2017-11-16 19:40:04
Jose Altuve and Giancarlo Stanton Win M.V.P. Awards

19:40, November 16 357 0

When the Houston Astros found themselves matched with the Yankees for the American League Championship Series, Jose Altuve took a question about the race for the A.L. Most Valuable Player Award. Should he win, or should the Yankees’ Aaron Judge?

Altuve praised Judge’s humility and marveled at his prodigious power. “Maybe in another life,” Altuve mused, “I want to be Aaron Judge and hit all those homers.”

Of course, by that time, Altuve had already hit three home runs in a playoff game, and he would soon field the final ground ball of the season to clinch the first World Series title in Astros history. But Altuve insisted that Judge should be the M.V.P.

“Because he hit a lot of homers, a lot of R.B.I.s, he got on base a lot, and I like the way he plays,” Altuve said. “If I was a G.M., I want him on my team because he plays the right way and he’s very humble.”

So is Altuve, who was too humble to acknowledge what voters from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America saw in him. They named him the league’s M.V.P. on Thursday, honoring his consistent, all-around excellence and capping a dream season.

Altuve collected 27 of 30 first-place votes, with Judge — who won the A.L. Rookie of the Year Award on Monday — placing second. In the National League, Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton took the honor, with Cincinnati’s Joey Votto the runner-up. Stanton and Votto both received 10 first-place votes, and Stanton edged Votto by just two points in the closest M.V.P. vote since 1979.

The Astros, who began in 1962 as the expansion Colt .45s, have just one other M.V.P. in their history, the Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell in 1994. Bagwell’s Astros reached the World Series in his final season, 2005, but it was Altuve’s team that finally led the franchise all the way.

Listed at just 5 foot 6 inches, Altuve long ago shed the label of a curiosity — he is the game’s best pure hitter, leading the A.L. in hits in each of the last four seasons while capturing three batting titles. His .346 average this year was a career high, and he also set career highs in on-base percentage (.410), slugging percentage (.547) and runs scored (112), while hitting 24 homers, driving in 81 runs and stealing 32 bases.

Judge, meanwhile, led the A.L. in homers (52) and runs (128) to go with 114 R.B.I. He also led in walks (127) and strikeouts (208), embodying the all-or-nothing ethos of many modern hitters. Judge’s slow start to the second half (a .179 average from mid-July through the end of August) probably hurt him compared to Altuve, who hit between .339 and .353 in every month of the season.

In the N.L., Stanton prevailed on the strength of his 59 homers and 132 R.B.I., which led the major leagues. The home run total was the highest in the majors since baseball began testing for steroids in 2003. Stanton led the N.L. in slugging for the third time, but this was his first season with more than 37 homers; injuries have often kept him from playing a full schedule.

He is the first M.V.P. winner in the 25 seasons of the Marlins, a franchise in transition whose new ownership group — which includes the chief executive Derek Jeter — is trying to trade Stanton and his exorbitant contract. Stanton has 10 years and $295 million remaining on his record 13-year, $325 million deal, which includes a full no-trade clause.

Despite that clause, which would allow Stanton to control his destination, Jeter said at the owners’ meetings Wednesday that he had not yet spoken to his star slugger. Moving Stanton is just part of the reconstruction plan for the Marlins, whose last winning season was 2009, the year before Stanton’s major league debut.

Stanton made the All-Star team in July and served as ambassador for the game, which was held at Marlins Park. But he vaulted into the M.V.P. race — and raised his trade value — in August, when he launched 18 homers and hit .349. He hit just .245 with eight homers the rest of the way, but the overall statistics were too compelling for voters to ignore.

Only five players had reached 59 homers in a season before Stanton, beginning with Babe Ruth in 1921 and 1927, Roger Maris in 1961. From 1998 through 2001 — a period of rampant steroid use in the majors — three players cleared that plateau a total of six times: Sammy Sosa three times, Mark McGwire twice and Barry Bonds in 2001, when he smashed a record 73.

Stanton said this summer that he considered Maris — who topped Ruth with 61 homers in 1961 — to be the true record-holder. He reiterated that opinion in late September, when he also said he was not distracted by trade rumors.

“Honestly, I’ve seen just about everything around here,” Stanton said then. “So I’m not worried. I’m literally just worried about tomorrow, the next hour. I know how everything works around here, so I’m not surprised, and not worried about two months from now or the off-season. I’ll just be ready when I need to be.”

Jeter has not needed him to be ready for a deal just yet, but it is a safe bet that Thursday’s announcement will not be the last time Stanton makes news this off-season.

For the Astros, Altuve’s success has been quite a return on their initial $15,000 investment. They signed him from Venezuela in 2007, when he was 16 and had no other suitors. He moved steadily through the farm system and arrived in the majors in 2011, the first of three consecutive 100-loss seasons for the Astros, who patiently built a winner.

Outfielder Marwin Gonzalez, who has known Altuve for 10 years, said he never expected him to be such a force. But he knew he had a chance to make an impact.

“He always could hit, he has hit his whole life; every league that he has played, he’s hit .300,” Gonzalez said before the World Series. “So everybody knew he could hit, but for me, he’s the best hitter in the big leagues — and it’s never enough for him. He says that there’s always room to get better, and I believe it. He won the batting title this year and he’s going to come back even more hungry next year for better numbers. That’s what he does.”