The summer after I graduated high school, I spent a week in West Virginia with dozens of other Catholic youth group members from the Archdiocese of Baltimore. It was known as the Appalachia Workcamp, and we spent the week serving as handymen (and handywomen) for the underprivileged citizens of Preston County, one of the poorest counties in the United States. It was also a great opportunity to meet and bond with new people within our own camp. I loved the whole experience so much that I was making the trip for the third consecutive year. Every night, we would meet after dinner for a prayer session, often involving a group activity.
On one particular night, we divided into our work groups. Each person had a piece of paper with their name on it, and these sheets were passed around the group. Everyone wrote a word or phrase describing the person whose name was on the sheet, and then there was a discussion about the word choices. I've still got mine, and I couldn't begin to remember how others saw me for the most part. I'm sure there were run-of-the-mill niceties like "good listener", or "great sense of humor". But one in particular has stuck with me ever since. Terry, one of the adults in our group, said that I was "quietly competent". She was so precise in her phrasing, and it was such a simple concept. But I really took it to heart. Ultimately, it's a great thing to say about someone. How often do we worry that we're making a wreck of things, that we're bumblers, that we're going to fail at a task? Just to hear that I was able, that I was handling my business, it was a wonderful thing.
Ken Singleton is the very definition of "quietly competent". When baseball fans discuss the greatest players of the 1970s, Kenny's name is rarely uttered. But he finished in the top ten of MVP balloting four times during the decade (twice in the top three), and what's more impressive, he ranked sixth among all hitters in OPS+ with a strong 139. He was at or above league average for all but the final year of his career. Though he had a great power stroke, topping out at 35 home runs in 1979, his true expertise was his ability to draw the walk. This has traditionally been one of the most underrated skills for a hitter, even though the basic point of batting is to reach base. Ken never led his league in walks, but placed second six times. That's a lot of bases on balls.
But Ken Singleton has continued to practice quiet competence since retirement. He has been a color commentator for Yankees games on the YES Network for the past twenty years, and most O's fans aren't even angry with him. Ken provides a rare touch of class amongst the yammering ninny cheerleaders with whom he normally shares the press box.
I almost made it through this entry without saying anything nasty...but come on, it's the Yankees.