Bob Elliott's Baseball: Joey Votto's actions have always spoken louder than his words

From fund-raising and awareness efforts, to straight-up financial donations, Joey Votto has demonstrated he hasn't forgotten where he came from, nor the people who helped get him to the major leagues.

Toronto-born Cincinnati Reds star deserves a pass for his comments on Canadian baseball

Bob Elliott writes Joey Votto's comments about Baseball Canada are not indicative of his actions toward the organization and his home country. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

A few days after the tragic Humboldt bus crash, Joey Votto reached out asking if I could help him acquire a Humboldt Strong T-shirt.

One-dimensional me, I contacted a few people in the hockey world and some baseball people in Saskatchewan. No success. 

It didn't matter. When the Cincinnati Reds visited the Minnesota Twins in Minneapolis on April 27, there was Votto in the dugout, being interviewed by fellow Canadian Justin Morneau, the Twins' Dapper Dan broadcaster wearing a blue suit, while Votto sported a green Humboldt Strong shirt.

Before that we saw highlights showing he wrote "#Humboldt Strong" on his cleats to raise awareness in the early days of the GoFundMe page.

After the carnage on Yonge Street, Votto wrote "Const. Ken Lam" on his cleats as a tribute to the Toronto police hero who ended the standoff without gunfire. He sent his cleats to Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos, who presented the game-worn cleats to Lam. 

The Etobicoke Rangers seniors baseball team is sporting new jerseys this season. They arrived last Friday, a project fully funded by Votto, the most famous Etobicoke Rangers grad of all.

When he began spending his winters in Toronto, Votto would work out at Denny Berni's Pro Teach Baseball. There are posters of Votto inside the indoor facility where, as a high schooler, Votto spent hours hitting until his hands bled.

Votto has his own key to the place. Sometimes his workout session will overlap with a peewee team or a bantam club. When he's done he often hangs around and answers questions from parents. On more than one night Canada's highest-paid athlete provided somebody a worthwhile perspective.

A regular at the annual Baseball Canada fundraiser, he and Andrew Albers were the only 2017 Canuck major leaguers on hand this January.

Does that sound like someone who would say, "I don't care almost at all about Canadian baseball?"
Do any of these actions sound like a man who would actually mean, "as far as Toronto, and Canadian baseball, and the country of Canada, and (James Paxton) being Canadian, I don't care at all?" as he said in his Yahoo! Sports MLB Podcast.

Votto made those comments to Yahoo's Tim Brown two days into the Reds' four-game weekend sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Votto also vented about the Reds' poor start to the season.

But the Canadian angle did not really take off in the news cycle until Tuesday night, which is when Votto contacted me and said he would "try to make things right."

Less than 40 minutes later his apology arrived via email and was posted on the Canadian Baseball Network.

I've read on the Twitter machine people said it was fine work "for a publicist." We doubt that.

Votto was wrong with his words about Paxton, about Canada and about Canadian baseball. 

He apologized Tuesday and asked for forgiveness.

He went on Sportsnet's Blue Jays pregame show before Wednesday afternoon's Jays-New York Mets game and apologized.

And later, he answered questions on a conference call set up by the Reds. 

It's time to move on. 

A former Canadian first-rounder sent a text: "It's understandable why he would be upset about not making teams. We have all felt that at some point or another. Winning an NL MVP award is a heck of an 'I told you so.' It's too bad this happened because he hasn't ever really been a guy that relishes the spotlight. He always believed in his ability, right down to his tireless work habits and extreme focus."

When it comes to the national team selections, many areas of the country — from Abbotsford, B.C., to Windsor Ont., to Montreal — can feel overlooked at times. In the case of Etobicoke, it often feels overlooked. In more than 40 years only Greg O'Halloran, Warren Sawkiw and Henry Andrulis have been selected for Canada's national team.

Besides Votto, an Etobicoke player will tell you major leaguer Shawn Hill, plus minor leaguers John Suomi, Connor Panas and many others, should have received the call.

During a game in April, Joey Votto paid tribute to the victims and survivors of the Humboldt bus crash. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

I read where someone called Votto a traitor to his team. And what did Robinson Cano do for his team lately? We have all put our foot in our mouth. I used to do it all the time on The Fan with Bob McCown. 

Here is what I know about Votto. He is an intense workaholic with a knowledge of the strike zone better than some umpires. Six times he has led the National League in on-base percentage.

And one other thing, which probably reveals the most about him: of any player I have known since covering the 1978 Montreal Expos, only Roy Halladay and Pat Hentgen have treated those who helped them on the way up with the same respect.

Halladay was drafted in 1995 and that Christmas, he and his father stopped by the house of Bus Campbell, his pitching coach for four years, to install a satellite dish with the MLB package.

When Hentgen, a fifth-round pick, won the 1996 Cy Young award, he gave Jays scout Don Wilkie a Rolex watch inscribed with: "I wouldn't have been here without you."

Bob Smyth coached Votto with the Etobicoke Rangers, including Votto's draft year in 2002. Votto sent him a framed Reds jersey from his debut game on Sept. 4, 2007.

When Votto played for Canada in the 2009 World Baseball Classic at the Rogers Centre, Votto flew Smyth to Toronto to watch. Votto stayed at home and took the GO train to Union Station, giving his room at the Four Seasons to Smyth, who spent time in the lobby trying to correct Derek Jeter's swing. Votto then sent Smyth a framed Canada jersey from the 6-5 loss to Team USA when Votto had four hits and two RBIs.

He also flew Smyth on road trips to see the Reds play and Smyth would sit in the lobby and explain playing third base to a patient Scott Rolen. Then the former coach was off to Cooperstown to golf on Father's Day weekend with Goose Gossage, Jim Rice, Ozzie Smith, Andre Dawson and other Hall of Famers.

So to sum up our perspective of the comments from a guy we first encountered when he was in grade 11: He made a mistake and faced the music.

 We'll accept the apology.

About the Author

Bob Elliott is Canada's preeminent baseball writer, having covered MLB and Canadian baseball for nearly 40 years. He is a member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and in 2012 became the first Canadian to be awarded the J.G. Taylor Spink Award by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.


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