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Trout or Altuve? Maybe there's room for both

MLB.com @MikeLupica

As historic and wonderful and wonderfully watchable as Mike Trout is, we have seen baseball models like this before, all the way back to the young Mickey Mantle. One of these years -- maybe this year -- Trout might produce numbers across the board like Mantle did in 1956, when he won the first of his three American League MVP Awards, hit 52 homers, had 130 RBIs, scored 132 runs, had an OPS of 1.169, batted .353 and looked as if he were on his way to being the best all-around baseball player who had ever lived -- even playing in the same generation and same city at the time as Willie Mays.

You look at Trout, the way he looks on a baseball field, and of course you make comparisons to the young Mantle. The 1956 Mickey was 25. Trout is just 26. So his model, in so many exciting ways, fits that model.

As historic and wonderful and wonderfully watchable as Mike Trout is, we have seen baseball models like this before, all the way back to the young Mickey Mantle. One of these years -- maybe this year -- Trout might produce numbers across the board like Mantle did in 1956, when he won the first of his three American League MVP Awards, hit 52 homers, had 130 RBIs, scored 132 runs, had an OPS of 1.169, batted .353 and looked as if he were on his way to being the best all-around baseball player who had ever lived -- even playing in the same generation and same city at the time as Willie Mays.

You look at Trout, the way he looks on a baseball field, and of course you make comparisons to the young Mantle. The 1956 Mickey was 25. Trout is just 26. So his model, in so many exciting ways, fits that model.

But we've never seen anybody quite like the 5-foot-6 Jose Altuve.

Nope. Never seen anybody like Altuve, and that means even if you throw him into the same baseball conversation with the great Joe Morgan, also a second baseman, a guy who played his way to Cooperstown at 5-foot-7. Morgan was my favorite player. The most home runs he hit in a season was 27. Altuve has hit 24 twice. The highest batting average Morgan had was .327. Altuve has beaten that three times already and will probably do it again this year.

Altuve is well on his way to being the greatest athlete of his size -- not just in baseball history but the history of American professional sports. He is one of the best players of his time. Altuve is already playing like one of the best of all time. I understand that he is doing what he is doing in Trout's time. But Altuve is about to lead MLB in hits for the fifth consecutive season, and he has a batting average of .347 after the Astros won their 50th game on Wednesday, a night that included him hitting a home run off Nathan Eovaldi of the Rays that looked as if the 6-foot-7 Aaron Judge or the 6-foot-6 Giancarlo Stanton had hit it.

Video: TB@HOU: Altuve crushes a solo homer to left

There was a time when the place the Astros used to play their games, the Astrodome, was called "The Eighth Wonder of The World." Now, in that same city, you sometimes think it is Altuve, the reigning AL MVP Award winner, playing second, who is the eighth wonder.

As another baseball summer officially begins, it is worth remembering something Morgan said to me last summer about Altuve. This was a 5-foot-7 second-base immortal talking about the 5-foot-6 second baseman who plays in Houston the way the guy they called L'il Joe once did, before his true fame and Hall of Fame bona fides came in Cincinnati.

I asked Morgan if he thought it was insulting to qualify Altuve's greatness by always referencing his size.

"I think you do insult him," Morgan said. "You know what they used to say about me? 'He's a good little player.' But then they look at Trout and say, 'That's what a great player is supposed to look like.' And trust me, this is nothing against Mike Trout. I love watching him play baseball, too. But right now, I honestly believe [Altuve] is the best all-around player. I don't know what box you don't check with him. … I don't think of him being small anymore. Because nothing about his game is small."

Video: TB@HOU: Altuve shows off his speed, legs out a single

There are other athletes Altuve's size who have thrilled the sports world, but they usually come from other parts of the world and usually play soccer, sometimes with the kind of magic Lionel Messi always has. It is different for Altuve, who comes from Venezuela and whose own sports dreams were about playing baseball. Now he is ours. He is baseball, and all of its possibilities.

One of my favorite images of all time, in my whole life loving baseball, was Altuve standing next to Judge during the 2017 AL Championship Series. No image has ever demonstrated more vividly one of the enduring beauties of a sport where there are no size requirements for greatness, and never have been. You can be Altuve's size. You can be Judge's size. You can pitch your way to Cooperstown at 5-foot-11 the way Pedro Martinez did, or do the same at 6-foot-10 the way Randy Johnson did.

Tweet from @MLB: Dreams do come true. #ALCS pic.twitter.com/16I1SqRjHj

We talk all the time -- at least I do -- about how all sports fans, not just baseball fans, don't talk nearly enough about Trout, who in so many ways is the game's LeBron James. Well, if he is LeBron, then that makes Altuve baseball's Steph Curry, who still looks like a kid who just wandered into the gym looking for a good pickup run with the bigger kids. Watching Altuve play baseball the way he does, at his size, sometimes feels exactly like watching Curry make three-pointers from the concession stands.

At this time when there is so much brilliant young talent all over the baseball map, Altuve remains unique. Three more hits Wednesday night. A rousing home run. Trout's time in baseball is Altuve's time, too. Easy to lose sight of that sometimes. Way too easy to lose sight of the little big man in Houston.

Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com. He also writes for the New York Daily News.

Houston Astros, Jose Altuve, Mike Trout