against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the second inning of a spring training baseball game Sunday, April 3, 2022, in Scottsdale, Ariz.

It ended a 22-year run with the Reds organization that began when he was selected by the team in the second round of the 2002 amateur draft, coming from Richview Collegiate Institute in his hometown of Toronto.

I first saw him play in 2004 when he was playing for the Reds single-A farm team, the Dayton Dragons. The tall, skinny kid caught my eye — mainly because of his intensity at the plate.

In a game where you are considered a success as a batter even if you fail to get a hit seven out of every 10 times you walk to the plate, young Votto had a look of complete concentration in every at-bat. He was determined to succeed.

I liked him immediately.

He kept that same intensity, even in the 2023 season, when he turned 40 and was still recovering from major surgery. He saw his batting average fall to a career low of .202. But even then, he would rise to a occasion with a home run or a game-winning RBI.

There was a moment this September at Great American Ball Park when I knew I was watching Joey Votto play his final home game in Cincinnati. I am sure Votto knew it, too.

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It was September 24, the last home game of the season, and Joey was playing first base. He struck out in his first two at-bats — once looking, once swinging — and, in the sixth, reached base when he was hit by a pitch.

Votto came up to bat again in the 8th and stroked a solid single to centerfield.

Reds manager David Bell, sensing this would be Votto's last base hit at GABP, took him out of the game for a pinch-runner. Bell knew what would happen and he wanted Joey to be able to savor the moment.

As Joey walked to the dugout, the entire crowd of 31,191 fans — including me, sitting in section 418 — rose to its feet and let loose with a thunderous, heartfelt outpouring of admiration and affection for their hero.

Joey popped out of the dugout, tipped his cap, pointing to the crowd in every part of the ball park. It was his way of saying, thank you, fans. I did it for you. I couldn’t have done it without you.


Then, on Saturday, with an email from Nick Krall, president of baseball operations, the inevitable became real.

Krall said it wasn't about the money. Rather, he said, it was about playing time. Joey, at his age, was not going to get much — particularly with the world-class crop of young baseball talent that emerged this season.

They are the future of the franchise. They must play. And, if they play, they will do great things.

Joey Votto is, for the first time in many Reds' fans living memory, no longer a Cincinnati Red.

two reds baseball players bumping elbows on the field
Aaron Doster
Cincinnati Reds' Eugenio Suarez (7) celebrates hitting a two-run home run with Joey Votto (19) during the eighth inning of an exhibition baseball game against the Detroit Tigers at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Tuesday, July 21, 2020. The Reds won 9-7.

He clearly wants to play another season. He has said so in multiple interviews over the past few days.

Joey is a free agent now. He will test the free agent market. I can't imagine any team paying him anywhere near $20 million at this point.

But he loves the game. He wants to play. He deserves to play.

And, if he doesn't find the new baseball home he wants, there is nothing to stop the Reds from trying to sign him again to a much smaller, one-year contract as a part-time player.

A possibility, but I wouldn't count on it.

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Joey Votto is a highly intelligent man, and a generous man who gives of himself to others. He is intensely curious about the world around him.

No, he doesn't want to be tied down to being a full-time coach. Or a manager.

That's just people who want desperately to cling to him; people who find it incredibly hard to say goodbye.

It's understandable.

But from the perspective of a Reds fan who cried in November 1965 when the Reds traded Frank Robinson, we have to let him go.

There is so much to look forward to with this young Reds team. It's a new era of Reds baseball. And it will be a fun ride.

We had Joseph Daniel Votto for 17 seasons.

Let's be grateful for what we have had and not sad over what we have lost.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.