In a split second, competitive Joey Votto pushed aside respectful Joey Votto.
The Cincinnati Reds star had just finished discussing how St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols had offered his time and words of advice during a batting practice session in 2008. Then Votto set the stage in what might be the beginnings of a long-standing rivalry between the first basemen.
"I'd be lying if I said next year I'm [going to try] to steal that Gold Glove from him or the Silver Slugger," the award given to the best offensive player at each position.
Toronto-born Votto brought the NL most valuable player award back to Canada after a 13-year absence, earning 31 of 32 first-place votes and 443 points from the Baseball Writers' Association of America to best Pujols, who had prevailed the two previous years.
Reds' NL MVP recipients
- Barry Larkin, 1995: .319 average, 51 stolen bases
- George Foster, 1977: .320, 52 home runs, 145 RBIs
- Joe Morgan, 1976: .320, 27 HR, 60 SB
- Morgan, 1975: .329, 94 RBIs, 67 SB
- Pete Rose: 1973: .338, 230 hits
- Johnny Bench, 1972: 40 HR, 125 RBIs
- Bench, 1970: 45 HR, 148 RBIs
- Frank Robinson, 1961: .323, 37 HR, 124 RBIs
- Frank McCormick: 1940: .309, 127 RBIs
- Bucky Walters, 1939: 27-11 record, 2.29 ERA, 319 innings
- Ernie Lombardi, 1938: .342, 19 HR, 95 RBIs
The 12 MVPs are tied with the San Francisco Giants for second in the NL behind the Cardinals (17).
"I was shocked. I didn't think it would be so conclusive," Votto said on a conference call with reporters one hour after Monday's MVP announcement. "I missed out on unanimous by one. Surprised. I'm really surprised. I have no other words to use."
The 27-year-old is the 12th Cincinnati Reds player and third Canadian to win a Major League Baseball MVP award, joining first-ballot Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Larry Walker (1997, NL) and current Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau (2006, American League).
Pujols, who was gunning for his fourth NL MVP honour, picked up the other first-place vote and garnered 279 points to finish second, while Colorado Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez was third with 240 points. Players are awarded 14 points for first place, nine for second, eight for third and on down to one for 10th.
"It's pretty frickin' awesome to have beaten Albert Pujols for the MVP," Votto said, adding he became quite nervous about Monday's announcement some 24 hours earlier. "I was a pretty efficient player all year. I stole some bases, I got on base. I did some good things and most importantly, we won. We went to the playoffs [for the first time since 1995].
"He beat me in runs, he beat me in RBIs, home runs, a couple of others. I beat him in a few more of the qualitative stats. I think it was a toss-up."
In 2010, Votto established career highs in batting average (.324, second in NL), homers (37, third), RBIs (113, third) and on-base percentage (.424).
I'm so proud of Votto: Whitt
It was probably one of the easiest decisions in Ernie Whitt's managerial career.
Whitt, the former Toronto Blue Jays catcher, put on-base machine Joey Votto third in the Canadian batting order at the 2009 World Baseball Classic — a spot generally reserved for a team's best all-round hitter — and watched the Cincinnati Reds first baseman lead the club in hitting (.556) and total bases (10).
"He's very easy to manage, and he goes out and plays hard," Whitt told CBCSports.ca. "As a manager, that's what you want your players to do."
That strong work ethic helped Votto capture the National League MVP Award on Monday as he picked up 31 of 32 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers' Association of America to defeat Albert Pujols 443-279 in points, and halt the St. Louis Cardinals slugger's two-year reign.
"Nothing really came easy for him. He had to work to get where he's at," said Whitt of Votto, who spent 5½ seasons in the minor leagues. "He plays the game the right way with pride and passion.
"I'm just so proud of him and very happy for him and his family," said Whitt, now the catching co-ordinator with the Philadelphia Phillies.
He ranked in the top three in 11 offensive categories — leading in six, including on-base percentage and slugging percentage (.600) — finished top five in 15 categories and top eight in 18.
Votto also reached first base in a career-best 41 consecutive games from May 15 to July 3 — the longest streak for a Reds batter since Pete Rose reached the mark in 48 straight contests in 1978.
