Construction on Oriole Park at Camden Yards began in earnest in 1989, and it took nearly 3 full years to complete. When it was finished for the start of the 1992 season, though, Baltimore’s new park kicked off a ballpark renaissance across the game of baseball, with franchises largely eschewing the rotund concrete messes they played in throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Ushered in was a wave of new, retro parks designed to emphasize the proximity of fans to the game itself, something so many of the classic parks of the early 1900s had in spades.
Baseball has long been unofficially defined by its ‘eras,’ and the 28 years since the stadium revolution began isn’t usually one that is used or cited. It spans several series of important developments in the game’s history beyond just the on-field dimension changes, though, including the strike, multiple rounds of expansion (and dilution of pitching), the steroid eras (both of them), the launch-angle infusion, and MLB’s continued manipulation of the actual baseball itself.
More important for this post, though, is that it’s a pretty significant sample of baseball history, one that featured some of the brightest offensive stars the game has ever seen. Junior Griffey became a superstar. Barry Bonds destroyed records, synthetically or not. Muscles got huge, dingers were konked at record rates, and both Boston and Chicago figured out how to win playoff games once again.
Throughout it all, some 1265 players logged the requisite 3.1 PA per team game played in that stretch, from Rey Ordonez to Neifi Perez to Mark Grudzielanek to Moises Alou. Hall of Fame caliber bashers like Albert Pujols, Chipper Jones, Alex Rodriguez, and Jim Thome combined to sock thousands of homers.
One of those 1265 is our own Joey Votto, of course. To date, he’s played in over 1700 career games and stepped in the batter’s box over 7300 times. And if you trust wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created +, a metric that judges a player’s offense against the rest of the league while adjusting for park), a grand total of 6 of those 1265 players have been better offensively than Votto in that time.
6 players across 28 seasons. That’s it.
Votto’s 151 wRC+ is tied with Seattle legend and Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez, just a fraction behind the 152 mark owned by both Hall of Famer Frank Thomas and towering Yankee slugger Aaron Judge. At 153 sits the inimitable Manny Ramirez, while Mike Trout (172), Mark McGwire (174), and Bonds (a ridiculous 188) sit atop that elite offensive leaderboard.
When you dive deep into conversations about Votto’s excellence, it’s this kind of breakdown that largely fuels those of his most ardent supporters. His detractors will look to his RBI totals, his lack of 40 dinger seasons, and his proclivity of taking 1B via walks, and whatever - yes, those are absolutely aspects of Votto’s overall resume. What Votto has done better than just 6 players in nearly 3 full decades, though, is both a) refuse to make outs in a game where outs determine games, not clocks, and b) turn the few opportunities he gets within the strikezone into some of the absolute most devastating offensive production of his era.