CINCINNATI -- As the Brewers clinched a postseason berth in front of the Reds on Wednesday with a 9-2 victory at Great American Ball Park, it was a sad reminder for first baseman Joey Votto that he would be spending another October idle from baseball’s biggest and best time of the year.
Votto didn’t mince words about his frustration with 2019 on Wednesday, voicing his disappointment about a sixth consecutive losing season for the only club that he’s ever played for since he made his debut in ‘07.
“We absolutely have to be a better team for the city, for the fan base. We can't keep talking about next year, next year, next year,” Votto said before Wednesday's game against the Brewers. “It's unacceptable.”
While the 88-70 Brewers sprayed champagne in their clubhouse postgame, and have a chance to challenge the first-place Cardinals for the National League Central division title at 1 1/2 games back, the fourth-place Reds are 73-85 and a season-high 16 1/2 games out.
Votto saved his most pointed comments for himself, however, and assumed blame for his own shortcomings. He vowed to continue battling for improvement and hasn’t reached the point of considering walking away into retirement.
“This year is an awful year for me,” Votto said. “I have lots of moments where I think about making bold claims and bold decisions. I like a challenge. I'm always -- I always believe in myself. Personally, my performance this year, I really feel like it's just not good enough. I didn't help the team enough this year. There were long stretches where I was a liability in important parts of the season. ... for sure, the worst year of my career.”
Votto, who turned 36 earlier this month, is enduring a second consecutive subpar year for Cincinnati following a 2017 season when he came close to winning his second National League MVP Award. After going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts Wednesday, he is batting .269/.363/.421 with 15 home runs and 47 RBIs through 139 games. Votto's 104 OPS+ entering the day is the lowest of his career.
It’s been a better final two months of the season for Votto, who made adjustments to his hitting approach. He discontinued choking up on the bat and stands more upright in the batters' box. In Votto's last 25 games, he batted .310 with three homers. He wasn’t ready to explore what he needs to do to get back on track for a whole season.
“I really think I need to step away and just take as much time away from the game as possible, just kind of recharge,” Votto said. “This is a taxing six months for me, personally. As a team, six straight losing seasons is very frustrating. After a while, looking across the field, you see teams playing meaningful games, it's very frustrating being the team on the other side trying to interrupt those strong finishes.”
Votto has $107 million in guaranteed money remaining over the final four seasons of his contract, with a club option for 2024 -- when he will be 40. He stated that he would retire before the contract ends if he was dissatisfied or not having fun anymore.
“I don’t think very often about the money,” Votto said. “I’ve worn the same uniform my entire career. I do feel like -- as melodramatic as this potentially is -- there is a story and a beginning, middle and end to it. I don’t feel like I want to end it abruptly without saying thank you to the fans and thank you to the front office and ownership who have supported me. Yeah, I’ve had my moments where I’ve been really, really frustrated and thought a good deal about non-baseball, but you know, I don’t think I’m there yet.
“I don’t think I would have fun coming out and just collecting paychecks and facing favorable matchups and taking more days off. I just don’t think that would resonate with me. … I’ve been speaking to some former superstar-caliber players that have finished their career and was just getting feedback from them and taking inspiration from them. I feel like they can relate a lot to my experience because -- without naming names -- in the heart of their careers, they had downturns and they made the adjustment and flourished at the end. They’re my inspiration, and from their perspective, they’re watching their careers firsthand and reliving their own experiences through me. It’s interesting.”
Votto also doesn’t want to do what many championship-starved players in all sports have done for generations by moving to a different team ready-made to contend for a World Series title. He has a full no-trade clause in the 10-year extension he signed before the 2012 season.
“Winning a World Series really isn’t as much of a priority for me in another uniform,” Votto said. “I don’t think it would be as satisfying. It wouldn’t be mine, if that makes sense, joining a club that is on the precipice of winning a World Series. It just wouldn’t feel like I was very much really a part of it. These six straight years, it’s almost like it’ll make winning a World Series in this uniform, in this city, that much more satisfying.
"I was driving to work today and drove through The Banks [downtown neighborhood] and I thought about winning a World Series. I thought about getting on the mic and telling everybody, ‘Drinks are on me. Everybody meet me at so-and-so.’ I don’t know. It’s the sort of thing that you can tell a story with.”