CINCINNATI — Manny Ramirez used to explain away some of his behavior with this: “It’s just Manny being Manny.”
Joey Votto was being Joey on Tuesday night when he had an encounter with a fan in the seventh inning of the game. You saw three things in this episode:
a) Votto has a temper;
b) Votto is very smart and thoughtful; and
c) if he realizes he’s wrong, he’ll admit it.
In this case, he lost it when he thought the fan interfered with the foul ball off Steve Piscotty’s bat, costing Votto a chance to catch the ball and the Reds an out.
He grabbed the fan's shirt, right at the “C” in Cincinnati, afterward. It was the same reaction Matt Adams had on Opening Day of last year with a fan. Players hate it when fans go after balls, even balls in the stands.
WATCH: Votto grabs fan's shirt
Votto realized he overreacted and quickly made amends. He talked to the fan, gave him an autographed ball with the apology written on it and had a picture taken.
“He was generous enough to apologize at the time and afterwards,” Votto told reporters after the game. “In retrospect, he’s not the one who should be apologizing. I should be apologizing. He’s just trying to catch a ball, and here I am bullying him.
“... I was wrong. The guy ended up striking out, so it was a zero.”
He’s done this before, just not with a fan. Votto has been ejected seven times in his career — mostly for arguing balls and strikes. He was suspended twice last year for incidents with umpires.
How he handled the incidents tells you a lot about Votto. He clearly bumped home plate umpire Chris Conway on May 6 in Pittsburgh. Votto realized he was wrong and apologized profusely after the game.
He was suspended after a confrontation with Bill Welke on Sept. 9. After that one, Votto went on a nine-minute tirade to the media about not going outside the rules. He admitted being angry with Welke for not granting him a timeout.
“Who’s to say how angry I can get as long as I follow the rules?” he said. “I didn’t touch him. I wasn’t verbally abusive. I didn’t make contact with any of the other umpires. Was it an overreaction? Sure.”
Again, when Votto thinks he’s right, he doesn’t back down. If he saw on the replay that the fan had interfered Tuesday night, I’m guessing he would not have apologized.
Votto is a hard guy to read. I’ve covered him his whole time here. I remember the first time I spoke to him in spring training. It was 2007. He was coming off his first monster year. When I walked up, he said: “I’ve been thinking about what I would say when a (reporter) approached me.”
That’s the only time a ballplayer has ever said that to me. Votto has a very dry sense of humor. Sometimes, people, fans in particular, don’t realize he’s trying to be funny.
He loves to tweak those who say he walks too much, that he isn’t aggressive enough at the plate. “I took a lot of walks,” he said this spring when asked about his offseason regiment. “Cincinnati fans can look forward to seeing me walk a lot.”
That was his way of saying: I know what works for me. I’m not changing.
Votto is not one that relishes dealing with the media. He’s always been cooperative with the daily beat writers, going out of his way to ask if he needs to talk. But he probably does fewer TV interviews than any starting position player on the Reds.
It would be easy to say that Votto’s reaction last night had something to do with Jay Bruce being traded away. Bruce and Votto have played their whole careers together.
But other than the moment with the fan, Votto was Joey being Joey. He went 4-for-4 with a walk, so he’s batting 1.00 in August after hitting .413 in July.
I’m not big on pop psychology, but something in Votto’s personality makes him snap at times, and something in his personality also makes him one of the best hitters in baseball.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion.