I want to start this column off with a list of people who, I think we can all agree, were exceptional baseball players: Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, and Ty Cobb. You might have mixed feelings about Bonds, but those guys were among the best to ever play and you probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn they all have a particular accomplishment in common: That’s the complete list of players who led a league in on-base percentage at least seven times.
Joey Votto has led the National League in OBP six times. The 2018 season isn’t technically over, but at the moment Votto holds a 17-point lead on Paul Goldschmidt for the NL OBP title and is essentially a lock to earn his seventh OBP title. So now consider this list: Joey Votto, Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, and Ty Cobb.
Joey Votto is a Hall of Famer. Not “if he has another good year or two.” Not under any conditions. He’s there now.
Votto has done something only the greatest hitters in the game have ever done. He’s done something that’s been done just once by a player whose career started after World War II. He plays in a league that has twice as many teams and players as the league four of the other five names on the list played in. He plays in a league that’s not made up of exclusively white players. This accomplishment is not some flash-in-the-pan single-season miracle. It is a career accomplishment.
Joey Votto is a Hall of Famer.
Among players with at least 1,500 major league plate appearances, Votto currently is in what amounts to a three-way tie for seventh in career OBP in the modern era—he’s so close to Tris Speaker and Jimmie Foxx, two more baseball immortals, that the actual order can change from week to week. Since World War II, he’s tied for third behind Williams and Bonds. Joey Votto is a Hall of Famer. There’s power, too. Despite his power dip this year, Votto has a .531 career slugging percentage. His .958 career OPS is 17th all-time. That’s higher than Jeff Bagwell (and plenty of others), who recently had his plaque installed in Cooperstown.
Votto is one of the best hitters to ever play the game of baseball. He is almost entirely unique in baseball since desegregation but remains criminally underappreciated because he doesn’t approach the game like some people think he should, because he’s cerebral and maybe even weird. By the end of this season, though, he’s going to have the kind of career-length accomplishment that will leave no doubt.
He’s the best hitter to ever play for the Reds and one of the 15 or 20 best hitters to ever play the game. An argument could be made that he’s the best player at getting on base since Ted Williams retired (but we’ll save that column for another day).
Think about all of the players he’s ahead of in on-base percentage. Williams retired after the 1960 season. The Mets played their first game in 1962. Odds are that almost no one reading this column can remember watching any hitter besides Barry Bonds get on base more often than Votto. No one on the Big Red Machine. No one on the Yankees or Red Sox or Cardinals or Cubs or … you get the point. Votto gets on base more than Rickey Henderson did, more than Wade Boggs, more than Tony Gwynn did. He gets on base more than Jim Thome or Frank Thomas or Edgar Martinez. He has a higher OPS than Albert Pujols or Willie Mays or David Ortiz and, of course, gets on base more than they did, too.
When a player is as good as Joey Votto at baseball, they go into the Hall of Fame. And that’s where Votto belongs. Punch his ticket right now.
Jason Linden is a contributor to Nuxhall Way, Redleg Nation, and The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @JasonLinden.