THE CASE FOR JOSE ALTUVE
The case for Houston’s Mount Rushmore: Jose Altuve
When Jeff Bagwell retired following the 2005 MLB season, the then 37-year-old first baseman ended his career as the Houston Astros' most celebrated player in franchise history. He held several all-time records at the time of his retirement, and still holds the Astros' highest batting average in a single-season (.368) set in 1994 — which led to a unanimous MVP.
Bagwell will forever be one of the greatest athletes to represent Space City, but the absence of a World Series title has reduced his chances to be placed atop Mount Rushmore. The one player who is well on his way to — and in some cases has— surpassed the Hall of Famer is current Astros' second baseman, Jose Altuve. What Altuve has accomplished in his first nine seasons in Houston is enough to engrave the Venezuela native atop of the city's pinnacle.
"Don't be content with being average. Be better. Work harder. Be great." These are the words Altuve wrote to himself in an inspirational letter penned to himself prior to the Astros' 2019 postseason run. The message was aimed to increase his confidence, but the self-written letter symbolizes the theme of his career more than a self-esteem booster.
When he arrived in Houston during the spring of 2011, the Astros were in disarray. They failed to qualify for the playoffs for the fifth time since 2005, finishing the 2010 season with a 76-86 record. Although he did not have much of an impact as a rookie, Altuve's production through 57 games solidified a bright future for the team. He batted .346 over his first 21 games before falling off a little to end his rookie season with a .276 average. The following year, Altuve received his first of six All-Star selections in 2012 hitting .290 with 33 stolen bases, 34 doubles, and 37 RBIs.
Since his first two seasons, Altuve has established himself as one of the most decorated players in franchise history capturing: Five Silver Slugger awards. Led the American League in stolen bases twice (2014 & 2015). And received a Golden Glove honor in 2015. His career accolades have already placed Altuve as an all-time great, but what separates him from Bagwell and the rest of the Astros' legends is his 2017 season.
In his seventh year, Altuve arguably had the greatest individual season in Astros history. For the first time since 2001, Houston finished first in their division with a 101-61 record, as Altuve took home the 2017 American League Hank Aaron Award, and his third batting title slashing .346/.410/.547 with 24 home runs and 81 RBIs. His outstanding play earned Altuve his first MVP award, as the 5-foot-6 second baseman became the shortest player to receive the honor since Phil Rizzuto in 1950 (Yankees).
The season ended with Altuve helping the Astros capture their first title in a World Series victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Altuve further cemented his legacy in Houston off the diamond by raising millions alongside Houston Texans' star J.J. Watt, to help the city recover from its devastation from Hurricane Harvey.
Following the fallout from the sign-stealing scandal, his image has taken an inadequate hit, but it is not enough to discredit the greatness Altuve has put on display since 2011. A multi-time All-Star. An MVP. And a champion. It's quite a story Altuve is putting together for a 16-year-old baseball hopeful who was once denied a chance to participate in the Astros tryout camp due to his height.