All hail the conquering little hero. Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve — all 5-foot-6, 160 pounds of him — is the American League Most Valuable Player.
No one should be terribly surprised about this. The 27-year-old Venezuelan who led the Astros to their first World Series title this season clearly is the best pure hitter in the game and put up the best numbers of his career.
Not bad for a young man who got turned away from an Astros tryout camp in Venezuela because — at the time — he wasn’t much bigger than countryman and two-time Preakness-winning jockey Javier Castellano.
The story is particularly delicious because Altuve’s chief MVP rival was Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge, who is 6-7, 282 pounds and one of the biggest guys to ever play in the major leagues. And the National League winner, Giancarlo Stanton, also is one of the literal giants of the sport.
This is why baseball is the National Pastime — because it is the only major team sport in which two players at opposite ends of the physical spectrum can excel at every skill necessary to be a dominant player.
Altuve didn’t just lead the majors with a .346 batting average and reel off more than 200 hits for the fourth straight time, but he also hit 24 home runs and stole 32 bases. Obviously, he didn’t hit as many home runs as Judge or hit them as far, but he has proved over the course of his career that anyone with talent and drive can climb to the very top of the baseball world.
I remember being absolutely stunned when 5-foot-5, 148-pound California Angels shortstop Freddy Patek hit three home runs in a game against the Red Sox at Fenway Park during my first full season as a baseball writer back in 1980. Never thought I’d see anything like that again.
It was something of a fluke, considering that Patek hit only two other home runs that season.
When Altuve hit three in a playoff game against the Red Sox last month, it was just part of a body of work that would be incredible regardless of the size of his body.
Throw in that he apparently is a terrific young man whose humility was evident during his post-announcement interview on the BBWAA/MLB Network broadcast on Thursday night and it was a truly feel-good moment for the sport.