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Hit king Ichiro worth millions ... in singles

By HUBERT MIZELL
Published September 26, 2004

He's a one-name wonder, like Elvis, Pele, Madonna or the enduring dazzler I saw in concert the other night, Cher.

Just call him Ichiro. Park the Suzuki. Doesn't need it. Last-place Seattle's mercurial, baseball-swatting dynamo is to bitsy singles what Barry Bonds is to booming homers.

Overmuscled sluggers are today's MLB fashion, but Ichiro is a lean, gifted, 160-pound throwback. No steroid suspicions.

He is baseball's ultimate short-order cook. An astonishing 53 percent of Ichiro's hits never leave the infield.

His arms don't bulge uniform sleeves, but they are minutely powerful, like twisted cables that hold up bridges. Quicker than a slingshot, Ichiro constantly beats throws to first base on routine grounders.

Best at it ... ever.

Pete Rose got more hits (4,256) than anyone in baseball history. His ballfield identity was ... flamboyant hustler ... king of the singles hitters. In 23 seasons, Pete accumulated 3,215 one-base hits, or 139 per summer.

Make that former king.

Ty Cobb was a slashing, fast-afoot, man-eating marvel of the early 20th century. He achieved baseball's highest career batting average (.366). In 24 seasons, the Georgia Peach averaged 127 singles.

Ichiro is outslapping, outrunning and outsingling Rose, Cobb and every bat bloke in major-league history. One-hundred-and-80-plus of the little beauties per season.

Through Friday night's game, the 30-year-old from Japan had 213 singles, slashing the 1927 major-league record of 198 by Lloyd "Little Poison" Waner. A mini dude, Waner weighed 150 pounds, three less than Hall of Fame brother Paul who, understandably, had the nickname "Big Poison."

Hail the new singles king ...

Ichiro's salary of $6,528,000 should be paid with 6,528,000 singles. When he retires, I'm betting he goes home and opens a chain of sushi singles bars.

But there's far more than singles in Ichiro's act. He's the runaway leader for a second American League batting championship (.375). The rightfielder has 249 hits and is a near-lock to eradicate one of the game's oldest records, 257 in a season set in 1920 by George Sisler.

Ichiro had 242 hits as a 27-year-old rookie in 2001, baseball's highest output since 1930. Until now. His career isn't apt to see Rose/Cobb lifetime numbers because Ichiro spent so much time with the Orix BlueWave before jumping to the Mariners. He turns 31 in October. But check his blazing pace. Rose averaged 185 hits, Cobb had 174. Today's champ, for four seasons, is getting about 230 per.

Hand-eye wizardry ... blurring speed.

Wee Willie Keeler, 1890s marvel, had a famous saying: "Hit 'em where they ain't." Ichiro befuddles opponents by hitting them "where they can't." Infielders frequently bobble his little smacks, due to hurrying, knowing there's an Asian rocket en route from box to bag.

He's married to singles.

CHARIOTS OF IRE: My e-mailbox is smoking. Raging over golf, football, baseball, basketball and hockey. Let's share four of the toughest tirades ...

Billy Swain of Bradenton Beach said, "I'm not prone to blame game officials for wins and losses, but as a follower of Gators football it has become so excruciating I'm trembling with anger. Even an FSU fan could see the Seminoles were handed last season's game in Gainesville by zebras who, if they'd truly been bought off, would have made it look better. Now the clear muffs at Tennessee - bad clock operation and a homer foul call - is a killer. It's a dumb deal when officials can get coaches fired but are allowed to keep working despite rules ignorances, personal bias and big, obvious flubs."

Sandra Deeson of New Port Richey offered, "I'm ashamed of how poor Americans blend in international team sports. At Ryder Cup golf and with Olympic basketball, it was clear European men bond more effectively, being able to shuck single-minded attitudes while our Yanks appear more as self-serving business acquaintances than true, productive buddies. It keeps costing us."

J.D. Rouse of St. Pete Beach thinks, "After a warm June tease, the D-Rays are again skidding out of control. It seemed they might do something really good, finishing third in the AL East, but now last place is clearly in their sights. Tampa Bay ownership should either get Lou Piniella a lot more talent or get out of the baseball business."

Meg Tandy of Tampa, brief but potent, shouts that, "Hockey guys won my heart, now they're breaking it."

Hubert Mizell can be contacted at mmizell02@earthlink.net

[Last modified September 26, 2004, 01:27:21]


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