Friday, September 19, 2014

A Giant Among His Peers

His first name is Jose - not 'little', 'diminutive', or 'tiny'. Baseball people love to add those size designations when they talk about him, because he is the shortest man in Major League Baseball. Critics insisted it was a joke when he was called up to the Astros in mid-2011 and became the starting 2nd baseman. No man standing 5'6" tall could possibly play big league baseball, they chortled.

Now close to the end of his third full season (4th overall), Jose Altuve is resoundingly proving the critics wrong. He may be short, but he plays far bigger than his size. For all intents and purposes, Altuve is a giant among Major League baseball players.

Altuve has improved steadily since he hit .276 in 57 games for the Astros in 2011. In 2012, he hit .290 with 167 hits, and 33 stolen bases (to lead the Astros in all three lists), and .283 with 177 hits, and 35 stolen bases in 2013 (again, leading the Astros). With his often spectacular and always solid play at 2nd base, Altuve has quietly become a team leader on the field and in the dugout.

In 2014, Altuve continued to shine. As of this writing, Altuve leads all Major League players in hits with 213, twenty-eight more than the nearest competitor. He is the MLB leader in batting average at .344 (11 points higher than 2nd place), and multi-hit games with 65 (ten more than 2nd place).

On September 17 at Houston's Minute Maid Park, Altuve stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 5th inning and stroked a double to left field. With that, his 43rd double of the season (3rd place in MLB), he joined long time Houston favorite Craig Biggio at the top of the team's all-time single season hit list.

Two innings later, with Biggio again watching from a seat behind the plate, Altuve drove a two-out single up the middle to stand alone at the top. It was Altuve's 6th straight multi-hit game, and his 64th multi-hit game of the season.

In typical Altuve fashion, he ran to first base and stood on the bag as though nothing special had happened. Most record breakers pump their fists in triumph or show some other sign of self-congratulation. We expect this, and there is nothing wrong with an athlete celebrating a personal victory, however, Altuve's reaction was perfect for the occasion, and typical of the way he plays the game. Possibly in deference to the great Biggio (a Houston favorite), and because Jose is a humble, respectful man, there were no such gestures.

Altuve is still vying for the batting championship – something no Houston player has ever won. Of the great Astros hitters like Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, and Lance Berkman – the greatest players in Astros/Colt .45s history – none won a batting title.

Even if Altuve doesn't win a batting championship, he is still the Houston Astros all-time single season leader in hits. That automatically places him in a position of being a giant among his peers.

Update: On Sunday, September 28, in the final game of the season, Altuve went 2-4, while 2nd place Victor Martinez had no hits. Altuve is the first batting champion in the history of the Houston Astros/Colt .45s. 

© 2014 Larry Manch

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