There was a picture this week of another gift coming the way of Jose Altuve, who is Maracay, Venezuela's gift to the baseball world. It was a gaudy, colorful crystal bat from Swarovski, and there the picture was, all over the internet, like one more trophy for Altuve of the Astros, to go with the World Series trophy and the American League MVP Award trophy he won by beating out Aaron Judge, who is 6-foot-7 to Altuve's 5-foot-6. One more big prize for baseball's little big man.
Altuve came all the way to this moment, for himself and for his team, from the fields in Maracay on which he grew up, ones on which his father pitched to him and hit ground ball after ground ball. There is a video about this from MLB Network's "Play Ball," where Altuve is back on one of those fields, smiling and saying, "We only had one ball."
So he comes to his moment from there, from a place that has produced so many big leaguers, including the great Miguel Cabrera. It is one of the enduring and unchangeable beauties of Altuve's sport: That you can come to greatness from almost anywhere, even if there were times when your beginnings involved only one ball.
He comes from Maracay. So does Cabrera. One day they will have both made it to Cooperstown from there. Chipper Jones will likely make it to Cooperstown on Wednesday night from Florida, and perhaps Trevor Hoffman will make it there from California, and Jim Thome from Peoria, Ill. And Vlad Guerrero from the Dominican might make it to Cooperstown. So might Edgar Martinez, at last. Edgar: Puerto Rican kid born in the city of New York. Another beauty of baseball: No walls.
And no size requirements, as we found out in such a thrilling way this past season from Altuve. He is 5-foot-6. If that. Aaron Judge's former manager, Joe Girardi, calls Judge a defensive end. Now he will be part of bookends in the outfield at Yankee Stadium this season with Giancarlo Stanton, the reigning MVP from the National League, an inch shorter than Judge at 6-foot-6. Neither one of the big guys has hit a World Series home run, let alone one as big as the one Altuve hit in Game 5 of the last World Series against the Dodgers, the one that tied what ended up a 13-12 game at 7-7 and made baseball, in that particular moment at Minute Maid Park, as loud as it's ever been.
Neither one of the Yankees outfielders, big and strong as they are, has made the last out of the World Series the way Altuve did in Dodger Stadium, on the night when he capped off a season when he looked like the best all-around player in this world.
It is worth recalling what Joe Morgan, who made it to the Hall of Fame from Oakland, Calif., who is an inch taller than Altuve, said to me about Altuve at Sports on Earth last summer:
"You know what they used to say about me? 'He's a good little player.' But then they look at [Mike] 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 have to admit, the first time I saw him, I thought: 'Damn he's small.' Now I don't even think about it. I just watch him play. I don't think of him being small anymore. Because nothing about his game is small."
And more than anything, more than how welcoming it is to players from Maracay and the Dominican and San Juan, the real enduring beauty of baseball -- and magic -- is that Altuve, at his size, can beat out Judge, at his size, with all of his 50-home run strength, and might do it again. Or maybe Altuve might beat out Stanton this time, now that Stanton is in the American League. And the Astros might win the World Series again. And, who knows, maybe there will be another crystal bat for Altuve next winter.
You can make it to Cooperstown if you are a left-handed pitcher as tall as Randy Johnson, or you can make it if you look like a Yankees giant, one whose name is too often omitted when we talk about Yankee Stadium immortals, like Edward (Whitey) Ford. You can make it to Cooperstown if you're as little as Scooter Rizzuto at shortstop, or as big as Cal Ripken Jr. Henry Aaron and Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle nearly hit a combined 2,000 home runs in their big league careers. Aaron was six feet tall. Mickey was six feet tall. Willie Mays was 5-foot-11.
No size requirements. No scout or general manager worrying, the way they worry in football, that a Heisman Trophy winner like Baker Mayfield, right around six feet tall himself, might not be big enough to ever win a championship in the National Football League because so few quarterbacks his size ever have. Drew Brees was an exception. So was Russell Wilson. Not any others.
But Altuve, 5-foot-6 out of Maracay, can lead the world in hits year after year. He can go up there first-pitch swinging and swing for the fences the way All Rise Judge or Stanton does; Altuve can swing from his heels the way Vlad Guerrero did across his own free-swinging career. So Altuve is the latest great player in baseball to prove a theory as old as the game: Size does matter. Size of your talent. Size of your heart.
"That's what I love about baseball, that every single guy can play the game," Altuve said when he won his MVP award. "There's not a rule you have to be six feet tall to play baseball and become a good player."
Or a great one.
He smiles and speaks often about being a boy in Venezuela, even smaller than he is now. That boy grew up. Boy, did he. Ended up with the World Series trophy in his hands one night at Dodger Stadium. Won the MVP Award. The boy who sometimes played with just one baseball even got awarded a crystal bat.