If you play the thought game of Mount Rushmore of Houston Sports Athletes, it is likely that Jose Altuve will be one of those on that list. The accolades are well-known and probably don’t need repeating here. Yet, Altuve is a figure whose stature in the community goes beyond the diamond. That stature was only reinforced when Altuve recently signed a 5 year/$125M extension.
If the contract goes as expected, then Altuve will be in position to achieve one of the rarest of feats for a Houston Superstar Athlete: One that spent his entire career with one team/organization. A Houstonian need only look at the history of top Houston professional sports athletes to see just how few spent their entire careers with a Houston-based organization, especially those candidates for the Houston Sports Mount Rushmore Game. Not counting the individual sports athletes (ala Carl Lewis or Simone Biles), the track record for those Houston pros that start and finish with Houston-based organization is fairly limited.
The greatest of Houston’s NFL stars did not accomplish this. Arguably the greatest of Houston Oilers, Earl Campbell and Warren Moon, would finish their careers wearing different team colors. Moon took snaps for Minnesota, Seattle and Kansas City before retirement. (Note: Moon did log 5 seasons in the CFL, but for the purposes of this article, we are accounting for his NFL tenure). Earl Campbell would play one last painful season in New Orleans after a dominant run (literally and figuratively) in Houston. For the Texans, franchise GOATs JJ Watt and newest member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Andre Johnson, would not log full careers in Houston. JJ Watt took his talents west to Arizona for his final two seasons, while Andre Johnson played his final seasons in Indianapolis and Tennessee.
For basketball, the transitory nature of its stars also dominates. In particular, the one athlete whose current stature in Houston is arguably above that of Altuve, Hakeem Olajuwon, did not manage to spend his entire time in Houston. For a guy who played his college career at the University of Houston and then spent most of professional career in Houston, it was a strange, but unfortunate coda, that Olajuwon spent one forgettable season in Toronto before he retired. Not that this diminished his standing in the Houston sports pantheon, but he just misses the cut for spending an entire career in one city/one organization.
Then we come to baseball. Perhaps of all of the major sports in Houston, this is the one where an athlete may just manage to spend an entire career within one city/organization, given baseball’s rules with free agency and trades. In this regard, Altuve does have some company. Hall of Famers Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell also spent the entirety of their top-level professional careers in Houston. There is the caveat with Bagwell that he started out in the Red Sox organization, a fact that many a Red Sox fan will remind you of, as he came over to the Astros organization as the result of the historic Larry Andersen trade of 1990. Houston clearly adopted Bagwell as one of their own, but like Olajuwon, he didn’t log all of his pro time in Houston.
If Altuve stays the length of the contract, and there are no further trades/actions, then he can match Biggio for being that Houston star who managed to spend the entirety of a professional career with one team/organization/city. You could have a fun debate about which one was the better 2nd baseman. Likely, if Altuve continues on his current trajectory, he will end all debate about who ranks as the greatest Astros 2nd baseman, if not greatest Astro, in history. If nothing else, Altuve (23 years) would beat out Biggio (22 years) for longest tenure in the overarching Astros’ organization as a player
Yes, Altuve is not a native to Houston. Yet, the city has adopted Altuve as one of its own, and Altuve considers Houston as much a home as his native Venezuela. Still, even in baseball, there are no certainties, and before all is said and done, Altuve could see himself finish out a career in another uniform, however unpopular that notion would be in Houston. The idea of Altuve in another MLB uniform seems the most inconceivable of notions. Even in this day and age of the transient athlete, Altuve’s association with Houston is almost as much a constant as the speed of light. Only Texans’ long snapper Jon Weeks (2010) has been on the active roster of the highest level pro team in Houston longer than Altuve (2011).
Altuve is the face of the Astros. He has been there in the lowest of low for the franchise and the city, and he is at the forefront of the greatest successes in Houston’s sports. Even his adversaries could never see Altuve outside of Houston. Altuve gets the loudest boos and greatest vitriol from opposing fans, only to kill them with kindness, respect, and a devastating game. If Altuve plays at his usual high level for the majority of his latest deal, then he likely claims the crown of the greatest Houston-based professional athlete. Then you would have to modify the Houston Mount Rushmore Game to say “What other 3 athletes do you put up with Altuve on the Houston Athletic Mount Rushmore?”