Jose Altuve's Astros teammates don't talk much about his batting titles or All-Star appearances or 200-hit seasons. They don't mention his height -- 5-foot-6, for the record -- which seemed to define him for a time.Nor do they mention that Altuve's greatness, doubted by so many only a few years
Jose Altuve's Astros teammates don't talk much about his batting titles or All-Star appearances or 200-hit seasons. They don't mention his height -- 5-foot-6, for the record -- which seemed to define him for a time.
Nor do they mention that Altuve's greatness, doubted by so many only a few years ago, is now acknowledged throughout the game. That was confirmed twice this week, most recently on Friday when the Esurance MLB Awards named him Best Major Leaguer in balloting by former players, media members, front-office personnel and fans.
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"Thanks Esurance, my teammates and all the fans that made this possible," Altuve said, "because this award includes players from both leagues, and I want to thank you guys again for making it possible."
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Two of baseball's other special players, National League Most Valuable Player Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins and American League Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge of the Yankees, were the next closest finishers to Altuve. Both had spectacular seasons. In the season of the homer, Stanton led the Majors with 59, becoming just the sixth player to hit that many. Judge clobbered 52, the most in history for a rookie.
For Altuve, this award is the culmination of a magical season. After helping guide the Astros to their first World Series championship, he was named AL Most Valuable Player on Thursday.
"I selected Jose Altuve as my Best Major Leaguer because of the way he elevated his game in the postseason after completing one of the best regular-season performances in all of baseball," said former Major League pitcher Jeff Montgomery, an Esurance voter. "He's a gamer."
MLB.com and MLB Network analyst Jim Duquette added, "Altuve was the most consistent and best performer in baseball, a manager and GM's dream player in 2017."
Altuve also shared the Best Major Leaguer, Postseason, honor with teammate Justin Verlander. In five postseason appearances, Verlander was 4-1 with a 2.21 ERA. Meanwhile, Altuve hit .310 with seven home runs and 14 RBIs in 18 postseason games.
The Astros duo bonded in September after Houston acquired Verlander. At one point during the postseason, Altuve told reporters, "I literally love Justin Verlander." That prompted Verlander to show up with a pair of T-shirts, one reading, "I literally love Justin Verlander," and the other with, "I literally love Jose Altuve."
"Thanks Esurance, my teammates and all the fans for helping me win the World Series," Altuve said. "It's an honor for me to share this Award with Justin Verlander, because I literally love Justin Verlander."
As for Altuve's other teammates, they love that he's getting this kind of recognition. They've long known that he's special, and someday, they'll tell people that they played with one of the best pure hitters ever.
All that aside, those aren't the things that most impress those who know Altuve best. For them, it's what they see every day when he walks through the clubhouse door. It's his relentlessly consistent approach, the hours of work in the hitting cages and video study. It's his ability to understand how each pitcher is trying to attack him and what he can do to counter that plan.
"His game plan, when he steps to home plate, is unshakable," said Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel, a teammate since Class A.
To people like Keuchel, this is why Altuve is so special, and they're thrilled that the rest of the world is getting to see what they have for years.
Altuve's 2017 season was the latest highlight in a career filled with them. His .346 batting average led the Majors and was a career high. He's also the first player in history to lead his league outright in hits for four straight seasons.
His best month was a .485 batting average in July, his worst a .291 average in September. On a team that won 101 games and led the Majors in runs, Altuve was the most consistent performer.
"He goes up there knowing exactly what he wants to do," Astros starter Collin McHugh said. "And I don't think anyone has really figured out how to get him out. He can hit any pitch in any location. To do that is special."
Or as Astros reliever Will Harris said, "His ability to consistently get the barrel of the bat on the baseball is amazing. That's what separates him."
And there's that drive.
Altuve flew through the Minor Leagues and debuted for an Astros team that won 56 games in 2011. He had immediate success, hitting .276, .290 and 283 in his first three seasons.
But after the 2013 season, Altuve felt he could be better. His hitting coach at the time, John Mallee, challenged him to improve in certain areas -- nutrition, speed, coming up with a daily game plan.
Altuve hit .341 the next season and won the first of three batting titles. In four seasons since, his 845 hits are 98 more than the second most. He has been the American League's starter at second base for the past three All-Star Games and reached the pinnacle of his career by winning a World Series.
"His love of the game and ability to excel in so many ways is amazing," said A's president David Kaval, an Esurance voter.
MLB Network analyst Carlos Pena explained his vote for Altuve, saying, "Altuve's consistency of excellence throughout the entirety of the 2017 baseball season and postseason is unprecedented."
The Esurance MLB Awards annually honor MLB's greatest achievements as part of an industry-wide balloting process that includes five groups, each of which accounts for 20 percent of the overall vote: Media, front-office personnel, retired MLB players, fans at MLB.com and Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) members.
The MLB Awards are an all-inclusive program, encompassing the top players and performances from both the American and National Leagues from Opening Day through the end of the postseason.
Voting led off with seven categories (Personality of the Year; Best Defensive Player; Best Play, Offense; Best Play, Defense; Best Performance; Best Fan Catch; Best Player-Fan Interaction) on Sept. 18 at mlb.com/awards, serving as the grand entrance of a program that unveiled the Best Call, TV/Radio; Best Major Leaguer, Postseason; and Best Postseason Moment categories following the Fall Classic's final out.
The ninth inning of voting began around BBWAA Awards week, giving fans the opportunity to help determine the Best Major Leaguer, Pitcher, Rookie, Manager and Executive. Winners were announced on MLB Network and MLB.com.
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.