Votto is male athlete of year

In the third instalment of's year-end retrospective, we honour Canada's top male athletes of 2010, led by baseball's Joey Votto and his breakout season with Cincinnati.

Almost every story you'll read about Joey Votto and his 2010 breakout season will mention two important things about the man.

He's Canadian, and he has an exceptional work ethic that some would say is rarely matched by other professional athletes.

It was a big reason Votto was named National League most valuable player on Nov. 22 following his third full season as the Cincinnati Reds' first baseman. He earned 31 of 32 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers' Association of America to best St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols, who had prevailed the two previous years.

The voting wasn't nearly as one-sided among writers at, who have voted the Toronto-born Votto its Canadian male athlete of the year for 2010 after he was a model of consistency over a six-month, 162-game regular season.

The 27-year-old established career highs in batting average (.324, second in the NL), homers (37, third) and runs batted in (113, third) while leading the Reds to their first playoff berth since 1995.

He ranked in the top three in 11 offensive categories — leading in six, including on-base percentage (.424) 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 in 48 straight contests in 1978.

Select company

But the accolades didn't stop at the MVP award for Votto, who became the 12th 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).

The list also includes:

  • The Tip O'Neill Award — presented annually to the Canadian player the hall judges "to have excelled in individual achievement and team contribution while adhering to the highest ideals of the game of baseball.
  • Lou Marsh Award — Given annually to Canada's outstanding athlete by the Toronto Star. The honour is decided by a panel of sports editors, reporters and broadcasters, including the CBC.
  • Hank Aaron Award — Presented to baseball's most outstanding offensive performers. The award is voted on by fans and a panel of Hall of Fame players.

Votto also was named a 2010 NL all-star by The Sporting News and participated in his first all-star game. He secured the final spot on the NL team after 13.7 million ballots were cast for him online. Surprisingly, Votto was left off the original roster.

He had a knack for stepping up his play throughout the 2010 campaign when the stakes were raised. Entering the final day of the season, Votto 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.

A model of consistency, Votto never hit less than .314 in a month from May through August, never had an on-base percentage lower than .412 or a slugging percentage below .600.

What made Votto's season more impressive and inspiring was his ability to bring his game back to an elite level after a troubling 2009 season. Votto battled serious panic attacks, triggered by grief over his father Joseph's sudden death in August 2008, and ended up in hospital on several occasions.

But in 2010, he made it through the season without a recurrence of the anxiety and depression that cost him 31 games the previous year.

A strong work ethic was instilled in Votto at a young age when his parents bought a restaurant in Oakville, Ont., near Toronto at the beginning of an economic recession in 1989.

Tough times

It was a tough go for the Vottos, whose business was also hampered by construction on the road in front of the restaurant that affected parking and pedestrian traffic for two years. By 1995 the restaurant was no longer operable.

"You pick up the pieces, you don't make those mistakes again and you get stronger from what you've learned," Wendy Votto, Joey's mother, told in September.

"We both picked up our pieces and went on to bigger and better things, better jobs." Wendy became a wine steward and Joseph a chef at a Toronto yacht club.

"I think Joey probably learned his work ethic from his grandfather and from his parents," Wendy added.

One-time Etobicoke (Ont.) Rangers baseball coach Bob Smyth remembers a 17-year-old Votto spending hours in a makeshift batting cage in 2000 under his watchful eye.

"What separates great players from people who don't succeed is their work ethic, and he had an extremely strong work ethic," Smyth, now a major league scout and Vancouver Island resident, told CBC News in November of Votto.

"Through hard work and dedication you can accomplish just about anything."

At the 2009 World Baseball Classic, Walker recalled a tireless Votto spending extra time in the batting cage.

"He wants to get it right every time. He would just beat himself up to find out why things weren't working," Walker, Canada's first base/hitting coach at the tournament, told in November. "Questions galore about how to do it right.

"He's inspiring young kids, kids that for any minute of their time doubt. They see something like [Votto's MVP season] happen and it puts a little glimmer in their hopes that this can be done."

Honourable Mention

The following athletes also received votes from members of the team.

Jonathan Toews

In most other years, being named the best forward at an Olympic Games, the top performer in the Stanley Cup playoffs and winning the NHL championship would be enough to cinch top billing. The 22-year-old Winnipeg native also fell one point shy of his single-season high in the NHL, finishing with 25 goals and 65 points in 2009-10.

Sidney Crosby

The pride of Cole Harbour, N.S., was the toast of Canada on Feb. 28 when he scored the golden goal, the game-winner in a 3-2 win over the United States in the championship game of the Olympic men's hockey tournament in Vancouver. The 23-year-old captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins also posted 109 points in 81 regular-season games, including 51 goals in being named co-winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL's top goal-scorer.

Alex Bilodeau

The 23-year-old from Rosemère, Que., became the first Canadian to win an Olympic gold medal at home, finishing first in the men's moguls skiing final on Feb. 14, the second day of competition in Vancouver. It marked the first men's moguls gold for Canada since Jean-Luc Brassard won at the Lillehammer Olympics in 1994.

Ryder Hesjedal

The 30-year-old from Victoria made headlines in the summer when he finished seventh in his third Tour de France, considered a breakthrough for Canadian cycling. It was the best Tour result by a Canadian since 1988 when Steve Bauer was fourth. Hesjedal finished the season eighth in the International Cycling Union rankings.

Oh Canada!

Here are some of the Canadian men who also excelled in a tremendous 2010.

  • Jasey-Jay Anderson: A fixture atop the World Cup podium in his career, veteran finally tastes Olympic snowboarding gold in his fourth and final Games.
  • Dylan Armstrong: Rebounded from disappointment in 2009 to set a Canadian shot put record, and on the Diamond League circuit was often second only to U.S. beast Christian Cantwell.
  • Ryan Cochrane: Four swimming gold and one silver overall at the Pan Pacs and Commonwealth Games.
  • Erik Guay: Super-G. A so-so season turned in a hurry. After twice coming within a whisper of the Olympic podium, he roared in the final month of the World Cup season for Canada’s first discipline title in 28 years.
  • Charles Hamelin: With wins in short track’s 500 and the 5,000 team relay, Hamelin joined a select historic group of Canadian multiple gold medalists.
  • Jon Montgomery: Hoist one to Montgomery, Manitoba’s most famous resident. He was fifth in the skeleton season standings heading into Vancouver, but bumped off the World Cup leader with a spectacular final run.
  • Steve Nash: His stats weren’t far off his two MVP years, but more importantly, he led Phoenix back to the West final.
  • Jean Pascal: With a win on Dec. 18, a 2010 ledger of unbeaten Chad Dawson and ring legend Bernard Hopkins is more impressive than any other Canadian who fights for a living.
  • Georges St. Pierre: Expected to win his two UFC bouts this year, he dominated. Is there any competition left?