Thursday, February 29, 2024

The hitting machine

Bob Maleks tireless work ethic has Spartans thinking of a Big Ten title

March 25, 2002

With a keen eye and a swift bat, Bob Malek has made a name for himself on the baseball field.

The junior right fielder raised eyebrows last season when he set MSU’s single-season hits record at 88 and boasted a .427 average at the plate.

For the two-time All-American, winning is what matters most.

“I just want to win,” Malek said. “It’s a lot more fun to win than to get your personal stats up.”

And that’s exactly what the Spartans are doing this season - winning. MSU (14-3) is off to its best start since 1992, when the Spartans also started 14-3.

“Right now I’m excited for the season and focused on winning a Big Ten Championship,” Malek said.

The Spartans haven’t won the Big Ten title since 1979.

Despite the team’s newfound success, it’s hard to overlook Malek’s personal success.

Malek is batting .467 with 35 hits. After 17 games last season, he had 29 hits.

But batting average and hits aren’t the only categories Malek led the Spartans in last season. He led the team in seven offensive categories in 2001 -average, hits, at-bats (206), runs (53), doubles (15), total bases (121) and slugging percentage (.587).

With such impressive numbers, one would think Malek knows something the rest of the baseball world doesn’t. But no, he simply keeps it, well, simple.

“It’s hard enough to hit the ball the pitcher is throwing,” he said. “It’s a battle. It’s a one-on-one competition and I try to win every time.”

Malek, a regular at batting cages, said it was his father who taught him baseball was a game of repetition.

John Salter, Malek’s high school coach at Detroit Catholic Central, said the lesson of repetition translated into an advantageous plate patience.

“He was very difficult to strike out and had good knowledge of the strike zone,” Salter said. “He could hit varsity pitching in 10th grade. Not many kids can do that.”

From his first days in East Lansing, Malek impressed. As a freshman he led MSU with 58 RBIs and nine home runs, earning second-team All Big Ten honors.

But it wasn’t just his bat that impressed Spartan manager Ted Mahan.

“He’s got a major-league throwing arm,” Mahan said. “People can’t take extra bases. Plus he goes and catches a lot of balls that most people wouldn’t get to.”

With Malek’s arm in mind, Mahan moved his star outfielder from center to right this season.

Five games into the season, the move paid off. Clinging to a 11-10 ninth-inning lead against Charlotte, Malek threw out a 49er base runner attempting to stretch a single into a double.

“I wanted to take my time and make a good throw,” Malek said of the play. “I got him by about three steps. It’s a great thrill to come through in the clutch like that.”

Call Mahan biased, but he believes Malek ranks among the nation’s best collegiate baseball players.

“I think he’s one of the best players in the country,” Mahan said. “When it’s all said and done at the end of the year, his statistics will match up with anybody.

“He’s just a great player.”

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