It is not the athletic crime of the year, but a significant injustice all the while, the kind of thing that always seems to happen when baseball allows fans to choose its all-star teams. They look at names instead of numbers: they stuff more ballot boxes than anyone in Cook County ever dreamed possible; they elevate a .277 hitter to starting status because he is Fred Lynn, and ignore the most consistent hitting outfielders in the Americna League.

Before last night's games, Paul Dade of the Cleveland Indians and Ken Singleton of the Baltimore Orioles were the outfield batting eaders in the AL, not by as much as J.O. Tobin led Seattle Slew at the wire the other day but by enough to merit at least serious consideration in the all-star voting.

They were ignored, Singleton has a .337 average and a remarkable flair for getting on base. Yet he was not among the top five outfielders in the next-to-last tally for the July 19 All-Star Game. Or the top 10. or the top 15. There he was, in 20th place, behind such as Rick Manning (.233), Amos Otis (.240) and Steven Braun (.247). Rusty Staub was hitting 100 points less than Singleton, but had 100,000 more all-star votes.

Dade is even farther down the list, even though his .346 average is best among all mortals in the majors and second to Rod Carew's .402. There is an excuse, however, because his name did not make the ballots. And the wizards who determine whose names are included ought not to be scolded too harshly, because scarcely anyone on his team forecast such gaudy numbers for Dade.

At 26, he was allowed to slip from the California Angels - after excellent minor-league performances and 39 major-league at-bats in two seasons - and signed by the Indians as a free-agent draftee last year.

Dade has been a bit of a drifter everywhere but at the plate, playing third base, his most natural position, before settling in right field for the last month or so. He has played splendidly, but failed to attract more votes than goofy presidential candidates get every four years.

"We frankly didn't think he'd play this much when the season started," an Indian official said. "The other night I was walking through the park, and one of the ballot boxes had been pushed off its stand and broken open. As I put the ballots back inside, I did notice a few write-ins for Dade. But I'd be amazed if he got 10,000 votes."

The Orioles - and others - are dismayed, if not surprised, that Singleton could attract just 310,265 votes as of this week, or more than 1,400,000 fewer than the most popular outfielder at the moment, Carl Yastrzemski of the Boston Red Sox.

There are reasons, some subtle and otehrs as clear as a liner to center. He heardly is the first fine player to be overlooked in the all-star voting by the realots in Cincinnati or Boston. But one almost has to work to appreciate Singleton, quiet though artuculate, professional though slow afield, with his statistic one of the most obscure.

So far this reason, the swithc-hitting Singleton has reached at least first 44 per cent of the time, a figure involving hits, walks, hit-by-pitches and total plate appearances. It is not the sort of thing that keeps baseball's filberts panting, but it is an important statistic.

And Singleton, with 87 hits and 49 walks in 73 games, is second only to Carew in the AL, the Twin reaching base on 47 per cent of his total appearances.(Some perspective is in order here: When he won the triple crown for the Orioles in 1966, Frank Robinson reached base 41 per cent of the time. When Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941, his on-base figure was an astonishing 55 per cent.)

Almost to a man, the Orioles cannot recall a moment when Singleton has acted out of character - no thrown equipment in the clubhouse, no wild gestures on the field or outrageous statements to reporters, no offkey pitches for after-shave lotion.

What does a fan really want in a man? Obviously, more than Singleton chooses to offer. He is a no-gimmick player in a world that notices only the Reggie Tito Birds.

"Quietness is confidence with Ken," said Tony Muser. "Ninely per cent of us in the major leagues are very uncertain, but he isn't.He knows where he'll be the next six to 10 years: we don't. I'm utility. If I don't produce next year, I'm gone."

The most unSingleton-like moment of a major league career that included 1 1/2 years with the New York Mets, three eyars with the Monetreal Expos and 2 1/2 years with the Orioles was two seasons ago in Kansas City, the only time he has been thrown out of a game.

"He called a bad pitcher a strike," Singleton said, "and the he called another one a strike to show me up. It was a close game, not the timefor that stuff. Me? I'm just a low-key guy who goes out and gets his hits and answers his fan mail on time. I wouldn't be comfortable any other way."

Presumably, AL all-star manager Billy Martin will have the good sense to include Singleton with the rest of the selections he is allowed. This weekend, Singleton has a chance to impress Martin further during the Yankee-Oriole series in Baltimore.

At 6-foot-4 and 213 pounds, Singleton still is appropriately named. He has hit 20 homers just once in his major-league career. He seems destined for his third 100-walk season and eighth straight year with five or fewer stolen bases.

The other night against Detroit was typically Singleton. With two on, none out and the Orioles down, 4-0, in the sixth, a less professional player with an obsession for attention would have reached for the hero's cloak and started swinging as he left the on-deck circle.

The first three pitches were ever so close to strikes, but Singleton would not nibble. Then he took two strikes, and another close one for ball four.

"Getting on base is half the battle," he said later. "Besides, if I clear the bases we're still down a run." And he did in fact waltz home on Lee May's grand-slam homer, and finally drove in the winning run with a 12th-inning single.

Still, he preferred to allow his bat to do most his bragging, a man not destined for the Hall of Fame but a most satisfying career. If he welcomes attention, he neither seeks it nor is naturally attracted to it.

Not long ago, a reporter approached Singleton and said he planned a long profile, and that he would return later to gather information. Said Singleton: "Don't hurry."