Altuve stopped growing in his early teens. Ever since, his ability on a baseball field has been second guessed. Along the way, he's silenced the skeptics.
Stories abound through the years about Altuve being sent home from a tryout camp only to show up the next day, or having coaches and stadium security guards mistake him for a bat boy. But he’s defied stereotypes and shown that he’s the real thing.
- When Altuve's mother, Lastenia, went into labor, his father, Carlos, was watching a baseball game at a stadium next to the hospital in Maracay. People ran from the hospital to the stadium to tell his dad he had a kid on the way.
Jose has a real cult following among some hard core Houston Astros fans. He is the ultimate underdog at just 5-feet-6. He is built like a fire hydrant.
Before 2011 spring training, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Altuve as the 28th-best prospect in the Astros' organization.
Altuve's high-energy play is contagious to teammates. He is a team leader and impresses with his ability in all areas of the game.
Jose is a special type of person. Before games, Altuve can be seen chatting it up in the middle infield, flitting here and there with his cap resting high on his head and the bill at an upward angle, and displaying a joy for the game that can’t be faked. His enthusiasm makes him a natural fan favorite at Minute Maid Park and on the road.
During the winter months, following every offseason until after the 2013 season, Altuve returned home to play in the Venezuelan League. As the second baseman for the Navegantes del Magallanes, Altuve played with and against current Major Leaguers. His teammates included Rangers shortstop Andres Blanco, Blue Jays outfielder Juan Rivera, and Angels third baseman Alberto Callaspo.
"They help me with a lot of things," Altuve said about playing with big leaguers. "They tell me a lot and I watch the way they play. They've showed me you got to slow down the game a little bit; make one out before the second out."
If you include Altuve's numbers at both stops in 2011, he won the minor league batting title and hit .389/.426/.591 at Single-A and Double-A combined.
- Jose's two favorite ballplayers to watch are Omar Vizquel and Marco Scutaro.
While attending an Astros camp in Venezuela, he was actually told he had been cut but still showed up the next day and proved himself to the scouts.
- Altuve eats a Subway sandwich before most games.
- Jose's two favorite things are sleep and music.
- Altuve's favorite city to play in is Denver.
- Jose's secret talent is Ping Pong.
Altuve's hero when he was young: Omar Vizquel.
And he says that Vizquel gave him great advice: "Omar Vizquel told me that whatever I want to do, do it hard."
Favorite movie: X-Men. "I love all of them," Jose said.
Actor: Angelina Jolie.
TV show: Two and a Half Men.
Music: "I like all kinds. It depends on my mood."
Biggest disappointment: "I don't have many. But when I do have one, I forget it right away," Altuve said.
Most embarrassing baseball experience: "When I was a rookie, my teammates took my clothes from my locker and left me with women's clothes that I had to wear on the plane ride back to Houston," Jose said. "I was so embarrassed I kept looking down. But we had fun with it." (Rick Sorci - Baseball Digest - Jan. 2015)
After the 2013 season, Jose skipped the Venezuelan winter league and returned early to Houston to dedicate himself to an off-season program that included cardio, agility training and heavy workouts for the legs, like running uphill.
"He understood he needed to be in better shape," says longtime Astros bullpen catcher and fellow Venezuean, 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." (Emma Span - Sports Illustrated - 11/21/2014)
- Altuve is almost maniacally modest. The only thing he will brag about is his Ping-Pong talent—he's easily the best in the Astros' clubhouse.
- Altuve is 5' 5" tall. That makes him the shortest active player in Major League Baseball, and the shortest since Freddie Patek retired in 1981. (Spring 2014)
Inspired by broadcasters debating how many "Altuves" a particular home run traveled, Bryan Trostel created a simple web-based calculator to calculate distance in Official Standard Listed Altuves (OSLA). To match Altuve's listed height, one OSLA = 5.417 feet.
Altuve himself has been receptive of the idea, saying "It's funny, man," he said. "When they told me how many 'Altuves' was a home run, I just laughed." Trostel, who published his calculator at HowManyAltuves.com, has expanded it to include speed (Altuves per second) as well as cubic and squared Altuves for volume and area. (January 2014)
When Jose saw his name penciled in as his team's cleanup hitter for a game in June 2014, he quickly snapped a photo of the lineup card and fired it off to his buddy, Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera.
"This is what a four hitter looks like," he wrote. Or a batting champion. Or a stolen base champion. Actually, it's what an impact baseball player looks like, a guy who makes the players in front of him better as well as the players behind him.