Recalling that day with Pujols around the batting cage, Votto said he was impressed by his opponent's generosity.
"There's something about a player of that magnitude pulling you in and saying, 'It's OK, we can talk. Don't be a rookie right now, we're going to talk like men,' " Votto said. "I think he made me feel comfortable and a little more confident.
"It was nice to speak to somebody who's been there and done that when it comes to everything."
After finishing runner-up in NL rookie of the year voting in 2008, there was talk of a possible breakout season for Votto in 2009, but anxiety and depression issues — stemming from the sudden death of his father, Joseph, the previous year — cost Votto 31 games.
Votto said he had a difficult time getting over his father's death and still finds it hard to deal with at times now.
"It's hard when you lose someone in your life that means so much," he said. "It was a difficult 2009 and quite a bit less difficult in 2010, and I think that was definitely a big reason why I was able to stay on the ball field every day and succeed and make progress and feel better about life."
Votto had a knack for stepping up his play when the stakes were raised. Entering the final day of the 162-game regular season, he had hit .374 with men on base, .369 with runners in scoring position, .357 from the seventh inning on and belted 27 homers that either tied games, put the Reds ahead, brought them within a run or broke open a one-run game.
"It's hard to believe he was left off the original 2010 NL all-star roster, but Votto secured the final spot after 13.7 million ballots were cast for him online through MLB.com's All-Star Final Vote.
Small fish in big pond
"You know what's funny," said Votto. "When I got [to the all-star game] I saw the A-Rods, the Pujols's, the [Derek] Jeters and I thought, 'I just got fourteen million for the fan voting and I'm still the small fish in the big pond."
He hopes Monday's victory will inspire young Canadian ball players and aspiring major leaguers.
"I know guys like Justin Morneau [of New Westminster, B.C.] and Larry Walker [of Maple Ridge, B.C.] and Jeff Francis [of North Delta, B.C.] have had a big impact on the West Coast of Canada. I hope myself and a guy like [Los Angeles Dodgers catcher] Russell Martin [of East York, Ont.] make an impact on the East Coast," said Votto, who played five-and-a-half seasons in the minor leagues before he was a September call-up in 2007.
The private Votto doesn't feel the added fame of being an MVP will make a big difference as far as being stopped on the streets of Cincinnati or in visiting cities.
"I've spoken to Justin Morneau and he says there is definitely some difference, but it's not overwhelming. It's nothing we can't handle or adjust to."
Pujols, 30, hit a career-low .313 and was comparable to Votto in homers (42), RBIs (118) and on-base percentage (.414). Where the Cardinals first baseman probably lost a few votes is the fact Votto played a large role in Cincinnati gaining its first playoff berth since 1995, with St. Louis finishing five games back in the NL Central.
Pujols's three MVP victories and four runner-up finishes match that of another Cardinals great, Stan Musial.
At 24, Gonzalez could be part of the MVP discussion for years to come after hitting a robust .336 in his third full season in the majors with 34 homers, 117 RBIs and 26 stolen bases in 34 attempts. Car-Go hit .380 with 26 dingers and 76 RBIs in 74 games playing in the thinner air at Coors Field in Denver.
Votto, on the other hand, was a more imposing batter away from Cincinnati's hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park (.349 average to .297 at home) with fairly even homer/RBI production — 18, 56 at home and 19, 57 on the road.
Votto, along with Pujols and Gonzalez — the only players on every ballot — sparked talk of a Triple Crown race in the second half of the season. Joe Medwick was the last player to lead the NL in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in, accomplishing the feat in 1937.
"Albert is the great player," Votto said. "Myself and Carlos Gonzalez, we're learning how to be major leaguers and trying to establish ourselves, and I think Carlos would agree with that."
It's the 15th time a first baseman has won the NL MVP. Pujols's three lead the way, followed by Musial, Ryan Howard, Frank McCormick, Dolph Camilli, Phil Cavarretta, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, Steve Garvey, Willie Stargell, Keith Hernandez and Jeff Bagwell.
Rounding out the top five in Monday's voting are San Diego Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez (.298, 31 homers, 101 RBIs) with 197 points and Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (.315, 27-95) with 132 points.