Ken Singleton

Ken SingletonSingleton suffered as much as anyone for the strike that split the 1981 season in half, interrupting play for two months. In April of that season the switch-hitter got off to the best start of his career, hitting a sizzling .472 (25-for-53) with six doubles, seven home runs, 14 RBIs in 15 games, and a .981 SLG to go with a .517 OBP. He continued his assault in May, with 17 more RBIs and his average was at .340 when the strike halted play on June 11. The layoff hurt him, and in the second half of the season, Singleton did not have the same success: he hit .209 in 50 games with just four homers and 17 RBIs. The Orioles also suffered in ’81 — they had the second-best record in the AL East that season, only one game worse than the Brewers, but because of the split-season format, it was the Yankees and the Brewers who advanced to the playoffs.

Ironically, though Singleton hit poorly after the long layoff in the middle of the 1981 season, he hit a home run in the All-Star Game (the first game back from the players’s strike). It was a mighty blast into right center field off Cincinnati ace Tom Seaver and it gave the AL a brief 1-0 lead.

In the nine-year stretch from 1973-1981, Singleton got MVP votes in seven of them, finishing third in 1977 and second in 1979, losing out to Don Baylor. Singleton’s OPS in ’79 (938) was better than Baylor’s (901), but voters back then were enamored with RBIs, and the California slugger outnumbered Singleton in that category, 139-111. The guy who should have won the MVP in 1979 in the American League was most likely Fred Lynn (1059 OPS), who led the league in batting, slugging, was second in homers, and was fourth in RBIs.

Singleton was only a designated hitter for three seasons, 1982-84, and he was never a terrible outfielder, though the passage of time has seemed to result in him being considered such. The only year that Earl Weaver started him anywhere but right field was in 1976 when Reggie Jackson had his brief tenure in Baltimore. That year, Singleton played left, Reggie was in right, and Paul Blair and Al Bumbry shared center field.

He played 15 years and hit 246 home runs with more than 2,000 hits, with an excellent .388 career OBP. His 132 OPS+ is better than about twenty outfielders who have plaques in Cooperstown, but in 1990 in his only year on the Hall of Fame ballot, Singleton got zero votes. Nada, nil, zilch. That’s as much evidence as you need that baseball writers (at least at that time) had no idea how a batter could help his team win without hitting .300 every year.