It's the look of a guy who examines himself and his game and dedicates himself to getting better. That's getting better physically by giving up burgers and fries, dropping 10 pounds and sticking with a new training regimen.
That's getting better mentally, too, by working relentlessly on his swing mechanics and studying enough video to walk to home plate with an idea of how he intends to approach the at-bat.
Altuve didn't really reinvent himself in his third full big league season. He was already a very solid player. He was a member of the 2012 National League All-Star Team. So this appearance in the 2014 All-Star Game is a validation of hours of hard work on and off the field.
"I remember my first All-Star Game when I went in there and looked around and couldn't believe I was there with all those guys," he said. "I think it helped that people doubted me. I thought I could get to the big leagues and be a good player." (Justice - mlb.com - 7/14/14)
OK, in his breakout 2014 season, Altuve became the first player in history to reach 130 hits and 40 steals before the All-Star break. One reason is his physical conditioning.
"I feel 100 percent right now," he said. "(In 2013), I had a couple of things in my legs that slowed me down. I feel really good right now. I feel a little faster. I've been getting a lot of hits with ground balls to shortstop, and I think that's been the difference."
He has a better idea what he's doing at home plate thanks to the regimen Astros hitting coach John Mallee got him to buy into. He studies each pitcher and walks to home plate with a better idea of what the pitcher is going to throw.
He also believes that having rookie George Springer hitting behind him helps with piling up stolen bases. "You can't throw him a fastball right in the middle," Altuve said. "He'll make you pay. You have to throw him more breaking pitches and pitch around him. I think it's been easier for me."
Altuve said the second time in an All-Star Game is a more comfortable experience. His first one went by in a blur. Asked what he remembered, he said, "My ground ball to second base that I was safe at first, that they called me out. Jim Joyce called me out. That's my memory." (Justice - mlb.com - 7/14/14)
Miguel Cabrera and Altuve both hail from the city of Maracay, and they’ve become pals in recent years. They spent some time last winter hanging out off the field and goofing around playing softball or basketball, with Altuve presumably playing the role of Spud Webb.
“We have a pretty good relationship,” Jose said. “He always tells me, ‘You’re agood hitter and a good player. Keep it going.’ For me to hear that from the best hitter in the big leagues means a lot. In the beginning, when he said that, I kind of pressed. I was like, ‘Oh my god, Miguel Cabrera.’ Now I appreciate all the support he’s given to me.”
Former Astros manager Bo Porter grew so tired of hearing Altuve referred to as “diminutive” or “pint-sized,” he opted for irony and anointed Altuve “The Big Guy.” If follically impaired Harlem Globetrotters guard Fred Neal could go by the nickname “Curly,” why not?
- Jose's wife, Nina, is his childhood sweetheart.
A crew from MLB Productions followed 2014 AL batting champion Altuve around for several months to gather footage for a documentary about him.
The movie was the idea of club owner Jim Crane, who wanted Altuve to get some publicity following a season in which he set a club record with 225 hits and led the AL with a .341 batting average and 56 stolen bases. The movie will run on MLB Network, likely in April 2015.
"He's the first batting champion we've ever had, and that's quite an achievement on his part," Crane said. "He's the spark of the team. He's got an infectious smile, he's a great guy and I think you'll see him step up to the lead a lot more this year."
The production crew was in Japan when Altuve participated in a tour of Major League All-Stars in December, 2014, and it traveled to Altuve's native Venezuela in January to get more footage. Altuve was wearing a microphone as he participated in the first day of full-squad workouts Wednesday at Osceola County Stadium while cameras followed him.
Altuve even joked he's leading man material. "I feel like Brad Pitt, like a movie actor," he said. "This might be my start in Hollywood, don't you think?" (McTaggart - mlb.com - 2/25/15)
When the 2013 season ended, Altuve was unhappy with himself. He'd hit .283 that year, but he was convinced there was so much more for him. So he went to work. He did some basic things. He paid more attention to nutrition. He got leaner and stronger.
And with the help of then-Astros hitting coach John Mallee, he worked harder at both his physical and mental preparation. He spent hours studying opposing pitchers and went into each at-bat with an understanding of what he wanted to do.
He also amped up a pregame routine that included indoor batting and video study prior to the normal round of batting practice. Late last season, Mallee, blown away by Altuve's success, choked back tears as he discussed the transformation.
"I feel like he's one of my sons," Mallee said.
Mallee will be the first to tell you that, apart from the preparation and the work, Altuve has remarkable physical skills. "You may never see someone with quicker hand-eye coordination," Mallee said.
