Singleton OK with mistaken identity

He's not Ken's son, but newest Oriole has similar makeup

January 31, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

New Orioles outfielder Chris Singleton bears a slight resemblance to the guy with the same last name who used to roam the outfield at Memorial Stadium. Enough so that he has spent his career living with the misconception that he is the son of former Orioles star Ken Singleton.

"It seemed like every day of my rookie year, somebody would ask me, `How's your father?' " said Singleton with a laugh during his introductory news conference yesterday at Camden Yards.

Apparently, it didn't bother him very much, because the 29-year-old center fielder has chosen to wear No. 29 in his first season with the Orioles -- the same number worn by Ken Singleton for a decade (1975-84) in Baltimore.

"When I was a kid, I always admired Ken Singleton and wished he was some lost uncle I didn't know about," said Singleton, who was acquired from the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday for minor-league infielder Willie Harris. "I had his baseball card as a kid. I even felt there was somewhat of a resemblance. I used to ask my mom, `Is there some way I'm related? I need to be related.' "

They may not be related, but they are a lot alike. Ken Singleton was a classy ballplayer who contributed much to the Orioles during their glory years. Chris Singleton is a young player whose character was so obvious to his White Sox teammates that they asked him to lead the team in prayer after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

He's a young family man. He's an ordained minister. He's a ballplayer who doesn't shy away from the responsibility of being a role model. Quite the contrary, he said he welcomes it and hopes he can be a positive influence on the young players in the Orioles' clubhouse.

"I think there are some things I can offer the younger players on and off the field," he said. "When young players come up and they make all this money -- even just the [major-league] minimum salary -- there are a lot of things that can lure you away from why you play the game and why you are what you are. It's a lot easier for a guy to play the game when your life is together."

The Orioles already have some solid veterans to help with the growth of their young players. Jeff Conine clearly is a role model in the clubhouse. So is veteran shortstop Mike Bordick. But, as director of baseball operations Syd Thrift was saying yesterday, you can never have too many "character" guys.

"That leadership, especially when you lead by example -- by how you live and how you play -- is invaluable on a team where you have a lot of young players," Thrift said. "An addition like this is a tremendously positive influence on our team."

Singleton also fills a big need on the field. The Orioles seemed resigned to start versatile Melvin Mora in center field after giving veteran Brady Anderson his unconditional release at the end of the 2001 season, but found Mora's status in doubt after he fractured the ring finger on his left hand playing winter ball in Venezuela.

Mora might be ready by Opening Day, but club officials consider him more valuable as a utility man who can play the outfield and serve as backup to Bordick. The Orioles acquired veteran left fielder Marty Cordova early in the off-season and made a play for slugger Juan Gonzalez and several other outfielders before finding Singleton -- considered a solid offensive player with top-flight defensive skills -- available at a surprisingly affordable price.

Singleton had been mentioned in trade talk with the Texas Rangers, and his name was prominent in a rumored deal with the Anaheim Angels involving marquee outfielder Darin Erstad, but he insisted yesterday he was thrilled when he heard he was coming to the Orioles.

"I was very excited when I received the phone call from Ken Williams, our general manager with the White Sox," he said. "Last year, when there was a question whether they were going to play me regularly, I talked to [former Orioles designated hitter] Harold Baines. He said, `Call the guys in Baltimore. See if they need a center fielder.' He told me it was a great place to play.

"When I found out it was the Orioles, I was very excited because I always enjoyed playing in Baltimore and the fans really support the team here. I always looked across the field and saw how nice these guys had it here."

Club officials view Singleton as a likely No. 2 hitter in the batting order. He hits for average (.298 last year) and ranked third in the American League with 14 sacrifice bunts. The team still needs to figure out who is going to lead off, but that role is more likely to go to Bordick or second baseman Jerry Hairston. Top outfield prospect Luis Matos also is a leadoff possibility if his spring performance persuades manager Mike Hargrove to keep him in the majors.

"I'm most comfortable in the No. 2 spot," Singleton said. "That gives me the opportunity to play more of my game -- bunting, moving runners up. If I had to choose, it would be the No. 2 spot, but I'm not going to come in here and make any suggestions. Wherever I am, I want to contribute."

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