Pint-sized MLB stars Altuve and Albies reminiscent of former New Orleans phenom Allan Montreuil
Major leaguers Jose Altuve and Ozzie Albies look like boys playing among men on the baseball diamond, especially when their opponents are hulks Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. The two diminutive infielders bring to mind a New Orleans native from yesteryear, Allan Montreuil, who reached the majors despite his five-foot-five, 158 pound stature.
Altuve is all of 5’ 6” tall while Albies is the “giant” of the two at two inches taller. Despite their relatively small size, compared to most of their teammates and opponents, they stand tall on the diamond when it comes to displaying their hitting and fielding skills.
Altuve is the reigning American League MVP for the 2017 World Series champion Houston Astros. Currently in his eighth major-league season, the second baseman has already won three batting titles and is currently on a pace to record his fifth consecutive 200-hit season. He also shows surprising pop in his bat for a player his size, as he has slugged twenty or more home runs in the past two seasons.
Albies, in only his first full major-league season with the Atlanta Braves, made the 2018 National League all-star team. He is the league-leader in runs scored with 74 runs, to go along with 20 home runs and 55 RBI at the All-Star break. Also a second baseman, he is a big reason the Braves are contending for the NL East Division title this year.
Growing up in the 1950s in New Orleans, Montreuil typified the true definition of “phenom.” A Times-Picayune story about Montreuil said he was the subject of a “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” cartoon, which called attention to his hitting feats as a two-year-old toddler. At age six, he was reportedly already playing on a 10-year-old team at New Orleans Recreational Department (NORD).
In 1956, NORD was the state Babe Ruth champion, and when they advanced to the regionals, Montreuil, not quite 13, went 6-for-8. In 1957, Montreuil’s NORD team progressed all the way to the Little World Series, only to lose its opening game.
He attended McMain Junior High and De La Salle High School, where he excelled in baseball, but was too small to play other varsity sports. In his senior season at De La Salle, he was named to the Catholic League all-district team and the Louisiana all-state squad. A standout shortstop in Babe Ruth, American Legion, and All-American leagues, his coaches included some of the most legendary in New Orleans amateur baseball history: Kevin Trower, Emile Evans, Fats Dantonio, Johnny Altobello, and Rags Scheuermann.
Throughout his early career, Montreuil had pursued every opportunity to play in the leagues available for his age. When he became too old to compete in the All-American League in 1963, he took an opportunity to play in the collegiate Basin League in Kansas, where he led the league in hitting with .375 average and was named MVP. Later that summer he also played with semi-pro Ponchatoula Athletics, who finished in second place in the National Baseball Congress tournament in Wichita, Kansas.
Montreuil played for Loyola University in New Orleans in 1962 and 1963. The 20-year-old decided to forgo his other two years of college baseball, when he inked a professional contract with the Boston Red Sox who gave him an $8,000 bonus. Danny Doyle, who had played for the New Orleans Pelicans minor-league team in 1946, was the Red Sox scout who signed him after the NBC tourney. Montreuil was recommended by former Red Sox great Bobby Doerr, who had seen him play in the Basin League and liked him as a hitter.
Kevin Trower, Montreuil’s coach on Babe Ruth teams, commented to the Times-Picayune after the right-handed hitting infielder signed his pro contract, “I lived half a block from Allan. He was a child prodigy who handled himself like a major-leaguer when he was three years old. Nobody taught Allan to hit, or field, or throw. He was born with the natural physical actions of a pro and the baseball instinct of a Hall of Famer.” He added, “I have coached him on my team and against him, and have always been convinced that Allan was born to play in the major-leagues.”
Johnny Altobello, who coached Montreuil on De La Salle prep and legion teams, offered this assessment to the Times-Picayune: “In a ball player, a scout looks for a boy with a strong arm, who can run, hit and field. Allan can not only do all of those things, but best of all, he can think and always make the right play. Allan’s height is not handicap. He can do everything and more that 6’ 2” man can do in baseball.”
Montreuil reported to Boston’s Class A affiliate Waterloo Hawks for his first pro season in 1964. It appeared he would continue to live up to his “phenom” billing, as he got off to a hot start with the bat. He was named Topps Chewing Gum’s Player of the Month in May. He wound up hitting .328 with 15 home runs, 63 RBI and 25 stolen bases for the season. He collected 90 walks and struck out only 28 times in 479 plate appearances. He was named the North Division’s shortstop for the Midwest League All-Star Game.
He was promoted to Double-A Pittsfield in 1965, but his batting average would drop off 70-80 points each season (compared to his rookie season) during the four years he was with them. He got a brief promotion to Triple-A Tacoma during 1967, when he filled in for an injured player. In 1968 Montreuil was a member of the Pittsfield team that won the Eastern League regular season title.
The Red Sox had Rico Petrocelli and Mike Andrews ahead of Montreuil on the major-league roster and gave up on him after the 1968 season. He started the 1969 season with Double-A San Antonio in the Chicago Cubs organization, but then was promoted to Triple-A Tacoma where he was a member of the Pacific Coast League playoff champions. For the entire season, he improved his batting average to .283 in 98 games.
Then for the next five seasons, Montreuil played with the Cubs Triple-A clubs at Tacoma and Wichita, but didn’t post outstanding seasons that warranted a permanent promotion to the big-league team. Plus, Chicago had infielders Don Kessinger and Glen Beckert entrenched on their major league roster.
When Beckert went on the disabled list in late 1972, Montreuil finally got his call-up to the big-league club. He made his debut on September 1, going 1-for-5 against the San Diego Padres. However, he wound up sitting out two weeks with a pulled hamstring. Altogether he played in five games for the Cubs, hitting for only a .091 average.
In an interview with the Times-Picayune, Montreuil said about his debut game, “Of course it was quite a thrill to play in a big league park, to wear a big-league uniform. I hit the ball well five times, but it was right at somebody four of them.”
Cubs manager Whitey Lockman said about Montreuil’s brief stay, “He didn’t get a chance to play an awful lot. He did a good enough job for us. He hit the ball real well in one game. He’s never had a real chance, though, to prove he could hit in the big leagues for an extended period of time.”
Montreuil played his last season in 1975 with Double-A Midland. At age 31 after 12 seasons in the minors, he quit baseball as a player. Following that, he considered taking a scouting job for a major-league organization. When New Orleans was being considered for a major-league franchise upon opening the Louisiana Superdome in 1975, he had hoped to land a job in baseball related to the new franchise. But, the big-league club never materialized in New Orleans. Montreuil wound up going into business for himself in the New Orleans area.
Considering the 12 seasons he spent in the minors, he was figuratively in the majors for “only a cup of coffee.” In an interview with the Times-Picayune, he said his main complaint about his career was he didn’t play enough in the majors to qualify for a pension. In effect, he felt like he got nothing back for his long commitment to pro baseball.
His physical size was comparable to former major-league players of his era, such as Nellie Fox, Phil Rizzuto, Albie Pearson, and Freddie Patek. In today’s game, he would be compared to mighty mites Altuve and Albies. Unfortunately, he didn’t have their hitting skills at the professional level, which ultimately limited his opportunities to land a regular spot on a major-league roster. However, he did leave a legacy as one of the legendary amateur players of the New Orleans area.
Montreuil died in 2008 at age 63.
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New Orleans baseball historian
Richard Cuicchi, Founder of the Metro New Orleans Area Baseball Player Database and a New Orleans area baseball historian, maintains TheTenthInning.com website. He also authored the book, Family Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives. He has contributed to numerous SABR-sponsored Bio Project and Games Project books.