That is, Altuve has the ability to adjust to almost anything. If he's looking for a fastball, he can still get the bat on, say, a changeup or breaking pitch.
"The ability to kind of make those quick adjustments as pitchers were trying to adjust to him and try new things is pretty impressive," Astros catcher Jason Castro said. (Justice - mlb.com - 3/9/15)
- Players who accomplish enormous feats or have record-breaking seasons that draw a lot of attention often say that it isn't until much later that the impact of their achievements really sink in.
It's highly likely that ifJosehadn't thought about how tremendous his 2014 actually was, the constant reminders, in the form of award after award after award, have done that for him.
Altuve, who set an Astros record with 225 hits, received his GIBBY [Greatness In BaseBall Yearly] Award at Minute Maid Park as the 2014 Breakout Everyday Player of the Year lauding his record-setting season.
"Obviously, last year was a great year," Altuve said. "I think there were a lot of guys here that had really good years, so that makes the season better. I got a couple of awards, and that's good. It means you're doing a great job for your team, and that's what you're working for."
The GIBBYs are presented by MLB.com and represent the ultimate honors of the industry's awards season. The votes are based on input from broadcasters, reporters, front-office personnel, MLB alumni, fans at MLB.com and the Society for American Baseball Research.
In addition to producing on the field, Altuve takes it a step further. In a game where some players think the more serious they look on the field, the more "locked in" everyone watching will think they are, Altuve manages to both play at an elite level and have fun too.
"By the time the game starts, I try to have fun," Altuve said. "Baseball is about having fun. You have to play hard and you have to do everything for your teammates. But at the same time, you have to have fun. That's what I try to do. It's really hard for me not to be smiling when I'm playing."
Altuve also received his award from the Houston chapter of the BBWAA as the Astros MVP for 2014. (Footer - mlb.com - 4/15/15)
- June 27, 2015: Correa is learning rapidly during his rookie year. In turn, he's pushing Jose Altuve, his double-play partner and locker mate. At least that's how Astros manager A.J. Hinch saw it.
"They feed off each other, they're developing a nice friendship, a nice trust in that second base-shortstop position and it's key to have," said Hinch. "I'm proud of how Jose is introducing Correa to the big leagues and how Correa is going to push Altuve to be great."
"It's really fun playing with that guy," Altuve said. "Great hitter, great defender. It's great to play up the middle with him.".
"We play good baseball, we play hard and we play until the last out," Correa said. "I feel comfortable, I have a great group of guys here and it's a great lineup." (C Rome - MLB.cpm - June 27, 2015)
Altuve was selected to start in the 2015 All-Star Game.
Plenty of camaraderie exists between players who hail from the same country, but in the case of Astros second baseman Jose Altuve and Royals catcher Salvador Perez, their Venezuelan mutual admiration society began long before they were Major Leaguers.
The two played together as youngsters, when they were around 11 or 12 years old. Their travel team took them to other countries, where they represented Venezuela with as much pride as they do as adults and professional athletes today. Perez said Altuve was superior even way back when.
"He played," Perez said. "Leadoff, he threw hard, he stole bases, made some plays. Always. Whatever [he's] doing here [in the big leagues]—200 hits this year again—nothing is a surprise to me. I know where he comes from and I know what he's about."
Altuve remembers his youth baseball days a little differently.
"I was on the bench," he deadpanned. "I played second when we were winning by 10 or losing by 10."
And his memories of Perez?
"All I remember is he played first base because our manager said he couldn't catch," Altuve said. Looks like things have changed.
Asked if Altuve ever got picked on for his small stature, Perez shook his head with an emphatic no.
"He was better than everybody on the team," he said. "Nobody could say anything. "I'm 6-4, and he's like 5-1. And he's way better than me." ( Alyson Footer / MLB.com )
Altuve facts in 2016: Altuve was established not only as one of the best "short guys" in big league history, but among the greatest stars through age-25. Let's look at 10 facts that highlight his excellence:
1. Among players listed at 5-foot-6 or shorter, only Altuve, Willie Keeler and Billy Hamilton (of the 19th century) have multiple 200-hit seasons.
2. By pacing the American League in hits in 2014 and 2015, Altuve joined Keeler (1897-98, 1900) as one of only two men at 5-foot-6 or under to have led the league in hits multiple times.
3. Among all position players in baseball history to be listed at 5-foot-6 or shorter, Altuve ranks sixth in cumulative Wins Above Replacement through age-25.
