Yesterday, Cincinnati Enquirer sportswriter Paul Daugherty wrote a column that questioned Joey Votto’s toughness and implied he was letting down his teammates and ownership by being unwilling to play with pain.
A couple times a year, I’ll read something Daugherty writes out of courtesy to the friend or family member who forwarded me a link to one of his columns. I find his writing to be uninformed and choose your favorite antonym of insightful. Otherwise I don’t read him, which I’m sure makes us even.
That was the case yesterday until I read my Twitter feed at the end of the day and noticed several pointed comments from Daugherty’s sportswriter brethren about the cheap shot the Cincinnati writer took at Votto.
Craig Calcaterra, who writes for NBC’s Hardball Talk wrote: “Man, we got tough guys all over sports today media today. Shockingly, Daugherty calls out Votto. Daugherty should love Votto being out. He can’t take any pitches when he’s not playing … Just wondering what kind of bitter and hateful person you have to be to write crap like that.”
Dan Szymborski, ESPN analyst wrote: Cincinnati media really needs fewer guys who seem to complain about Joey Votto non-stop. Daugherty praising Phillips for playing hurt, while acknowledging he hurt his seasonal number. Except those hurt the team. You know what’s bad for a team? Players playing terribly through injuries.
Rob Neyer, who spent 15 years writing for ESPN.com wrote: It’s weird when writers diagnose the severity of injuries to professional sportsmen.
Jay Jaffe, who writes for Sports Illustrated wrote: (edited to comply with site guidelines) … what a horse**** column that was. Guy interviewed me last year for what turned out to be a hit piece on Votto. Barf.
In the print version of every Daugherty column, under his byline, you’ll find his claim that the purpose of his column is “always having the backs of the fans.” When you misinform your readers with what you write, that’s not having their backs. It’s the opposite.
Daugherty’s column characterizes Votto’s return from a quad strain as a question of pain tolerance. That’s false. As everyone who has discussed his injury publicly – Bryan Price, Walt Jocketty and Votto himself – has said, it is a question of leg strength. Joey Votto will return when his leg is strong enough. Votto played with the quad strain until the muscle got so weak it affected his performance. Daugherty brings the deeply misleading issue of pain tolerance into the equation out of nowhere.
Daugherty also completely ignores the issues surrounding Votto’s knee injury two years ago. That’s an extremely important part of the context of this situation. Leaving it out is a disservice to his readers.
Daugherty points an accusatory finger squarely at the player: “I believe if Votto insisted on playing, he would be playing. Superstars call shots everywhere, even in little places like Cincinnati. A manager is not going to say no to that guy, nor should he. Especially when the guy in question is as valuable as Votto.”
That paragraph is the core of Daugherty’s overall thesis. There are so many things wrong in there it’s hard to know where to start.
Two years ago, Votto injured his knee. The manager, Dusty Baker, apparently let Votto call the shots then and the Reds’ first baseman played another couple weeks, including in the All-Star game. For that stretch of time, it was obvious to any close observer that Votto was a faint shadow of his former MVP self. The inevitable surgery (and then a second one) kept Votto out of the Reds lineup for more than a month. The slugger didn’t hit another home run the rest of the year. Votto also said this offseason that the effects of his recovery lingered through 2013.
In 2012, the Reds handled Votto’s knee injury exactly as Daugherty recommends they do in 2014 and the results could not have been more disastrous.
Superstars do not call shots about their injuries everywhere. Ask Albert Pujols, Aaron Rodgers or Derrick Rose. Especially when players are valuable (and expensive) the front office rightly has, and exercises, the final say. When the owner has more than $200 million invested in a player, you can be certain that a player’s pleas won’t determine the course of action.
In this case, the Reds are balancing Votto being out for a few weeks vs. the risk of further injuring the quad muscle and losing their former MVP for the rest of the season. In contrast to Daugherty, I want that decision in the hands of someone other than the player. I want someone on that wall who will say no.
Criticizing a player based on skill or talent is fair game. Player X has no range. Player Y can’t hit left-handed pitching. Manager Z’s strategy is too old school. General manager W has failed to improve the team for over a year. That’s fine.
What I find objectionable are the armchair athletes in the media who feel the need to attack the character of the person. And this isn’t the first time that Paul Daugherty has taken a personal swipe at Joey Votto. Last September, Daugherty wrote: “Votto doesn’t pass the eyeball test this summer. There have been times when he simply looks disengaged. I haven’t talked to him about it. I owe him that.”
It’s funny, Paul Daugherty knows better. You know that from his own words. Last September, he knew he shouldn’t have written that Votto was disengaged without talking to him. He said so. But he wrote it anyhow. In the same paragraph. In consecutive sentences.
Amazingly, it was Paul Daugherty himself, not one of his critics, that wrote these words yesterday: “We outsiders don’t know much. We who aren’t doctors aren’t qualified to comment on the injury, or on anyone’s pain or ability to withstand it. That’s speculation and that’s not fair.”
I’m not in a position to offer advice to someone who has written about sports professionally as long as Paul Daugherty (then again, maybe that tenure is the problem), but how far off could I be by suggesting this: If you find yourself writing those three sentences, you should take your own advice and shut up. Write something about the Bengals or UC’s recruiting class instead.
Paul Daugherty, however, proceeded to ignore his own counsel, to comment on Votto’s injury, on Votto’s pain, and on Votto’s ability to withstand it.
Right out of the gate, Daugherty (who, despite his nickname, isn’t you know, a real doctor) let’s you know he doesn’t think Votto’s injury is much. In his first sentence, Daugherty refers to it as “that gosh-darned strained quadriceps.”
Regarding Votto’s role in not playing, Daugherty wrote: “To be clear, Votto didn’t want to go on the disabled list. Price says he’s the one responsible for keeping Votto on the mend, instead of in the lineup. And Votto’s durability isn’t suspect: He played in all 162 games last year, and 161 two years before that.”
Let’s review. Despite not offering a single contrary fact, a solitary bit of opposing research, a disagreeing informed source (anonymous or otherwise), no, just based on his own “I believe …” Daugherty darkly insinuates it is Votto who is letting down his teammates by holding himself out due to poor pain tolerance.
On the other hand, Daugherty acknowledges that the past two seasons, Votto has played in 323 out of 324 games and that by “ … early June, few players are in perfect health. By August no one is.”
Paul Daugherty ignored his own cautionary words about avoiding speculation on pain and injury; ignored his own reporting that the organization, not Joey Votto is making this decision; and ignored his own reasoning that Votto has likely played through pain the past two seasons.
Daugherty was in such a hurry to get to the hit job, he blew past all that. Along the way, he mischaracterized Votto’s injury and failed to provide the historical context. If you’re a Reds fan and read his article, Paul Daugherty didn’t have your back, he made you less informed about your team.