Axford, Votto named co-winners of Tip O’Neill Award

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St. Marys – Joey Votto faced John Axford in four plate appearances this past season, going one for three with a single, a walk, a run scored, and a strikeout.  So really, who got the better of who?

The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, as well as more than two hundred internet voters who weighed in, viewed the saw-off for the 2011 Tip O’Neill Award in the same “flip a coin” manner.  Hence, for the third time in the award’s history, it will be split, this time between the Milwaukee Brewers’ ace closer from Port Dover, Ontario and the Cincinnati Reds’ slugging first baseman from Etobicoke, Ontario.

The prestigious award, presented annually to the player judged to have excelled in individual achievement and team contribution while adhering to baseball’s highest ideals, was previously split in 2001 between Corey Koskie and Larry Walker, and then shared between Eric Gagné and Walker the following year.

“They were both finalists for the Lou Marsh Award, and while it is abundantly easy to make a case for either player to win the Tip, it is equally impossible to make an argument that either one of them should not win it,” said Ball Hall outgoing president & CEO Tom Valcke.

“After the exceptional seasons had by both of them, one being a pitcher and the other a position player, it came down to exactly that – how do you say no to either of them?”

Both players will be recognized by Hall representatives in a pre-game ceremony at their respective home ballparks early in the 2012 season.

It will be the first Tip O’Neill won by Axford, who finished third in the voting last year, while 2010 winner Votto now joins the multiple-winner club, led by Walker with nine Tips, Jason Bay with three, and Gagné, Justin Morneau and now Votto with a pair each.

Votto and Axford are only the fourth and fifth Tip winners born in Ontario since the award was created in 1984, joining Rob Ducey (Cambridge), Rob Butler (Toronto) and Martin (East York).

Erik Bedard, Jesse Crain, Ryan Dempster, Brett Lawrie and Russell Martin all received votes, as well as Team Canada Men’s MVP Jonathan Malo and Team Canada Women’s MVP Megean Cornellsen.

Axford led the Milwaukee Brewers to the playoffs with a National League leading 46 saves, won the NL Rolaids Relief Man award and finished ninth in Cy Young voting. The 6’5”, 195-pounder’s single season save total ranks third in Canadian history, trailing only Gagné, who chalked up seasons of 55 and 52 saves. The moustachioed right-hander compiled a 1.95 ERA with 86 strikeouts, 25 walks, and 59 hits over 73 innings. Beginning April 24th, he converted 43 consecutive saves, and overall he converted 46 saves in 48 save opportunities. His ERA after the All-Star Break was 0.84. In six playoff appearances, Axford had a win, three saves, struck out nine in seven innings, and landed a 1.29 ERA.

“This is sweet, really an honour!” exclaimed Axford from his home in Ancaster, Ontario.

“Anytime you want to put my name in the company of Joey Votto, and the likes of Justin (Morneau) and Larry (Walker), you just go right ahead!”

Asked his thoughts about facing Votto, Axford quipped: “Well, other than that seeing-eye single he hit through the six-hole when we had the shift on …”, and his laughter stopped his own sentence.

“Seriously, Joey just plays so hard, and he is so dedicated.  He is a tremendous player, and he’s been great for the city of Cincinnati.  For whatever the reason, we have really tough battles with the Reds, and it just seems like it’s always Joey who comes up in the big situation, and he always seems to deliver.”

“Other than if we were to be wearing the Team Canada uniform, this is one day when I can honestly say that I am excited about his success.  Just don’t ask me on a day that we’re playing against him!”

Votto was a National League All-Star and Gold Glove winner who finished sixth in MVP voting. The 2010 NL MVP and Lou Marsh Award winner batted .309 and had 29 HR, 72 extra base hits, and a Canadian record 110 bases on balls. The Cincinnati Reds marquee player led the NL in batting average on the road (.334) as well as batting average with runners in scoring position (.383), and led all MLB first basemen in games (160) and innings played, total chances, putouts, assists and was second in double plays. The left-handed slugger had 185 hits including an NL-leading 40 doubles, 103 RBI, scored 101 runs, and stole eight bases.  He also amassed a slugging percentage of .531, an on-base percentage of .416, and a .947 OPS (9th best in NL).

“It’s an honour to win a share of this award again and be mentioned alongside such great Canadian baseball players as Larry Walker, Jason Bay, Justin Morneau, Eric Gagné, and John Axford,” said Votto from his Florida home.

“John and I are very proud to represent the Reds, Brewers and our country as Major League Baseball players, and we appreciate the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s recognition of our contributions to the game both individually and as part of a team.”

Regarding the mono e mono confrontations, Votto conceded that: “None of us wanted to hit against John in the ninth inning. He was a huge part of the Brewers’ successful season and their division championship. The recognition he is receiving is very much deserved.”

The award is named after Woodstock, Ontario native James ‘Tip’ O’Neill, who was one of Major League baseball’s first legitimate stars. With the St. Louis Browns in 1887, the outfielder set major league records in hits, doubles, slugging percentage, and total bases, while compiling his astounding major league record .492 batting average. Bases on balls were included as hits in 1887, but if O’Neill’s average was calculated by today’s standard, it was .435, the second highest in major league history to Hugh Duffy (.438).

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