Yes, Jose Altuve is little. But he also might be the Astros’ Next Big Thing.
My first lesson in Baseball Height 101 arrived soon after I started working for the Astros in 1997. My first day of work was about a week before everyone left for Spring Training, so I met practically no one in my first two months, relying solely on headshots in the media guide to learn who everyone was.
I read the player bios incessantly, as it was my responsibility to finish up the media guide, proofread it until my eyeballs bled and send it off to the printer. So on more than one occasion — twice a day, really, for the better part of three weeks — I read this blurb, among others:
Months later, I met Bagwell. And I remember thinking, if that’s six feet, I’m 7-2. Years later, when I knew him better, I casually brought up the six-foot listing. He laughed and said, “I know, isn’t it hilarious?”
Hilarious is a good word for some of the heights you’ll see as the “official” listings of ballplayers. I think Billy Wagner was listed at 5-11, as was Craig Biggio. Mike Hampton was 5-10.
I soon learned that the general rule of thumb is this: when you’re really, truly, legitimately taller than six feet, you’re listed at what you actually are. If you’re under, well, the listing is usually your real height, plus two inches.
That brings us to Corpus Christi Hooks second baseman Jose Altuve. On minorleaguebaseball.com, Baseball Reference and the Astros media guide, he is listed as 5-foot-7.
In Corpus, however — in their game programs, on their roster sheets, in stories written by their beat writer — the 21-year-old Altuve is referred to as a far more accurate 5-foot-5.
“Five-seven?” someone close to the situation in Corpus said. “That’s a Houston thing.”
Altuve’s diminutive size is a common topic around here. He has probably had to discuss his height with just about every media type who has wanted to talk to him since he was signed as a non-drafted free agent at the age of 16 in 2006. With this in mind, I figured I’d get it out of the way early when we chatted after batting practice Thursday.
Altuve smiled at the line of questioning.
“Everywhere I go, people say, ‘Hey, you’re small,’” he said. “I know that. Like I’ve said before, I just want to show that short guys can play, too.”
Before he signed with the Astros, Altuve attended a couple of tryouts in Venezuela, and he heard the same thing over and over again: You play well. But you’re small.
“When I went to the Astros, they said, ‘OK. You’re small,’” Altuve recalled. “I said, ‘I know! I know! Everybody says that.’” But then his new employer followed up with, “But we’re going to give you the opportunity.”
“And they gave it to me,” Altuve said. “They said, ‘Just do what you know how to do.’ I said, ‘This (baseball) is what I know how to do.’”
Altuve will represent the Astros organization on Sunday when he plays for the World Team in the All-Star Futures Game in Phoenix. It will be his first exposure to a Major League ballpark, and he’ll play in front of a crowd that will resemble something close to Major League as well.
It’s likely his height will be a topic of conversation, again. His Hooks manager, Tom Lawless, expects that line of questioning to follow Altuve throughout his career. Lawless is also fully convinced that career will include significant time in the big leagues — sooner than later.
“You can be short, tall, skinny, tubby,” Lawless said. “There are a lot ways to play the game of baseball. It’s not like football or basketball. You have the opportunity, whether you’re 5-foot-4 or 6-foot-4, to play baseball.”
That said, Lawless, who has been managing Altuve since the second baseman was promoted from Lancaster in early June, realizes Altuve will have his detractors.
“I told him a couple weeks ago, ‘People are always going to doubt you because of your size,’” Lawless said. “‘You’re going to have to always bring an energy, play good, solid defense and continue to hit.’ So far, he hasn’t let anybody down.”
Altuve entered play Thursday leading all full-season Minor Leaguers this season with a .391 batting average. He had 17 multi-hit games of the first 28 he played with the Hooks. Against Double-A right-handed pitchers, he’s hitting .363. Against lefties, .343.
“He’s line drive hitter,” Lawless said. “He gets the barrel to the ball. For a short little guy, he has pretty good bat speed, which generates into power. He can hit it out of the ballpark. And it doesn’t matter if it’s right center field, or left center.”
So that’s the baseball stuff. Other reasons you’re going to like Altuve: he’s a friendly kid. Smart. Good sense of humor. Smiles a lot. And he speaks fluent English, which is not a requirement for getting to the big leagues but makes the transition 100 times easier when it gets to be that time.
I (only semi-jokingly) told him I’d lobby for him to get a big league Spring Training invite next year. I also asked him if it intimidates him at all when he hears the top dogs who run the Astros — GM Ed Wade on down — gush about him.
“When I heard things like that coming from the general manager, there might have been a little pressure,” he said. “But I don’t think too much about that. I play hard and just go every day, as hard as I can.”
That approach has created a buzz in Corpus. Eventually, the small man could be making big news in Houston, too.
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