Let’s get this out of the way now. Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros is short. He’s not just kind of short or you know, just a little shorter than other professional baseball players. Altuve is legitimately short, especially for a professional baseball player. He’s listed at 5’6″ but embellishment aside, he’s actually 5’5″ and that would make him the shortest active player in baseball.
However, Altuve has also become one of the best hitters in baseball, so much so that his height is becoming an after thought. Of course it’s still discussed and mentioned when he comes up (i.e. in this post) and it’s not as if it’ll never be part of the story. But as his career progresses, his height will continue to become less and less of a story.
Altuve’s story starts in 1990 when he was born in Venezuela. He grew up with fellow All Star Salvador Perez of the Kansas City Royals. Perez has known Altuve was going to be special for a while.
“Jose is capable of doing anything,” Perez said. “He has never let anything stop him, even when we were little kids. He just loves playing baseball and I think that love of baseball really drives him. He always had to prove himself.”
Growing up, Altuve idolized players that reflected both his stature and his work ethic. First it was Omar Vizquel, a fellow native of Venezuela who stands a few inches shy of six feet and was a long-time major leaguer, and then it was Dustin Pedroia, the current second basemen of the Boston Red Sox. Pedroia lists at 5’8″ and while Altuve admits he doesn’t have Pedroia’s strength, he does “try to go out like him and play as hard as he does.”
Now Altuve is playing in his fifth All Star game, starting again at second base for the third straight year. In 2016 he won the American League batting crown, hitting.338, and for the third year in row collected over two hundred hits, a milestone that means a lot to him. He’s led the league in stolen bases, collected a Gold Glove, won three Silver Sluggers and he’s only getting better. Entering the All Star break, Altuve is hitting .347 with 116 hits, 13 home runs and 18 stolen bases.
Here is what else you need to know about Jose Altuve.
1. Altuve Was Sent Home From a Tryout Because People Thought He Was Lying About His Age
At 16 Altuve went to a tryout the Astros were holding in nearby Maracay, Venezuela. The scouts and team personnel gave him a look, but ultimately sent him home, going so far as to ask him not to come back because of his height. Making the dismissal even harsher, no one believed Altuve when he told them how old he was.
Undeterred, Altuve returned for the next session, this time with his birth certificate in hand. With questions about age now answered, Altuve went out an answered questions about how well he could play despite his height. One of the people in attendance was Al Pedrique, a special assistant for the Astros. Pedrique was impressed with Altuve and encouraged the team to sign him, which they did for $15,000.
2. After A Sluggish 2013 Altuve Stayed in Houston to Work on His Game
Altuve made his professional debut for Houston on July 20, 2011. In 57 games that season he had 61 hits and hit .276, promising enough to come back in 2012, when he started to establish himself as consistent hitter and made his first All Star team. He continued to show progress the following year, but it wasn’t the amount of progress he was hoping for. Altuve knew he had to get better and rededicate himself to the game.
“He understood he needed to be in better shape,” says longtime Astros bullpen catcher and fellow Venezuelan Javier Bracamonte. “It impressed me how much he changed in one year. And also he learned how to eat. In the minor leagues he was used to eating [fast food]; now he stays away from junk.”
Instead of returning home to Venezuela for winter ball, Altuve elected to stay in Houston where he participated in an off-season program consisting of cardio work, agility training and extensive leg workouts. On top of that he worked with John Mallee, Houston’s hitting coach at the time, on his pitch recognition and strike zone discipline. Altuve also started to incorporate a leg kick into his swing; something that would help him with his timing.
3. Altuve Had A Break-Out Season in 2014
The work Altuve put in the off-season prior to the 2014 season paid off in a big way. In the first half of the 2014 season Altuve became the first player in 80 years to have 130 hits and 40 stolen bases before the All Star break.
By the time the season was over Altuve had the best average in the American League, becoming the first Astro ever to win a batting title and his 225 hits were the most a player had hit in a season in five years. It was also 15 hits better than the 210 Craig Biggio had hit for the Astros in 1998, which was then a franchise record.
Altuve finished the 2014 season with an on-base percentage of .377, 47 doubles, 7 home runs and 56 steals. His 47 doubles were third most in the American League.
4. Altuve Created The Jump Swing in 2014
So first, let’s quickly set the scene. The Astros were playing the Texas Rangers in late September of 2014. Altuve was up with a man on first. The signal came in for a hit and run. Altuve now had one job and one job only: make contact. Roman Mendez, the Rangers’ pitcher on the mound, knew the deal. He sent a pitch way above the strike zone, roughly head high.
Altuve swung. Altuve didn’t just swing, though. Altuve jumped and then swung.
And just like that, the jump swing was born.
5. Altuve Signed a 4 Year Extension With Houston in 2013
Altuve signed a four year extension with Houston in July of 2013 for $12.5 million. The extension runs through the 2017 season, with Houston holding team options for 2018 and 2019. The extension has worked out well with Altuve. He’s seen his salary go up every year, from $505,700 in 2013 to 2 and 3 million. He’s currently making $4.5 million.
In 2016 Altuve teamed back up with Scott Boras, who had represented Altuve early in his career. Altuve parted ways with Boras back in 2013 when he signed with Octagon, an agency that represented him when he first came up.