In August of 2008, the father of a 24 year-old Major League Baseball player died four months into the player’s first full season in the bigs. MLB offers their players seven days of bereavement leave, which this player took and then he went back to his job in baseball. He ended up playing in 151 games in 2008. He had 156 hits, 24 of them home runs, with 84 RBI. His OBP was .368 and he slugged at .506. His average to end the season was .297. Again, all in his first full season in MLB the year that his 52 year-old father died suddenly.
Since that time, he’s won a Gold Glove, been on two All Star teams and won the League MVP award. He’s also led the League twice in on-base percentage, once in walks, once in doubles and once in putouts. He’s an incredibly fun player to watch and one of the most popular on his team with the hometown fans. He’s so important to his team that this year he signed a 12-year deal worth $251.5 million. When the deal was made it was the second largest contract in MLB’s history (well, third really given contracts one and two were both given to Alex Rodriguez).
In 2009, before he became an All Star and signed that tremendous contract, he left his team for almost a month and revealed upon coming back that it was due to depression and anxiety caused by his delayed reaction to his father’s death. Before he hit the disabled list, there were three different times he had to be taken out of games mid-game because of what he was going through. When he spoke about his time away from his team, he recalled multiple times that he had to go to the hospital because of the anxiety attacks he was having, some in the middle of the night. He had a difficult time but he got help, he spoke to his teammates about it and then he spoke to the media. Then he went on to become the Joey Votto that everyone who follows the Cincinnati Reds and/or the National League knows and loves.
I bring this all up because on Sunday Votto went 4-5 against the Washington Nationals. In a game Cincinnati ended up winning 9-6, Votto hit a double and three home runs…one of them coming in the ninth inning in the form of a walk-off grand slam. I’m curious to find out how many people reading this knew about Votto’s amazing day at the ballpark. Curious because I tend to pay attention to this sort of thing and I didn’t find out about it until much later than it happened. I had to scroll through a lot of baseball talk on Twitter and Facebook before I found anything on it. I found it curious that it wasn’t getting more play. Heck, Google it right now and there will be a smattering of stories on it…but nothing like the flurry of activity that bloggers, beat writers and Twitterers engaged in early last week when Josh Hamilton hit a double and four home runs against the Baltimore Orioles.
Now I get that four home runs are unique and what Hamilton did last week was genuinely impressive, but I think what Votto did was equally impressive, especially given one of his home runs won/ended the game. But there isn’t the media love for Votto that there was for Hamilton. And since there is no media love there is no fan love…at least not on the level there is for Hamilton. Thanks to the press machines of MLB and Hamilton, we know everything about Hamilton. His drug addiction, his falls from grace after coming back from that addiction, his devotion to his religion and his family…MLB, Hamilton and every writer who has every covered baseball make sure that people know that he’s had difficulties in his life that he’s overcome to become a force in Major League Baseball. (I’m not recounting Hamilton’s life story here because, frankly, I’m sick to death of being reminded of it.)
In the past I’ve written about how I’m bothered by MLB shoving the Josh Hamilton story down our throats and I it bears repeating that I wish him well and hope his issues don’t reappear. I’ve also written about how there are hundreds of players in MLB, many who didn’t take a wrong turn in their lives, who deserve as much praise as Hamilton when it’s their turn. The thing is, when is it their turn? Sunday was Joey Votto’s turn yet if you go to ESPN’s web page at the time of this writing (1:50 on Monday morning) on the front page, Joey has a link in the “headlines” area, two lines BELOW a story about Josh Hamilton’s bat going to the Hall of Fame. And that’s his ONLY mention. (Including the glove story, the Rangers have three mentions.)
Again, I get that the four home runs versus three home runs is a game changer as far as how few players have done it, I just think Votto deserves a lot more attention for the amazing game he had on Sunday than he’s getting and I think the reason he isn’t getting it is because being a drug addict with the occasional stumble is a lot more exciting that coming back from crippling depression and I think it sucks that MLB and everyone who follows it and writes about it agrees. I mean how many baseball fans know about Votto’s history compared to how many know about Hamilton’s? Hamilton’s is a sexy story and Votto’s is one people want to avoid because, apparently, it’s acceptable to be weak in the face of addiction but the moment you mention depression and anxiety people get freaked out and don’t want to bring it up. Because so little is shared about Joey Votto’s troubles, I share this link to a story about Joey and the host family that helped him deal with everything.
I suppose what I’m saying is that I get that Hamilton is a good player and he’s going to get covered because of that. Votto’s a good player too, though, and by all accounts a pretty good guy and I believe he deserves his moments in the sun at the very least as much as Hamilton does.