CINCINNATI -- There is no better candidate on the Reds for the Hank Aaron Award than the man that won it for the National League after last season. On the heels of that award, and the 2010 NL Most Valuable Player Award, Joey Votto turned in another superlative offensive season for Cincinnati in 2011. "He's had a wonderful year," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "But when you're Billy the Kid, there are a lot of dudes gunning for you."
Baker forms the one degree of separation between Votto and Aaron himself. It was Baker who was on deck in 1974 when Aaron hit career homer No. 715 to pass Babe Ruth as baseball's home run king. The Hank Aaron Award was first given in 1999 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of that feat. The honor recognizes the most outstanding offensive performer in each league. Votto was joined by American League winner Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays to be presented with their awards prior to Game 4 of the World Series in Arlington, Texas, last October. Fans will get a say in the outcome of the Aaron Award decision, as voting has begun at MLB.com and its 30 club sites. For the second time in as many years, a special panel of Hall of Famers that includes Aaron will join in the balloting. Voting will continue through Sunday. Despite having pitchers not giving him a ton of quality pitches to hit, Votto still posted quality numbers. He batted .309 with 29 home runs and 103 RBIs. He led the NL with 110 walks, a .416 on-base percentage, a .334 road batting average and a .383 average with runners in scoring position. "It was a very challenging year for me in a lot of different ways," Votto said. "But I generally feel I got better. I did more with less." Votto, 28, was selected to his second successive NL All-Star team at midseason. It would be a natural assumption that Votto's numbers were goosed by his playing half his games at the very hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park. But that would be a mistake. Besides having the league's best road average (and a .282 home average), Votto has more homers on the road (16) than home (13). He also has 59 RBIs on the road, compared to 44 at home. Past winners of the Hank Aaron Award include Derek Jeter and Albert Pujols (2009); Aramis Ramirez and Kevin Youkilis ('08); Alex Rodriguez and Prince Fielder ('07); Jeter and Ryan Howard ('06); David Ortiz and Andruw Jones ('05); Manny Ramirez and Barry Bonds ('04); Rodriguez and Pujols ('03); Rodriguez and Bonds ('01-02); Carlos Delgado and Todd Helton ('00); and Manny Ramirez and Sammy Sosa (1999).