By Victor Kamesar
Victor Kamesar is a die-hard Cincinnatian who currently finds himself across the country. Despite being out in Cowboy Country (Norman, Oklahoma), Victor still finds time to follow his hometown Reds, Bengals, and Bearcats.
It didn’t hit me until a few weeks ago when I read a Jayson Stark headline proclaiming “Joey Votto hitting like the Bambino.” Cincinnati’s very own gold glove first baseman is having the best season in baseball since the Babe in some categories. Votto is on pace for 197 hits and a ridiculous 127 walks. As Stark pointed out, the only player ever to put up those types of walk numbers in a season in which they amassed 200 hits was “Babe Ruth, The Greaaat Bambino.” As a lifelong Cincinnati sports fanatic, I began to wonder, is Votto having the best season any athlete wearing Cincinnati threads has had since I’ve been alive (FYI I was born in 1990)?
The obvious candidates for competition quickly popped into my head: Barry Larkin with that ’95 MVP? Carson Palmer in ’05, before Pittsburgh ripped our hearts out and his knee ligaments simultaneously? What about Kenyon Martin in ’99-’00 when he was the unanimous choice for National Player of the Year?
Cross-sport comparisons are incredibly difficult, so let’s just start with Larkin. In 1995 (he played in 131 games), Barry Larkin’s numbers looked like this: .319 AVG, .396 OBP, .492 SLG, .886 OPS, to go along with 158 hits, 15 homers, 66 RBIs, 29 doubles, 6 triples, and 51 stolen bases. Larkin won both the gold glove and silver slugger awards that season, as well as the MVP Award with 11 first place votes, 5 more than 2nd place Dante Bichette. In Votto’s case, he is currently hitting .354 with an untouchable .476 OBP, .639 SLG, and 1.114 OPS. He is on pace for 197 hits, 30 homers, 100 RBIs, 70 doubles (that is not a misprint), 0 triples, and 9 stolen bases. Votto is leading the majors in three of those categories (doubles, OBP, OPS) and leading the National league in five of them (doubles, OBP, OPS, SLG, walks). Add all of that with the fact that Votto is leading the NL in All-Star votes and being tabbed as an early favorite to win his second MVP Award, and one could say he gives a pretty strong case. Better season? Even given that Larkin only played 131 games in 1995 and some of his hitting numbers project higher with 31 more games, if we assume Votto keeps it up (obviously very challenging), it’s tough not to give the edge to the highest paid Canadian athlete in the world.
What about that incredibly memorable fall of 2005, when Carson Palmer transformed into the elite quarterback Who Dey Nation expected him to be? Most expected the Bengals to be Super Bowl contenders for the next 10 years. Palmer went 345-509, for an impressive 67.8 completion percentage, 3,836 yards, 32 touchdowns to just 12 interceptions, and a 101.1 passer rating. Of those categories, Palmer led the league in two of them, completion percentage and touchdown passes. This was without question Palmer’s best year as a Bengal, though he was slightly overshadowed by Peyton Manning (obviously hard not to be), and did not win the NFL’s version of the individual award Votto seems destined to win, the MVP. If you’re wondering, that went to Boone County’s finest, Shaun Alexander. Though 2005 is an NFL season most of us will never forget (for good and bad reasons, thanks a lot Kimo), the edge again has to go to Votto given his dominating numbers to this point.
That of course brings us to the 1999-2000 Cincinnati Bearcats, the year that will forever haunt Bearcat fans as the “what if” season. That is, what if Kenyon Martin hadn’t broken his leg in the Conference USA tournament? Martin averaged 18.9 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game en route to becoming the consensus national player of the year, and establishing himself as one of UC basketball’s all-time greats. While these are player of the year worthy numbers, it is difficult to fully describe in words how dominant and valuable his presence was on both ends of the floor, which is why if you have the time, you should refresh your memory with this. Considering that Martin is one of the few players in college basketball history to win both the Naismith trophy and the National defensive player of the year award in the same season, it is difficult to give the edge to Votto in this comparison. We’ll settle for a toss-up between Martin and Votto.
Cincinnati sports fans have talked for years about Barry Larkin’s 1995 MVP season, Carson’s lights out 2005 campaign, and the biggest “what-if” in recent UC basketball memory, and deservedly so. Each one stands out as iconic and memorable achievements in the realm of Cincinnati sports. As for Joey Votto, in 2012, he’s doing things that few have done in baseball history. It is time for us to pay close attention, because this season will be talked about for years to come.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.