By BRAD LEFTON
The New York Times
Published: May 13, 2011
GINOZA, Japan — Few foreigners are likely to learn the word akage no matter how long they play baseball in Japan, but Matt Murton will hear it a lot in just his second season here. Adoring fans use the word to describe the top of his crown — redhead — an unusual sight in Japan.
A Japanese Google search for “red-headed Murton” produces 16,100 hits. A year ago, there were far fewer.
But Murton, the 29-year-old from Georgia with the noticeable hair, has created even more news with his bat; he set Japan’s single-season hits record last year with 214 in 144 games with the Hanshin Tigers. The record had been held by Ichiro Suzuki, who had 210 hits in 130 games, and who, in a twist, now holds the single-season record for hits in the major leagues, with 262 in 2004.
Suzuki is a model of consistency in the majors, but what about Murton in Japan? So far, in his second season, he is doing reasonably well, hitting a home run in his first at-bat (he had 17 homers last year) and compiling a .275 average through Friday’s games. He had 28 hits, 4 behind the leader in Japan’s Central League.