On April 24, 2012, the Reds were playing the San Francisco Giants at Great American Ballpark. The Reds had a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the seventh, and Dan Otero was pitching, having relieved Matt Cain earlier in the inning. Joey Votto was at bat, and was struck by Otero’s pitch on the right hip. Votto kicked the ball lightly to keep it in front of him as he started towards first, then bent down, picked it up, and gently tossed it to Otero, underhanded, while giving him A Look. It's quick, but it’s there. There’s a moment where it looks like Giants catcher Buster Posey might think Votto was about to charge the mound. But instead, Votto just flipped his bat and trotted on down to first base.
Votto’s hit by pitch loaded the bases. Brandon Phillips followed up with a walk to force in a run, and then Jay Bruce and Scott Rolen doubled back to back, and all of a sudden the score was 8-0. The Reds eventually won the game, 9-2, although as is always the case in even numbered years, the Giants had the last laugh. This was Dan Otero’s seventh major league appearance, and he had less than seven innings of major league experience under his belt at the time. He can probably be forgiven, therefore, for falling apart after getting glared at by a Joey Votto at the absolute height of his powers. He has since fled the National League and now pitches for the Oakland A’s.
I’m sure most of the people reading this remember that incident fondly. It’s an all-time classic Votto moment. But how many, I wonder, realize that Votto was not the first Reds great to pull that exact move? And how many know that the other known time it happened was actually a part of one of the most infamous moments in Reds history?
The date was May 1, 1974, and the Reds were playing the Pittsburgh Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Dock Ellis – the pitcher who is most famous for supposedly throwing a no-hitter while under the influence of LSD back in 1970 – was the starting pitcher for the Pirates. Possibly his second greatest claim to fame, however, was this game in 1974 when he vowed to his teammates that he would bean the first five Reds to come to bat. His teammates weren’t sure whether to take him seriously, but before the game even started, he proved that he meant it. As he was taking his warmup pitches just prior to the top of the first inning, he noticed Pete Rose, the Reds leadoff hitter, standing near the batter’s box, watching him. On one of his last warmup pitches, Ellis threw at Rose, and nearly hit him.
Ellis told Donald Hall in their book Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball that he considered not hitting Rose at all, since he would "take it so well." "He’s going to charge to first base and make it look like nothing," he said. Once the game started, Ellis decided to just go for it, and threw the first pitch of the game at Rose’s head, although he told Hall that he wasn’t trying to hit him with that one, just to let him know that he would be hit. The second pitch went behind Rose. The third hit him in the side. I’ll let Hall, the former Poet Laureate of the United States, describe what happened next:
"Pete Rose’s response was even more devastating than Dock had anticipated. He smiled. Then he picked the ball up, where it had fallen beside him, and gently, underhand, tossed it back to Dock. Then he lit for first as if trying out for the Olympics."
The famously stats-conscious Rose told Hall, "I’m glad he hit me, because I don’t usually get too many hits off him, and he just saved me an at bat. He got me a run scored."
The game went on, and Ellis hit the next two batters, Joe Morgan and Dan Driessen, to load the bases. The cleanup batter, Tony Perez, managed to dodge all the pitches Ellis threw at him, and drew a walk to drive in Rose. After throwing two pitches at Johnny Bench, Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh finally removed Ellis from the game. On the outing, Ellis struck three batters, walked one, and threw zero strikes.
It seems clear that by tossing the ball back to Ellis, Rose was, if not trying to intimidate the pitcher, at least making it clear that he wasn’t intimidated himself. Certainly that’s the way Ellis took it, telling Hall, "He’s trying to psyche me. That’s what makes him so great. I hated for him to roll that ball back to me! He’s a professional ballplayer." Was that Votto’s motivation as well? And if so, was he aware that he was mimicking the behavior of another Reds superstar nearly forty years earlier? Knowing Rose as we do, if he saw Votto toss the ball back to Otero, he might well have informed him that he did it first (the two are said to have at least a texting relationship). Of course, knowing Votto as we do, he might have just been trying to be courteous. I really doubt it, though. Sadly, the world may never know for sure.
Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball by Donald Hall with Dock Ellis
The Baseball Codes by Jason Turbow