Lucius Benjamin "Luke" Appling (April 2, 1907 – January 3, 1991), nicknamed "Old Aches and Pains" was an American shortstop in Major League Baseball who played his entire career for the Chicago White Sox (1930–50). He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1964.
Born in North Carolina, Appling briefly attended Oglethorpe College. He was signed by the minor league Atlanta Crackers in 1930 and debuted with the Chicago White Sox later that year. He interrupted his career to serve in World War II in 1944 and 1945. He played for Chicago until 1950, then was a minor league manager and major league coach for many years. He served one stint as an interim major league manager in 1967. He died in Georgia in 1991.
Early life and career
Appling was born in High Point, North Carolina. He attended Fulton High School. He later said that he had been lefthanded, a trait that he shared with his father, until he was in high school. At that point, he said that he became righthanded because he wanted to play shortstop.
Attending Oglethorpe College in Atlanta, Appling stayed for two years. In 1930, the Oglethorpe baseball team was undefeated in a 15-game season; in his last game at Oglethorpe, Appling hit three home runs against Mercer University.
Appling was signed by the Southern League Atlanta Crackers that year. He was a good hitter in his first year, but committed 42 errors in 104 games. The Chicago Cubs showed some interest at first, but decided not to sign him, and the White Sox ended up purchasing him from the Crackers for $20,000.
MLB playing career
Appling appeared in only six games for the White Sox in 1930. He hit for a .232 batting average in 96 games in 1931. In 1933 his average increased from .274 to .322 in his first of nine straight .300 seasons. The White Sox lost more than 90 games in four of Appling's first five seasons with the team.
His best season was 1936, when he batted .388, knocked in 124 runs (his only 100-RBI season), scored 111 times, recorded 204 hits, and had a team-record 27-game hitting streak. His batting average was good for the first AL batting title won by a shortstop. It was the highest batting average recorded by a shortstop in the 20th century. He finished second in the AL Most Valuable Player voting and earned his first All-Star Game selection. He also turned a league-leading 119 double plays.
Appling hit .317 in 1937 as the White Sox finished in third place in the AL. He played in 81 games in 1938, missing much of the season with a broken leg.
In 1940, Appling hit .348 with a career-high 13 triples. Although the team finished fourth, they came closer to a league championship than at any point in his career, eight games behind the league champions. Appling won another batting title in 1943 with a .328 average and also led the league in OBP that year (.419).
Appling missed the entire 1944 season due to military service in the United States Army, then returned in time to appear in only 18 games the next year.
He hit .309 in 149 games in 1946. Though his seventh and final All-Star Game selection came in 1947 when he hit .306, Appling hit .314 and .301 in 1948 and 1949, respectively. Appling had remained a solid contributor into his forties, but White Sox ownership was dedicated to a youth movement and he retired after the 1950 season.
Upon his retirement, Appling was the all-time leader for most games played and for double plays by a major league shortstop, and the all-time leader for putouts and assists by an American League shortstop. These records were later broken by Luis Aparicio, who also spent the majority of his career with the White Sox. He made 643 errors and has the worst fielding percentage since 1910 of players with at least 1900 games, but his speed and range made his defensive ability excellent nonetheless throughout his career.
Appling was a good leadoff hitter who topped the .400 mark in OBP eight times (1935–37, 1939–40, 1943, 1948–49) and drew over 100 walks three times (1935, 1939, 1949), although he often batted third due to otherwise poor team hitting on the White Sox. He was well known for his ability to foul off pitches, leading to the story that he once fouled off 10 pitches in a row on purpose when ownership refused to give some baseballs to autograph because they were too expensive; he was supposedly never refused a ball again.
Appling was famous among his teammates for complaining about minor ailments such as a sore back, a weak shoulder, shin splints, or a sprained finger. While much of this complaining was probably for show, it earned him the nicknames "Old Aches and Pains" and "Libby", the latter after blues singer Libby Holman. "His constant stream of complaints might have become intolerable to his teammates if Appling had not developed a novel remedy," wrote Robert McG. Thomas Jr. of The New York Times. "He simply took his misery out on opposing pitchers, rapping out 2,749 hits, all but 587 of them singles."
|Luke Appling's number 4 was retired by the Chicago White Sox in 1975.|
Appling was a successful minor league manager after his playing days were over, winning pennants with Memphis in the Southern Association and Indianapolis of the American Association and being named minor league manager of the year in 1952.
Beginning in 1954, he managed the unaffiliated Richmond Virginians, a Class AAA team in the International League which affiliated with the New York Yankees in 1958 but after 1964 moved and became the Toledo Mud Hens.
Appling's 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, which resulted in his major league managerial record of just 10-30.
Appling was a major league coach for the Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Baltimore Orioles, Athletics and White Sox during the 1960s and early 1970s.
Though Appling received only two Baseball Hall of Fame votes when he appeared on the ballot in 1953, he was eventually elected in 1964. No candidate had received enough votes for induction based on the initial 1964 election, however Appling was named on the most ballots and he defeated Red Ruffing in a subsequent runoff vote.
In 1970, the Chicago chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America named Appling the greatest player in the history of the White Sox. In 1981, Lawrence Ritter and Donald Honig included him in their book The 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time.
On July 19, 1982, Appling played in the initial 1982 Cracker Jack Old Timers game (1982-1990) at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., where the then 75-year-old Hall of Fame shortstop hit a home run off Warren Spahn in the very first inning into the left field bleachers, the ball having traveled only 250 feet, and then some, as the fences were moved in for the old timers, although it is still a very good distance for a 75-year-old.
In 1989, The New York Times profiled the then 82-year-old Appling, who had been an annual Spring Training coach with the Atlanta Braves for 14 years and was also serving as a minor league coach during the season.
On January 3, 1991, two days after retiring from the Atlanta coaching staff, Appling was in a hospital in Cumming, Georgia, suffering from an abdominal aortic aneurysm. He died during emergency surgery.
"Old Aches and Pains" was interred in Sawnee View Memorial Gardens, Mausoleum Chapel West in Cumming, Georgia.
Pitcher Eddie Lopat remembered Appling, saying, "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."
In 1999, he was named as a finalist to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.