#14 - Ken Singleton, OF/DH (1975 - 1984)
Arriving in an organization as the centerpiece of a trade that sent a team legend in the other direction feels like an impossible task, and one that tends to set up a player for failure. That is the exact scenario that Ken Singleton faced when he was dealt to the Orioles (along with Mike Torrez) in exchange for Dave McNally on December 4, 1974, but he has was anything but a failure.
At the time, McNally was the winningest pitcher in Orioles history. Singleton was a 27-year-old switch-hitting outfielder that had finished in the top 10 of MVP voting once (1973), but was poised for a breakout.
Over his career with the Orioles, Singleton would accumulate a .284/.388/.445 slash line with 182 home runs over 10 seasons as the team’s everyday right fielder. He was named to three all star teams (1977, ‘79, ‘81), finished in the top 10 of MVP voting thrice (1975, ‘77, ‘79), took home the Roberto Clemente Award in 1982 and helped the club win the 1983 World Series. All of that earned him a deserved induction into the Orioles Hall of Fame in 1986.
As it often does when a player stays in one place for a decade, Singleton’s role with the Orioles evolved over time.
The right fielder began his career as the team’s leadoff hitter in 1975. Singleton hit just 15 home runs that year while getting on base at a .415 clip. He walked 118 times while striking out just 82 times; that sort of relationship between those two metrics was a running theme throughout his career.
Singleton moved down the order in 1976, most often hitting fifth or sixth. That coincided with a dip in performance across the board (.278/.366/.403).
The following year, 1977, was the best of his career. He settled into the third spot in the lineup and proceeded to torch every opposing pitcher he faced, setting career highs in batting average (.328), on-base percentage (.438), OPS (.945) and OPS+ (165). Those impressive numbers handed him a third-place finish in the AL MVP voting behind the Twins’ Rod Carew and the Royals’ Al Cowens.
Singleton followed up in 1978 with another slight dip in production, but that’s not to say he was a drag on the team. Even in a “poor” season like this he still posted a .409 on-base percentage and some down-ballot MVP recognition.
The next year saw Singleton make power a prominent feature of his game. Prior to this he had topped out at 24 home runs in 1977. But during that magical ‘79 season Singleton smacked 35 round-trippers. That led to a career-best .533 slugging percentage. And he did all of that while maintaining his always high batting average (.295) and on-base percentage (.405). Sure, he did strike out (118) more than ever before, but he balanced that with 109 walks, including a league-leading 16 intentional walks. While his numbers across the board weren’t quite as good as what he did in ‘77, Singleton finished one spot higher in the MVP voting, taking the silver behind Don Baylor’s gold.
Singleton wouldn’t match his 1979 production again, but he kept putting up solid numbers for the rest of his career, even garnering meager MVP consideration in 1980 and ‘81. He was a regular starter for the 1983 World Series team during the regular season, although he had dropped to sixth in the batting order by that point and was exclusively a DH. As a result, he received just one at-bat in the fall classic itself as neither team was permitted to use the DH throughout the series.
Following the 1984 season Singleton became a free agent and never signed on with another team. His final big league game came with the Orioles on September 25, 1984 at the age of 37.
Singleton has stayed involved with baseball beyond his playing career. He served as a color commentator for the Blue Jays on TSN in 1985 and ‘86. Then he moved to radio, covering the Expos from 1987-96. After that came the big move to New York. With the creation of the YES Network, Singleton was brought on to do both play-by-play and color commentary for Yankees games. It seemed as though he was prepared to retire from the booth in 2018, but then returned for 2019 in a reduced role and remains on the team’s site as a broadcaster.
It can be easy to forget about players that don’t have a trophy case full of awards, or those that may have been overshadowed by other players of their era. Singleton falls into both categories. But his resume speaks for itself. He helped the Orioles win two AL pennants and one World Series. He was a consistent threat at the plate, even evolving as his skills changed. And he withstood the pressure that surely came with being traded for a franchise legend. It was a mighty impressive career for Singleton, and he deserves his spot among the Orioles elite.