HOUSTON — Jose Altuve isn’t what you think of when you imagine the modern baseball player. But as yet another postseason is showing, with Altuve and his Houston Astros teammates challenging for a World Series, he’s probably what every baseball player should be.
Baseball has gotten too serious, but Altuve is hardly ever not smiling.
People complain that baseball is boring, but have you seen Jose Altuve play? He’s the exact opposite. He’s the spark plug of the Astros, a fantastic hitter, a defensive dynamo.
As players start to look like linebackers and pro wrestlers, Altuve is 5-foot-6, the shortest player in the league, the ultimate underdog, proof that baseball accepts anyone.
And perhaps most importantly, he’s really, really, really good. He hit the walk-off homer against the New York Yankees that sent the Astros to this World Series. It was his 13th career postseason homer — and fifth of this October. He celebrated with his teammates, then he scooped up his 2-year-old daughter Melanie and celebrated with her too.
Altuve and his daughter have a celebratory moment after the win pic.twitter.com/eQcmdi7CuJ
— Alyson Footer (@alysonfooter) October 20, 2019
There are only 13 players in MLB history who have more postseason homers than Altuve and you’ve heard of every single one of them — from Manny Ramirez atop the list at 29 to Mickey Mantle and Reggie Jackson at 18 and Babe Ruth at 15. Goliaths like David Ortiz, Jim Thome and Albert Pujols are on the list too.
Then there’s fun-sized Jose Altuve, a player who was signed for a measly $15,000 after he was sent home from a tryout and came back the next day anyway, undeterred. In a just world, Altuve’s poster would be on kids’ walls all over the country, not just Houston. He has that cereal-box appeal.
He is the most likable player in Major League Baseball today and the whole country gets a chance to see him in the World Series. If the Astros come back to win after their Game 1 loss, you can bet Altuve will be a big part of it.
“If I were 12 years old,” says Adam Eaton, who plays for the opposing Washington Nationals, “he’d definitely be the guy I look up to.
“He’s fun-loving,” Eaton says. “He respects the game. He goes about it the right way. He enjoys it. And he rakes.”
In Houston, Altuve’s a fan favorite. People wave cut-out versions of his head. He’s the jersey you see most often in Minute Maid Park. He’s a bonafide celebrity, but baseball’s regional appeal hasn’t made him a true household name, which is even more surprising when you learn his background.
The tryout story is true. He showed up at an Astros tryout in Venezuela when he was 16. He was sent home that day, but as the story goes, he came back the next day anyway looking for a second chance.
He got it, thanks to a scout who liked him, enjoyed his hustle and his passion for the game. But the Astros only offered him $15,000, saying it was all they had for him — which in baseball is couch-cushion money. These days, top international prospects fetch a few million dollars. Almost everybody gets six figures.
And it wasn’t like Altuve was signed in the dark ages. He joined the Astros in 2007.
But he took that $15,000 because this was his dream. And he became one of the best $15,000 investments you could imagine. He’s won an MVP, three batting titles, is a six-time All-Star, has a career average of .315 and, earlier this season, notched his 1,500th hit. He did it in fewer games than Pete Rose.
He’s parlayed that success into a proper payday. He signed a five-year, $151 million contract extension in 2018 that will keep him in Houston until 2024 – enough time to cement his legacy among the greatest Astros.
“You see the passion he plays with. You see the energy he plays with. You see the fun he has. That's just the person he is. It's not a facade,” says Astros ace Justin Verlander, who tweeted “I literally love Jose Altuve” after the ALCS walk-off, a nod to Altuve’s T-shirt-ready proclamation about Verlander in 2017.
— BreakingT (@breakingtco) October 20, 2019
“He's that person in the locker room, he lifts everybody up,” Verlander says. “He never comes in in a bad mood. He's always jovial. He's such a superstar, and he doesn't act that way. He's so humble. Always fun to be around. Always wanting to learn and get better. Best teammate. That's all you can really say about him.”
What’s not to like about that?
And somehow he’s even better when the calendar turns to October. He’s hitting .349 this October with a 1.184 OPS and eight RBIs. He’s the smallest guy in the postseason, but has hit more homers than anyone in October — and it’s a postseason that has included Aaron Judge, Paul Goldschmidt, Cody Bellinger and plenty of other sluggers.
Asked to pinpoint why he’s good in October, he can only offer a cartoonish moment.
“I don’t know,” he says, reaching his hands high in the air like a human shrug emoji. “I don’t know.”
But he absolutely understands his importance to the game and to fans — whether they wear his jersey or another one.
“I think the fans, not only Astros fans but all baseball fans, are the No. 1 reason we play this game,” Altuve says.
Go ahead. Try to find a reason to dislike Jose Altuve. It just doesn’t seem possible.
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