TOO SOON?

Here's why we need to have a candid conversation about Astros' Jose Altuve

Here's why we need to have a candid conversation about Astros' Jose Altuve
Is Jose Altuve already the greatest Astro of all-time? Composite Getty Image.
Houston Astros playoff hype: Unfinished business

Over the past three weeks, Astros second baseman Jose Altuve knocked his 2,000th hit, clubbed his 200th home run, hit for his first cycle and supercharged the Astros to dust themselves off and make another run to the World Series.

You’ve heard it in soft tones for a couple of years but now it’s a citywide chant: Jose Altuve is the greatest Houston Astro of all-time.

I’ve been saying it, too. I love to watch Altuve play the game. He’s everything that’s good about baseball. Despite being the shortest player on the team (heck, in all the major leagues), nothing is more fun for an Astros fan than watching Altuve blast the first pitch of the game over the railroad tracks at Minute Maid Park. Yeah, he’s a pint-sized power hitter in the leadoff spot. He’s leading the team in batting average, now at .322 after his cycle Monday night.

These days every Little League dad tells his kid … play like Jose Altuve. Kids get it.

You know the recent past. Altuve has led the Astros to two World Series titles, six Championship Series appearances, five Divisional titles, four World Series appearances. Altuve is the heart and soul of the Houston Astros.

But does all that team success make Altuve the greatest Astro of all-time? Baseball is a team sport. GOAT is an individual title.

Although it hasn’t been that many years, time does have a habit of slipping away. Have we forgotten the greatness, the GOATness of Craig Biggio?

A few years ago, I visited the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. They have plaques listing the Top 10 players in all sorts of categories. I was surprised how many times I saw Biggio’s name.

He ranks sixth in National League history in games played, fifth in at bats, seventh in runs scored. Biggio’s 668 doubles is sixth in all of baseball history, second most by a right-handed batter.

Biggio, who played from 1988 to 2007, holds the Astros career marks in, deep breath, hits (3,060), singles (2,046), doubles (668), extra base hits (1,014), total bases (4,711), sacrifices (101), times on base (4,505), hit by pitch (285), runs created (1,832), games played (2,850), at bats (10,876), plate appearances (12,504), and dirty uniforms (a billion).

For most of their careers, both Biggio and Altuve played the same position – second base. And they played it well. Biggio collected four Gold Gloves Awards at second base. Altuve has one Gold Glove.

Biggio also played a few years in the outfield and behind home plate. Does that matter? Depends who you ask. I once sat down with Pete Rose and asked if he saw a lot of himself in Altuve, you know, the scrappy second baseman playing above his physical stature.

Rose seemed to take a bit of offense to the question. He said, “Yes, but I also made the All-Star Game as a left fielder, right fielder, third base and first base.”

So versatility does count, at least to Pete Rose, the Hit King.

Speaking of hits, when Altuve got his 2,000th hit, we heard good wishes for another 1,000. Will Altuve get there? It’s a good question. As of today, Altuve is 1,047 hits behind Biggio. Altuve is 33 years old.

Altuve entered the big leagues like a house on fire. Starting in 2012, his first full season, Altuve averaged 198 hits over the next six seasons. He also rarely missed a game, averaging 154 games those years. His batting average over that span: .318.

Altuve hasn’t been as durable the past four full MLB seasons. He’s averaged 137 games a year since 2018. His batting average in recent years: .298.

Altuve had 200+ hits four seasons in a row, 2014-17. He hasn’t since then, and he won’t this year, when he’s missed 69 of the Astros 131 games due to injuries (broken hand and oblique strain).

At his rate over the past several years, it will take Altuve more than six prolific seasons to catch Biggio’s hit total. If his health stays good, he will be 40 years old when he approaches Biggio’s mark.

In Altuve’s favor for Astros’ GOAT status, he has it all over Biggio in post-season stats. Altuve has 23 home runs (second all-time) and a .271 batting average in 92 career games and (fingers crossed) counting. Biggio had a .234 batting average and two homers in 40 games.

So as we stand here today, who is the Greatest Astro of All-Time? It’s really impossible to say. Let’s say that Biggio is the leader in the clubhouse while Altuve is still on the course.

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Will robot umps improve baseball? Composite Getty Images.

Major League Baseball could test robot umpires as part of a challenge system in spring training next year, which could lead to regular-season use in 2026.

MLB has been experimenting with the automated ball-strike system in the minor leagues since 2019 but is still working on the shape of the strike zone.

“I said at the owners meeting it is not likely that we would bring ABS to the big leagues without a spring training test. OK, so if it’s ’24 that leaves me ’25 as the year to do your spring training test if we can get these issues resolved, which would make ’26 a viable possibility,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday during a meeting with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. "But is that going to be the year? I’m not going to be flat-footed on that issue.

“We have made material progress. I think that the technology is good to a 100th of an inch. The technology in terms of the path of the ball is pluperfect.”

Triple-A ballparks have used ABS this year for the second straight season, but there is little desire to call the strike zone as the cube defined in the rule book and MLB has experimented with modifications during minor league testing.

The ABS currently calls strikes solely based on where the ball crosses the midpoint of the plate, 8.5 inches from the front and the back. The top of the strike zone was increased to 53.5% of batter height this year from 51%, and the bottom remained at 27%.

"We do have technical issues surrounding the definition of the strike zone that still need to be worked out,” Manfred said.

After splitting having the robot alone for the first three games of each series and a human with a challenge system in the final three during the first 2 1/2 months of the Triple-A season, MLB on June 25 switched to an all-challenge system in which a human umpire makes nearly all decisions.

Each team currently has three challenges in the Pacific Coast League and two in the International League. A team retains its challenge if successful, similar to the regulations for big league teams with video reviews.

“The challenge system is more likely or more supported, if you will, than the straight ABS system,” players' association head Tony Clark said earlier Tuesday at a separate session with the BBWAA. "There are those that have no interest in it at all. There are those that have concerns even with the challenge system as to how the strike zone itself is going to be considered, what that looks like, how consistent it is going to be, what happens in a world where Wi-Fi goes down in the ballpark or the tech acts up on any given night.

“We’re seeing those issues, albeit in minor league ballparks," Clark added. "We do not want to end up in a world where in a major league ballpark we end up with more questions than answers as to the integrity of that night’s game or the calls associated with it.”

Playing rules changes go before an 11-member competition committee that includes four players, an umpire and six team representatives. Ahead of the 2023 season, the committee adopted a pitch clock and restrictions on defensive shifts without support from players.

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