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Joey Votto Inspires Rage and ... Nostalgia?

Buried in Bruce Levine’s recap of last night’s All-Star Game is a juicy quote from Reds first baseman Joey Votto:

“I don’t like the Cubs,” Votto said. “And I’m not going to pat anybody with a Cubs uniform on the back. But because he made that really cool play, it turned out to be a really cool experience. I’m really glad we got the win today.”

Not surprisingly, the quote has prompted outrage among Cubs fans — particularly on Twitter, where some are calling Votto names and others are suggesting a sound plunking. Still others, however, are urging calm and blaming the slow news day for the brouhaha.

My initial reaction was, admittedly, anger. But then another feeling took over.

At first, a series of questions flew through my mind. How could Votto say such a thing when the guy wearing the Cubs uniform in question — Marlon Byrd — drew a walk, scored one of the NL’s three runs and made spectacular defensive play that helped close out the big win? What kind of teammate is Votto to say something like that so soon after the NL’s first victory since 1996? And does he not realize that Byrd’s actions could, in part, mean that the Reds will have home field advantage should they make it to the World Series?

But then I had another reaction: Nostalgia. Votto’s remarks took me back to a time when ballplayers spent most, if not all, of their careers with one team. A time when that team’s logo was virtually seared into their chests. A time when opposing players would sooner spit tobacco juice into each other’s eyes than exchange pleasantries at first base.

With just a few spiteful, ungrateful words, Joey Votto has taken us back to that era. He’s a Cincinnati Red, damn it. And he’s not going to kowtow to any Cubs player, no matter how valuable that walk or how heads-up that throw to second base. (And, yeah, I know David Ortiz is slow.) No, Joey Votto rocks it old school – despite the fact that he doesn’t wear the stirrups and was referring to a player who’s with his fourth major league team and has been a Cub for all of seven months now. (It’s not like Derrek Lee, a guy who’s put up an .898 OPS against the Reds in his career, gunned down the runner at second base.)

In all seriousness, I recognize the greatness of Joey Votto. Everyone said he’d be good when the Reds called him up in 2007, and he’s been good ever since. I admire him for overcoming the emotional issues he faced last year. And, if he stays hot through the end of the season, he’ll likely have my vote for MVP — especially if the Reds do win the NL Central. (Votto currently leads all qualifying NL players in WAR with a 4.2.) He deserved to be an All-Star without question, and it’s a shame he had to beg and plead his way in. (That Pujols character does complicate matters, does he not?)

But if Joey wants to rock it old school, he’s going to have to face the music on August 6 when the Reds return to Wrigley Field. He’s going to have to hear it from the Cubs fans who fill the Friendly Confines (and The Great American Ballpark, for that matter). And he may end up feeling it from a Cubs pitcher.

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not necessarily advocating that the Cubs throw at Votto — that's their call. But if you believe the story behind the Andrew Cashner pitch that recently struck Vicente Padilla, then you know the Cubs aren’t above playing a little old school baseball themselves.