Votto on '24 decision: 'I just don’t have an answer yet'

Reds' star ejected after 1 at-bat in potential final game with Cincinnati

October 2nd, 2023

ST. LOUIS -- It hasn't been determined if Joey Votto's days with the Reds are coming to an end with his contract about to expire. But if Sunday was the first baseman's final game with Cincinnati, it ended uniquely -- and quickly.

During the Reds' 4-3 loss to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium, Votto got only one at-bat before he was ejected following the bottom of the first inning. Tossed by home plate umpire Shane Livensparger, it was his 15th career ejection.

"He had come out of the dugout and started yelling that I had missed a pitch and started arguing balls and strikes," Livensparger said. "That’s when he was removed from the game."

In the top of the first inning against Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas, Votto struck out on a foul tip and returned to the dugout.

At some point after the bottom of the first, Votto checked the video of the plate appearance. A 1-1 pitch that appeared to be inside was called for a second strike. Two pitches earlier, Mikolas located a pitch in the same spot that Livensparger called a ball.

Upon being ejected while still in the dugout, Votto went onto the field with manager David Bell. After the conversation ended, Votto offered a friendly pat to a pair of umpires and headed off.

"Typically, the umpire will allow a little bit of space to debate, argue or disagree with a call in the box immediately after the call. But unfairly, I went back and checked the video and started griping about a call," Votto said. "I really do get along with the umpires and I have nothing but respect for them.

"Here I am hollering at them, screaming at them from our dugout. Rightfully so, he ejected me. The game has to continue and I’m interrupting the game. Actually, [Livensparger] was excellent. … He handled it as professionally as he could. I, in that instance, let emotions get the better of me.”

Tyler Stephenson replaced Votto at first base. Livensparger did not take Votto's personal situation in mind when tossing him from the game.

"By rule, once he argues balls and strikes like that … I did give him one shot and asked him what was the problem, and when he continued arguing, that’s when he was removed," Livensparger said.

While the game continued, Votto apologized on social media for being ejected.

“Every game, I want to play the entire game for the people that come to the games, for the people who watch at home, for people who follow the individual careers, I take pride in making it through a game," Votto said. "And I didn’t today. And on the last day of the season, it’s unfortunate.”

Votto, 40, has completed a 10-year, $225 million contract extension he signed in 2012. It comes with a 2024 club option worth $20 million with a $7 million buyout.

The Reds, including president of baseball operations Nick Krall, have not indicated whether the option will be exercised. A decision will be due shortly after the World Series. If he became a free agent for the first time, Votto could return to the Reds or extend his career with another club if he feels like he can still play.

A career-worst 2022 season was halted after 91 games when Votto had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and biceps in his left shoulder. He continued to deal with the shoulder's limitations this season after debuting in June.

Over 65 games this season, Votto batted .202 with a .747 OPS, 14 home runs and 38 RBIs. Over his 17 seasons -- all with the Reds -- he is second in franchise history with 356 home runs and a .920 OPS while amassing 2,135 hits. A six-time National League All-Star, he was the 2010 NL MVP and received MVP votes in eight other seasons.

Votto did not start the previous four games for Cincinnati, although Bell noted he was healthy and available. As for 2024, Bell voiced support for Votto but also deferred the question on his status.

“I want Joey to go through that process. I want Nick and the organization to go through that process," Bell said before Sunday's game. "I love having Joey part of this team. I love everything he does for our team. Yes, it starts with being a player that helps us win. But for us, there is a lot more to it. I’ve loved and love having him on our team. I love everything he does, everything he brings and everything about who he is.”

In an organic moment on Sept. 24 vs. the Pirates during the final Reds home game of the season at Great American Ball Park, Votto received a standing ovation before his first plate appearance. Acknowledging the moment, he stepped out of the batter's box and raised his helmet to fans.

Another ovation came later in the game after he singled in his final at-bat of the day and was replaced by a pinch-runner. Votto emerged from the dugout for a curtain call and later shared his appreciation after the game.

Before Sunday's game, pitcher Adam Wainwright received an emotional sendoff from the Cardinals as he heads off for retirement. While certainly appropriate for Wainwright's great career, getting that type of extra attention or a farewell tour around the league -- like Miguel Cabrera received with the Tigers -- has never been Votto's style.

Votto, who has always preferred to be out of the spotlight, was not ready to discuss his future.

"As far as my future, my individual future, I’m still not there yet," Votto said. "I have been praised and given so much attention this last stretch, I’ve been conflicted in that I’ve appreciated it and I recognize it and I’m grateful for it. But then there is the competitive side of me that’s like, ‘Just let me compete today.' I don’t want to distract myself with anything but today’s competition [or], ‘How can I help the team? How can I help push us forward towards a playoff berth?’ A lot has happened at once. I recognize the support. I recognize the interest, but I just don’t have an answer yet. We’ll see.

"I can promise you this: Whenever I am done playing, I will speak it. It will be fun and funny. I will give it the attention the fans deserve. I will give it the attention those that have supported me and our team deserve. I’m not there, but I can promise you, you’ll enjoy it."