On Saturday afternoon, I sat at Great American Ballpark watching the Cincinnati Reds host the Milwaukee Brewers. As the game progressed, I paid close attention to the at bats of Joey Votto — not to analyze his swing or approach, but instead to analyze the fan reaction to his at bats. It’s something I have been quietly paying close attention to since he signed his $200 million contract in April of 2012. And what I saw Saturday seemed to be the climax of a two-year journey.
After each at bat, the complaints and boos coming from the crowd grew larger as frustrations mounted against the former MVP. While the Reds collected only two hits, such vocal displeasure was seemingly reserved for Votto and his at bats culminating with a chorus of unhappiness following his game-ending strikeout that featured one of the worst Votto swings you will ever see.
It’s the latest development in a deteriorating relationship between Votto and Reds fans. While 2012’s contract was met with enthusiasm from fans, it also raised their expectations for Votto; anything less than his MVP season of 2011 would be labeled a failure. And unfortunately for both, recent seasons have been anything but a repeat of 2010 thanks to injuries.
However, a lot of the blame for the strained relationship lies within the make-up of Queen City fans. They are hard-nosed, blue collar people. That is why fans have immortalized players such as Pete Rose, Sparky Anderson, Sean Casey, Barry Larkin and now Todd Frazier; they were/are gritty people who played and coached in a manner that fans respected. Those names are people who didn’t play with a huge price tagged contract following them around; they are people who played with a sense of purpose.
Now that isn’t to say Votto is a scrub unworthy of such a contract or admiration, as he more than deserves the contract he signed. But such a contract brings with it disdain in the city of Cincinnati. Whether it is because of jealousy or some other emotion, this city isn’t a fan of high-priced athletes.
Remember what happened to Carson Palmer once he signed a massive contract? What about Ken Griffey, Jr.? Regardless of the reasons, their support among Cincinnati fans drastically diminished, showing the same trajectory Votto is on right now. Lots of money means lots of expectations, and Cincinnatians are not willing to accept not getting their money’s worth.
Sadly for Votto, the road back into the good graces of Reds fans is a long one that would be best served started from scratch at the beginning of the 2015 season.