#12 - Ken Singleton, RF (1975-1984)
One of the greatest Orioles of all time is a double agent now, spreading the gospel of Earl Weaver and the glory days of the Orioles deep in enemy territory. He's Ken Singleton, heard frequently doing games on the YES Network, nearly as often telling stories of his playing days. Born in New York and drafted third overall by the Mets, it was in Baltimore that Singleton really made a name for himself.
Over a ten year Orioles career that spanned more than 6,000 plate appearances, he batted .284/.388/.445 and finished in the top three of the league MVP voting on two separate occasions. For someone who's used to watching plate discipline-starved Orioles teams, it's Singleton's on-base percentage that stands out when looking back now.
Singleton walked over 100 times in three different seasons and had another three seasons where he was in the 90s for number of walks. No surprise that he had an on-base percentage over .400 in four years. The Orioles have yet to have a player record 100 walks in one season since the 21st century began. The last was Albert Belle in 1999, although Nick Markakis did have 99 in 2007, but 99 is not 100. His .388 OBP in his O's career stands behind only Frank Robinson on the franchise leaderboard.
That Orioles career began when the team cashed in on the end of Dave McNally's career, dealing him to Montreal, where Singleton spent three seasons in his mid-20s. It's good to draft well, but it's just as good to trade well. He turned in one of those 100-walk, .400+ OBP seasons in his first year in an O's uniform, dropping 37 doubles and 15 home runs in the process.
Two years later, in 1977, he had one of those unicorns, a .300/.400/.500 season, on his way to finishing third in the MVP voting. With a 165 OPS+, he was 65% better than the average batter that season. That was the best he hit compared to his peers in his career, but over the decade he was on the Orioles, he was still 35% better than everyone else. Not many hitters are so much better than the league for a decade or more. That's what makes him one of the franchise best.
As the team surged into the 1979 World Series, Singleton had another near-MVP caliber season in the eyes of the baseball writers. He finished second in the voting, coming in with a .295/.405/.533 batting line. This was one of his 100+ walk seasons, and he had a career-high 35 homers at the age of 32. Pitchers walked him intentionally 16 times, more than even the 12 intentional walks given to Chris Davis in his 53 homer season.
Singleton was still going strong four years later when the team found themselves back in the postseason again. Though he was 36, by then a full-time designated hitter, he was still an important part of the team. If all you do is hit, you'd better be good at it. He hit .276/.393/.436, walking 99 times, 19 of which were intentional, and hitting 18 home runs. That'll do, indeed.
The 1,446 games he played as an Oriole are eighth-most in the 60 years of Orioles history. He had 1,455 hits - sixth-most - meaning he averaged more than one hit per game played, and added 886 walks (fourth-most) besides. Within a single season, runs batted in don't reveal much, but it does show that he came through when it mattered that he had 766 RBI in his O's career, which is fifth on the franchise leaderboard. Double digit home runs in nine out of ten years left him with 182, coming in seventh. In every category you look, he's there.
It was only in 1984 that his O's career wound down, but Singleton was swiftly elected into the Orioles Hall of Fame in 1986. There was no need for time to pass to know that one of the greats of the franchise history had just concluded his career. 30 years after his career has ended, it still looks just as good as it did then for our 12th-greatest Oriole of all time.