Altuve's extension cause for celebration
Extension a boon for Altuve, city, Astros fans
HOUSTON -- Jose Altuve is that player that comes along once every generation or so, that player who helps define an entire sport with his greatness and desire, professionalism and humility, decency and everyman quality.
That's why the Houston Astros did what they did on Friday in announcing a five-year, $151-million extension for the reigning American League Most Valuable Player, three-time AL batting champ and face of the defending World Series champions.
This deal puts Altuve, 27, under contract for the next seven seasons, through 2024, when he'll turn 34. His current contract had two more seasons on it, and the very thought of Altuve wearing another uniform sent shivers through an organization and a city.
Hats off to Astros owner Jim Crane for doing this deal. Hats off as well to agent Scott Boras for hammering out this contract with Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow.
Maybe in the end, they all came to the same place: Money aside, which Altuve might have gotten plenty of in a lot of places, he will never be as beloved as he is in this city.
Set the numbers aside for a moment. Sure, there were market factors at work, but that's way, way beside the point to all the people who care about this baseball team.
And not just the fans, although that's where it begins. Because he is 5-foot-6, he's a reminder that greatness in Major League Baseball is not measured by size.
This sport rewards talent and heart, too. That's what Jose Altuve represents to the guy who sells insurance, drives trucks or works the oil rig. Jose Altuve is their dream, too.
The Astros have seen two of their own -- Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell -- inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame since July 2015, and now we know that sometime in the future, Cooperstown is going to host maybe the biggest and best Astros party of all.
As much as fans love Bagwell and Biggio, no player in this city's baseball history takes a backseat to Altuve in the hearts and minds of fans.
Bagwell and Biggio feel that way, too. They gush about him, about his talent and his work ethic. They were thrilled that he was able to lead the Astros to places in October they never did.
On that magical night last November when the Astros finally hoisted a trophy, both of them were on the field at Dodger Stadium, and the player they mentioned first was Altuve.
"You can't help but love him," Bagwell said. "It's not just his talent. It's how much he cares."
Altuve's coaches and teammates appreciate his relentlessness and daily work ethic, how he walks through the door each day and goes right through his routine of indoor cage work and video study, working an hour or more before even putting his uniform on and doing the things Major League players do every single day of the season.
"How he barrels up the ball so often is just a gift," teammate Collin McHugh said. "You watch him, and you are just blown away by the speed of his hands and eyes, his instincts for hitting a baseball."
Here's the other thing we love about Jose Altuve: He appreciates every single thing this game has given him, and maybe that's why he plays the game with such a joy and energy that has helped define baseball's best team.
I get the same question over and over from fans who watch the dugout dances and bear hugs and hear about the crazy postgame celebrations.
"Are those guys really like that?" they ask.
Yes, they're really like that. It's George Springer and Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and Marwin Gonzalez and lots of others. But it began -- and continues -- with Altuve.
He grew up with a baseball dream in Venezuela, playing pickup games with broomsticks and homemade baseballs. Even then, people began to see that the little kid was gifted.
When he started going to tryout camps, scouts said they appreciated that he had some skills, but they were not going to phone the home office and say they'd just signed a 5-foot-6 kid.
The Astros got lucky in this way. Altuve kept showing back up, again and again. Finally, they needed a player for a camp game, and that's when scout Al Pedrique telephoned his boss, Tim Purpura, the Astros' general manager at the time, and asked for approval to give this kid $15,000.
"I hope teams learn a lesson about evaluating players," said Detroit's Victor Martinez, a fellow Venezuelan and one of Altuve's heroes. "It's not how tall you are. It's your talent. It's your heart."
That's only part one of this story. Altuve sailed through the Minors and made his debut in 2011 at age 21. He quickly became a good player on a bad team, and ESPN nearly made him famous by measuring things in "Altuves."
After three seasons, he had a .285 career batting average and an All-Star appearance, but the Astros' hitting coach at the time, John Mallee, challenged Altuve to be even better.
Altuve focused more on nutrition, video, speed work. In short, he became relentless about preparation and stepping to home plate with a disciplined game plan. That's when a really good player became a great one.
In four seasons since, he has hit .334 and averaged 211 hits per season. As the Astros surrounded him with talent and got better, Altuve gained more recognition for how good he was.
When reporters gather around him after games, he says the usual stuff about the team being all that matters, etc. But get him alone and press him, and he will tell you he also wants to be recognized for his individual accomplishments. He has worked too hard and come too far to feel any other way.
That's what the AL MVP Award means. That's what a World Series win means. And that's what this contract means.
Altuve will make $6 million and $6.5 million the next two seasons, which redefines the term "team-friendly deal." In previous conversations, Boras had said this: "Jose will be a free agent at 29. He'll be fine."
This offseason served as a reminder that teams are reluctant to give huge deals to players of a certain age. The smart ones strike deals before becoming free agents that attempt to take care of their prime years.
This deal is good for Altuve, and it's really good for the Astros. This city has had an amazing few months of championship celebrations and feeding off the energy of a wildly talented and entertaining team.
This deal is one more reason to celebrate. On this day, maybe the only people happier than Jose Altuve are all the people who get to watch him play baseball for the Houston Astros, now and in the future.