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Another Edition of “Baseball’s Forgotten Stars” : Luke Appling
“I played with him and against him, and he was the finest shortstop I ever saw. In the field, he covered more ground than anyone in the league. As a hitting shortstop, there was no one in his class.” – Pitcher Eddie Lopat, speaking of Luke Appling.
It’s not often that a Hall-of-Famer would qualify for the “Baseball’s Forgotten Stars” series, but I think we can make an exception for “Old Aches and Pains,” Luke Appling. We’ve been running this Facebook page for two and a half years, and I believe this is the first time his name will appear. So I think he qualifies as a “Forgotten Star,” even if he’s in the Hall of Fame. When you read about his career accomplishments, I think some will come as a surprise, as they did to me.
In the great featured photo above, we see Luke Appling engaging some excited young fans at Comiskey Park in 1947. Check out some of those faces. If that isn’t a slice of Americana in the 1940s, I don’t know what is!
There’s no doubt Luke Appling was a star, even if he has been forgotten. He played his entire 20-year career (1930-1950) as a shortstop for the White Sox, with time interrupted during World War II. Over his career, Appling hit .310 with 2749 hits, 1319 runs, 440 doubles, 102 triples, 1116 RBIs, 179 stolen bases, and a career 74.5 WAR. One of the game’s best lead-off hitters during his era, he topped the .400 on-base percentage mark eight times. He walked 1302 times against only 528 strikeouts in 10254 plate appearances, while compiling a .399 career on-base percentage.
In spite of a splendid major league career, Appling may be best remembered for his home run at age 75 in an Old-Timers’ game off Warren Spahn at RFK stadium (July 19, 1982).Since we never saw him play, we can use Baseball Reference’s “Similarity Scores” feature to place his career in context. Appling compares favorably to Hall-of-Fame Old Timers Billy Herman, Frankie Frisch, and Nellie Fox, and more recent players: Omar Vizquel and Alan Trammel.
After his career got off to a slow start (1930-’32), he hit .322 in 1933, the first of nine straight years he hit over .300. “Luscious Luke” had an amazing season in 936, one of the greatest offensive outputs ever recorded by a shortstop. His .388 average led the American League, the first time in baseball history a shortstop won the batting title; and it was also the highest average by a shortstop in the 20th century. Appling collected 204 hits that year, with 124 RBIs, 111 runs, a remarkable .474 on-base percentage, and also recorded a White Sox team record 27-game hitting streak. Defensively, he led the league in turning 199 double plays. He earned his first of seven All-Star selections in 1936 and finished second in MVP voting. Seven years later, he won his second batting title in 1943 with a .328 average, and a league-leading .419 on-base percentage.
At the time of his retirement, Luke Appling was the all-time leader for most games played and for double plays turned by a major league shortstop. He was the all-time leader for putouts and assists by an American League shortstop, records later broken by Luis Aparacio. On the downside, Appling committed 643 errors, and has the worst fielding percentage since 1910 of players with at least 1900 games. In spite of this apparent lapse, he compensated with speed and range so that, defensively, he was considered a great team asset.
Appling was famous for an ability to foul off pitches, leading to the story that he once purposely fouled off 10 pitches in a row because ownership refused to give some baseballs to autograph seekers. Appling had a well-earned reputation throughout the league for complaining about minor ailments like a sore shin or a sprained finger, which earned him the great baseball nickname: “Old Aches and Pains.”
After his playing days ended, Appling was a successful minor league manager, winning pennants in the Southern Association and the American Association; and was named minor league Manager of the Year in 1952. His only chance to manage at the major league level was as a late-season replacement for Alvin Dark as manager of the Kansas City Athletics in 1967. He was later a coach for the Indians, Tigers, Orioles, Athletics, White Sox, and Braves until 1991.
In 1970, the Chicago chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America named Appling the greatest player in White Sox history. Lawrence Ritter and Donald Honig included him in their book The 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time. He was a finalist for the Major League All-Century team, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1964 in a run-off election in which he defeated Red Ruffing. His #4 has been retired by the White Sox.
Luke Appling passed away in 1991during emergency surgery for an abdominal aneurysm, aged 83.
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Information: Excerpts edited from the Luke Appling Wikipedia page.