4. Altuve is one of five second basemen since 1901 to lead the league in hits in back-to-back seasons, and his 830 career hits are seventh most among all keystone men through age-25.
5. Dating back to 1901, Altuve is one of eight under-age-26 stars, regardless of position, to lead the league in hits in consecutive years. The previous seven: Ty Cobb (1907-09, 1911-12); Shoeless Joe Jackson (1912-13), Rogers Hornsby (1920-21), Ducky Medwick (1936-37), Stan Musial (1943-44), Harvey Kuenn (1953-54) and George Brett (1975-76).
6. Among second basemen, Altuve is ahead of where 3,000-hit club members Paul Molitor (735), Pete Rose (723), Nap Lajoie (721) and Rod Carew (675) were through their age-25 campaigns. He is also ahead of the pace of a host of Hall of Fame second-sackers like Billy Herman, Frankie Frisch, Nellie Fox, Ryne Sandberg, Tony Lazzeri and Charlie Gehringer.
7. Altuve is also one of 13 players to have multiple campaigns with 200 hits and 40 doubles through age 25. The previous dozen: Hall of Famers Lou Gehrig, Hornsby, Paul Waner, Chuck Klein, Herman, Hank Greenberg, Musial and Ducky Medwick; and non-Cooperstown residents Jackson, Pinky Whitney, Hal Trosky and Don Mattingly.
8. Altuve and Jackson are the only players to have multiple 200-hit, 40-double, 30-steal seasons before entering their age-26 campaigns.
9. Altuve is also one of just 10 players in the modern era—with Cobb, Tris Speaker, Roberto Alomar and Alex Rodriguez among them—to accumulate at least 800 hits, 150 doubles and 150 steals through age-25.
10. Altuve is one of four players since 1901 to lead his league in both hits and steals in the same campaign before age 26. Altuve accomplished the feat in both 2014 and 2015, joining Rickey Henderson (1981), Snuffy Stirnweiss (1944) and Cobb (1907, '09, '11). (Schluetter - MLB.com - 3/11/16)
May 5, 2016: Jose met a boy with terminal cancer on the field before the game who asked him to hit a home run. Altuve delivered and then some, walloping a homer in his first at-bat to spark a 4-for-4 night.
July 22, 2016: Mike Trout first played against Altuve in Double-A in 2011, when Altuve torched the Texas League with a .361 batting average.
"They couldn't get him out," Trout said. "I knew he was going to be good." The two have since sparred as division rivals and have played together on four All-Star teams, growing a little closer each time.
"He hits everything," Trout said of Altuve, who is 15 months older and eight inches shorter. "I was talking to a couple of the pitchers. You try to switch up your approach, the way you want to attack him, but he hits it anyway.
"He stands really far from the plate, so people think you can just throw a fastball in the outside corner and he won't hit it. But he gets to it, and he can drive it. And he's hitting for power." (A Gonzalez - MLB.com - July 22, 2016)
We all know Jose knows baseball. But he knows soccer, too? Growing up in Venezuela, Altuve had no choice but to try his hand at soccer as well as baseball, though he certainly appears to have picked the right sport.
Altuve probably could have been a decent soccer player considering his speed and coordination. In fact, he likes to still dabble in the occasional soccer game in the offseason to keep in shape. But don't worry, Astros fans—it's more about running wind sprints down the field than tackling, so Altuve's friends know to take it easy on him.
"I actually still [play soccer] in the offseason," Altuve said. "When I don't feel like doing cardio or something, I'm going to go out there and play soccer with my friends. They know they have to be careful with me, but we have a lot of fun playing soccer."
Altuve keeps himself in incredible shape. He made a commitment prior to the 2014 season to shed some weight in an effort to add more speed and possibly beat out some infield hits. It paid off. Altuve set a franchise record with 225 hits and hit .341, winning the AL batting title.
The Astros' second baseman has been "speedy" in other ways, too. On August 16, 2016, Altuve notched career hit No. 1,000 in just his 786th game, reaching the milestone faster than anyone in team history. Among active Major Leaguers, only Ichiro Suzuki achieved the feat in fewer games (696).
Altuve said he plays soccer for an hour once or twice a week in the offseason, which is enough cardio for him when added to his running and other activities. That being said, the All-Star couldn't imagine trading in his baseball career for a soccer career.
"I don't know," he said. "I'm happy to play baseball."
Altuve, who often challenges his teammates to games of soccer video games in the clubhouse, is a huge spectator fan for the sport and cheers for Spanish power Real Madrid. "The two biggest sports in my country are baseball and soccer," he said. "I played baseball all my life, but actually played soccer for a while."
