NEW YORK – Greg Hamilton’s immediate concern upon learning of Joey Votto’s controversial comments about Canadian baseball was for the Cincinnati Reds superstar himself. Baseball Canada’s director of national teams knew how the statements would play, and how quickly that could alter perceptions of the slugging first baseman from Toronto. The full brunt of get-mad-now, think-later social-media scorn wouldn’t be an issue if it were fully deserved.
Better than most, Hamilton knows it isn’t.
"Let’s face it, if Joey Votto didn’t care about the Canadian national baseball program, he certainly wouldn’t be showing up in January for the national team awards banquet and fundraiser, he doesn’t need to do it," Hamilton said over the phone from Ottawa before departing for the junior national team’s tour of the Dominican Republic. "Furthermore, he doesn’t have to make financial contributions to the program and he does that.
"He’s not doing it for self-serving purposes. He never wants it announced. He never wants it to be out there. I’m only saying that in the context of I would defend very strongly from the perspective of the Canadian national baseball program and Baseball Canada, that he does care, based on his actions."
Convincing the more context-averse, reactionary segments of baseball fans and Canadians offended by his comments to judge Votto on his actions won’t be an easy sell.
To be fair, he really stepped in it when he told the Yahoo! Sports MLB Podcast that he doesn’t "care almost at all about Canadian baseball" and that he "really couldn’t give a rat’s ass" that fellow Canadian James Paxton threw a no-hitter against the Blue Jays in Toronto.
And though the full scope of his comments aren’t as blunt as when the above fragments are pulled out, a player on track to perhaps become the greatest Canadian position player of all-time certainly needs to exercise better judgment, even if he wants to avoid empty, patriotic jingoism.
Votto himself acknowledged that, first in a statement posted on Canadian Baseball Network and later making the media rounds.
Rather than trying to deflect criticism and rationalize his comments, Votto took full ownership of his mistake, apologized repeatedly and criticized himself for comments that "came from an absolutely silly, short-sighted, selfish place."
"I cringe hearing it because I’m so embarrassed by what I said," he added on a conference call arranged by the Reds. "I feel very strongly that it couldn’t be less in line with how I feel about Canadian baseball, Toronto, James Paxton. The word jealousy comes to mind, the word immature comes to mind. When they asked that question (about Paxton’s no-hitter in Toronto) I thought to myself, well, I’m from Toronto, I’m not celebrated like that, I don’t care sort of thing. I should have been celebrating his success, I should have been promoting Canadian baseball and certainly supporting Canadian success on Canadian soil.
"I am so sorry about that. My words could not be less in line with how I feel."
In his statement to CBN, Votto said the question about Paxton reminded him of past resentment at being passed over for the junior national in high school, not being drafted by the Blue Jays and not being selected to the 2004 Canadian Olympic team.
That’s why, on the podcast, he replied with the following full answer:
"People aren’t going to love that I say this, but I don’t care almost at all about Canadian baseball. When I say that, it’s because all of my life … I wasn’t raised inside of Canadian baseball, really. I played on a local team but as an 18-year-old I was drafted and I’m coming up on half of my life being in the United States working and being supported by American baseball. I’m more happy for him as a fellow player, I’m more happy for him because I like to see people achieve their dreams and have great moments and be celebrated for their moments.
"But as far as Toronto and Canadian baseball and the country of Canada and him being Canadian I don’t care at all. He or the Jays or Canada in general may disagree with that, but I really couldn’t give a rat’s ass about that because I’m more happy for him. I thought it was a great moment, I get excited. I’m not connected to Toronto so I don’t feel any sort of way about that."
Thinking back to his response, Votto said his words, "couldn’t have been more cringe-worthy. I just did everything wrong and it came from a bad place, and I’m so regretful."
Votto, a graduate of the Etobicoke Rangers program chosen in the second round by the Reds in 2002, spends his off-seasons in Toronto, often working out at the indoor Pro Teach Baseball facility in the city.
His resume includes the 2010 National League MVP award, the Lou Marsh Award twice as the country’s top athlete, the Tip O’Neill Award as the top Canadian handed out by the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and five all-star appearances.
Given all he’s accomplished, "if he feels strongly enough that those two pieces are missing from his resume, on a personal level that means he cared enough about those programs to have wanted to have done those things, and he looks back and says I wish I would have done them, that’s not a bad thing," said Hamilton.
Perhaps, although Votto wasn’t accepting any easy outs and he deserves credit for that. He described his thought process "as silly and selfish and ego-driven," refused to speak of his contributions to Baseball Canada and feared of his comments’ impact on young Canadians.
"I don’t feel like this is really an occasion for me to talk about what I’ve done to support Baseball Canada," said Votto. "I feel a strong connection to them and I make a point to stay connected with them, but ultimately my comments were completely disrespectful, no matter how much I support them or what actions I take. My words were reckless and the message sent to the younger players across the country, both girls and boys, the coaches, the umpires, all the parents, everybody that supports them, my message, wow, could not have been more selfish and further from how I feel.
"I think about the kids that hear this comment and if I worked with them or instruct a class or whatever, I’m thinking about what the hell are they thinking when I say this sort of thing, ‘Does he not care about me?’ It’s just embarrassing and it’s so disconnected from how I really feel. Just pure pettiness."
In being so forthright and self-critical in trying to make amends, he went much further than most do in a similar spot. And in a time where athletes are continually criticized for being too cliché, Votto shouldn’t be crushed for speaking his mind (he had plenty more to say on the podcast about other things), even if this time he went too far.
Votto is a remarkable player who made a mistake and genuinely apologized for it after.
How Canadian is that?