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Jose Altuve certifies superstar status with historic performance in ALDS Game 1

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Astros second baseman Jose Altuve has a legitimate case to win the American League Most Valuable Player Award, which will be handed out after the postseason. He finished third in AL MVP Award balloting last year, has made five All-Star teams, won three Silver Sluggers, and won one Gold Glove.

One doesn’t necessarily need a breakout postseason performance to be classified among the game’s superstars, but it doesn’t hurt. Altuve hit three solo home runs in Thursday’s 8-2 victory over the Red Sox in Game 1 of the ALDS, showing to a national audience what he is capable of doing.

It was just the 10th time since 1903 that a player homered three times in a postseason game. Babe Ruth did it twice in the World Series in 1926 and 1928. Bob Robertson did it in 1971, as did Reggie Jackson in 1977 and George Brett in 1978. In this millennium, that feat has been accomplished by Adam Kennedy in 2002, Adrian Beltre and Albert Pujols in 2011, and Pablo Sandoval in 2012. Lots of legendary names in that list.

Altuve hadn’t had any postseason success to his ledger prior to Thursday’s action. He went 1-for-4 with an RBI against the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game in 2015, then went 3-for-5 with three singles and an RBI in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Royals. Between Games 2 and 5 of that ALDS, he went 0-for-17 with a walk. In total, that’s a .154 batting average with zero extra-base hits over 26 at-bats.

Altuve was already doing things few players had ever done. He’s one of only 12 players to accrue at least 1,200 hits and 200 stolen bases through his age-27 season. The only players who did that in the 2000’s were Edgar Renteria, Carl Crawford, and Elvis Andrus. Altuve has won three batting titles and has accrued 200-plus hits in each of his last four seasons. If you’re a diehard baseball fan, you’re already well aware of Altuve’s batting prowess and Hall of Fame potential. To everyone else, though, Thursday was Altuve’s coming out party. He’s officially on the map.

Derek Jeter: no longer the media’s darling

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There was a time, not too long ago, where the baseball press practically gave Derek Jeter awards for providing them no information whatsoever. As a player, he turned not answering questions into an art form. To the point where, eventually, the press just stopped asking him substantive questions almost entirely.

Unlike a lot of players who shut out the media, Jeter did it rather politely, so he did not get that passive aggressive treatment — or, occasionally, the aggressive-aggressive treatment — the press often gives uncommunicative players. To the contrary. He was positively lauded for his lack of communication. Lionized, even.

Take this column from Jeff Peralman at CNN.com from 2014, under the headline “Derek Jeter: Baseball’s Humble Hero”:

Throughout the first 18 seasons of his career, Jeter has often been labeled “dull” by the media. His answers to questions are unimaginative and full of cliché baseball nothingness blather. In hindsight, however, such lameness is almost to be admired. We live in an era where too many athletes feel as if they need to draw attention to themselves — for confidence, for commercials. If you’re not tweeting trash talk, you’re texting trash talk. Or making bold promises. Or demanding money or respect . . . he’s a guy who merely wanted to be a guy.

How about this from the New York Times around the time of his retirement:

Jeter’s ability to maintain a posture of sustained inscrutability — or, if you must, dignified comportment — has extended especially to the spoken word . . . he has played his best defense in front of his locker: catching every controversial question thrown to him and tossing it aside as if it were a scuffed ball unsuitable for play.

In a major league career that dates to the Clinton administration’s first term — he is the only Yankees shortstop a generation of fans has known — inquiring reporters have gathered around Jeter in the clubhouse thousands of times. He has maintained eye contact, answered nearly every question posed to him — and said nothing. This is not a complaint, but rather an expression of awe; of admiration, even. His batting average and fielding percentage aside, this kid from Kalamazoo, Mich., entered the New York meat grinder two decades ago and came out the other end looking as sharp as Joe DiMaggio’s suit.

This opinion of Jeter was pervasive throughout his career, but especially pronounced at its end of it. Jeter was deified by the press for saying nothing to the press. Praised for making the media’s job harder by the media itself. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it.

Times, however, have changed.

Some minor grumbling about Jeter’s non-answers to media questions began soon after he took over as Marlins co-owner. Ken Davidoff of the New York Post wrote a column about it all back in October, saying Jeter’s “Crash Davis Rules of Media Relations don’t apply anymore.” Not too many people echoed that at the time, probably because it came in the wake of a pretty boring introductory press conference and the stakes were pretty low. I did wonder at the time, though, if the media was waiting to turn on Jeter once he actually started making moves in his new role.

I think we can now say the answer to that is yes.

In the wake of the Giancarlo Stanton trade, a lot of baseball writers had a lot of questions for Derek Jeter. Jeter, however, decided that he didn’t even need to show up here at the Winter Meetings to answer them, despite the fact that he lives just a couple of hours away.

On Monday morning Buster Olney of ESPN made conspicuous note of it:

Later in the day Jeter deigned to talk to the media via a conference call. As usual, he said mostly nothing, but unlike 1997, 2007 or 2014 (a) he got testy about it; and (b) the press made a note of it:

They likewise noted when he passed the buck to someone below him on the org chart:

Last night I think a dam broke, and I don’t think Jeter will ever be able to sweet non-talk his way out criticism again. It all happened at a football game:

To sum up:

  • Jeter is now bad for not talking to the press;
  • Jeter is not lauded for his composure anymore; and
  • Jeter is being called out as a poor leader who does not face the music.

What a difference a few years and a change of role makes.

All of which, one would think, would make me at least a little happy. I mean, I’ll totally own up to rolling my eyes at the kid glove treatment Jeter got back when he played. About how his attributes, however great, were elevated even above their actual greatness and how his faults were, perversely, spun into attributes. You’d expect that, in light of that, I’d be sorta pleased that the tables have turned.

I’m not happy, though. Indeed, I have something approaching sympathy for Captian Jeets.

Why? Because, while I’d like to see him face the press, defend his moves as owner and explain his vision to Marlins fans everywhere, I know that he cannot. I know that he has no good answers to any of the questions he might be asked because the real answer to all of them is “hey, we need to make money for the ownership group and everything flows from that” and that’s not an answer he’s prepared to give.

Have some sympathy for Derek Jeter. He’s really in a tough, tough spot. Even if he put himself into it.