While Altuve has the speed to play soccer, he says he doesn't necessarily have the skills. He can put the bat on the ball as well as anyone and he hits the ball hard, but he's not sure he could make that same kind of contact in soccer.
"You have to be fast with strong legs," Altuve said. "I don't think I can kick a ball that hard like they do." (McTaggart - MLB.com - 8/17/16)
Oct 1, 2016: Jose Altuve's second American League batting title in three years was a cause for celebration for the Astros, who held a champagne toast for their All-Star and all-everything second baseman in the clubhouse following the 2016 season finale, 3-0 win over the Angels at Angel Stadium in the penultimate game of the 2016 season.
Altuve went 2-for-4 to raise his average to .338, far out of the reach of Red Sox teammates Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia—both of whom were hitting .320 entering the final day of the season. Altuve won the 2014 batting title after hitting .341.
"I wanted to make sure that he got recognized in front of our team," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "Very rarely do you get a batting champion in front of you. He's been excellent all season. The team was excited to celebrate him, so we raised a glass to a really remarkable season that continues and can get even better tomorrow. But even if it stops, it's one of the best seasons I've been around."
As usual, Altuve credited his teammates with helping him reach the milestone.
"It's great," Altuve said. "I feel really happy. I think I have to thank all the guys on the team. They really made my job easier this year—Georgie [Springer], Carlos [Correa], Marwin [Gonzalez]—every single guy that was in the lineup did something to help me win the batting title.
"The way that these guys played this year, they went outside to the field and played hard, and that kind of encouraged me and pushed me to keep playing hard every day. It's really fun to play on a team like this. We're out of the playoffs, but it was a great season, a winning season. We know what we've got here and we're going to come back next year and I know we're going to make it."
Altuve, who is one of the front-runners for the AL Most Valuable Player Award, is perhaps the most popular player in the Astros' clubhouse, so his teammates were on board with toasting him.
"Coming into this season, he had a plan and executed well and did it every day," outfielder Jake Marisnick said. "Every day you come in, being one of the young guys, you get a chance to see him how he goes about his business every day and how he works. It's awesome. We're all pretty pumped for him." (B McTaggart - MLB.com - Oct 2, 2016)
October 2016: This month, Altuve will be among several MLB stars who'll appear in a World-Series themed episode of the Cartoon Network show "Uncle Grandpa" on Oct. 22 at 11:15 a.m. Central. In the episode, the title character enlists Altuve, Rays pitcher Chris Archer, Baltimore Orioles All-Star center fielder Adam Jones, Red Sox pitcher David Price and Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard to help train his struggling little league team on the brink of giving up.
October 27, 2016: Altuve was named the Sporting News' MLB Player of the Year, joining Jeff Bagwell (1994) as the only Houston players to win the honor. The award, originated in 1936, is voted upon by the players.
November 9, 2016: Altuve was selected as the AL's Outstanding Player for the 2016 Players Choice Award.
December 2016: Altuve committed to play for Venezuela in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
2016 season: Altuve had the best season of his career with the Astros. He won his second American League batting title in three years, hitting .338 with career highs in homers (24) and RBIs (96) to go along with 30 steals, 42 doubles, a .928 OPS and 7.6 Wins Above Replacement. He led the AL in hits for the third year in a row and was named to his fourth All-Star team.
Altuve finished third in the AL Most Valuable Player Award balloting, behind Mike Trout and Mookie Betts, and was named the Sporting News' MLB Player of the Year.
Altuve is the first second baseman to record 100 runs scored, 200 hits, 40 doubles, 20 homers, 95 RBIs and 30 steals in a season. He's just the sixth player in Major League history to reach all of those marks, regardless of position. By winning the batting title for the second time, Altuve became the first second baseman to win multiple batting titles since Rod Carew won five from 1969-75. (Brian McTaggart - MLB.com - Dec. 2016)
2017: Altuve represented Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.
- September 2006: Altuve signed with Astros' scouts Pablo Torrealba and Wolfgang Ramon.
July 13, 2013: The Astros and Altuve agreed to a four-year contract extension with a pair of option years, marking the team's first significant contract commitment under General Manager Jeff Luhnow.
The extension begins in 2014 and runs through the 2017 season, and has club options for '18 and '19. Additional terms were not disclosed, but Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reported the deal is worth $12.5 million for four years, with the two club options worth $6 million and $6.5 million.