Stinking Chicago. I still recall the conversation with a local sportswriter who knew baseball well. I dropped the name of Ken Singleton to him sometime in the mid 1990s. It rang no bells. He thought I was thinking of Chris Singleton. Even when Chris Singleton joined the Birds for the 2002 season, I never really thought of Chris Singleton.
It was always Ken Singleton. And when I had chance to talk with him about my book on Steve Stone, I told him about the meeting with the sportswriter who couldn’t place his name. And then I went on a tirade with the real Singleton. I told Singleton that if he was blessed with great speed, he would have been a Hall of Fame candidate.
What a great player that we stole from the Montreal Expos. I looked back on his stellar career and found out he was actually a No. 1 pick of the New York Mets in 1967. He even hit 13 homers for the 71 Mets in just under 300 at-bats.
And then the Mets included him in a trade to the Expos for the Le Grand Orange, Rusty Staub.
Simply the Mets gave away a heck of a player. That was evident in 1973. Singleton, a 23-year-old switch-hitting outfielder did not miss a game. He scored exactly 100 runs. He drove in 103 runs. His great eye at the plate produced 123 walks. And he hit .302. No doubt his oddest game of the season came on June 8 against the Giants at old Jarry Park in Montreal. Singleton was 1-for-2 with 4 RBIs. And he walked four times. That was one two-run single and two bases loaded walks.
He would be wearing an Orioles uniform for the 1975 season. On Dec. 4 of 74, Singleton and pitcher Mike Torrez came to Baltimore in exchange for aging Dave McNally and ill Rich Coggins.
It was a blind steal.
His first season in Baltimore, he had a career-high 37 doubles. He also walked 118 times and hit an even .300. The O’s won 90 games but trailed the Red Sox.
Singleton would post good numbers for three more seasons but his new team did not reach the post-season. That is until the magical campaign of 1979. That coincided with Singleton’s power numbers jumping. While his team was winning 102 games, Singleton cracked a career-high 35 homers and drove in 111. His bat helped the O’s to a runaway season and a trip to the World Series. He came through in his first championship season. He hit .375 in the AL championship series and .357 against the Pirates in the World Series.
For record-keepers, Singleton’s 35 dingers put him in small company of switch-hitters who have hit 35 or more homers. Even his great switch-hitting teammate Eddie Murray couldn’t claim that honor.
In the great pennant chase of 1980, Singleton chipped in 24 homers and 104 RBIs. That was the season, the Birds won 100 games and almost caught the Yankees. Do I dare mention that he now announces baseball for those dreaded Yankees.
Anyway, the 80 season was his last hitting the .300 mark (.304).
Opposing pitchers did respect Singleton as he twice led the AL in intentional passes.
And of course, I like him for his great quote he gave me for my book: “We thought he (Stone) had sold his soul to the devil,” Singleton told me. “If you had bet on him winning 25 games, you would have been retired and living in a penthouse.”
Yes, that’s Ken Singleton, Orioles great.