Appling, Lucius Benjamin, Jr. (“Luke”)
Appling, Lucius Benjamin, Jr. (“Luke”)
(b. 2 April 1907 in High Point, North Carolina; d. 3 January 1991 in Cumming, Georgia), Hall of Fame shortstop with the Chicago White Sox from 1930 through 1950.
Appling was one of six children born to Lucius Benjamin Appling, a woodcarver, and Dola Sappenfield, a home-maker. He began his athletic career at Fulton High School in Atlanta, from which he graduated in 1928, before playing baseball and football at Atlanta’s Oglethorpe College for two years. He played minor-league baseball for part of the 1930 season for the Atlanta Crackers. Atlanta sold Appling to the Chicago Cubs, which traded him to the White Sox before he arrived in Chicago. At the end of the 1930 season he made a few appearances with the White Sox, then became the club’s regular shortstop in 1931. He played there until 1950, setting a major-league record for durability at shortstop at that time.
Appling was an outstanding hitter. His trademark was a slashing line-drive single to center or right-center field. He set the all-time White Sox records for hits, doubles, runs scored, and runs batted in. His most outstanding season was 1936, when he hit .388 and drove in 128 runs. He won batting championships in 1936 and again in 1943 when he hit .328. In 1940 he hit .348 but lost the batting championship to Joe DiMaggio’s .352. In all but four of his years as a player he hit over .300. He retired with a .310 career batting average. Although not a smooth fielder in his first years in Chicago, he became an accomplished shortstop under the tutelage of Jimmy Dykes, the White Sox manager and third baseman in the mid-1930s. Only 587 of Appling’s 2,749 hits went for extra bases. He hit only forty-five home runs throughout his entire major-league career, half of which was played in spacious Comiskey Park.
Appling, who rarely struck out, fouled off an average of fifteen pitches per game. This skill caused great frustration for both opponents and owners: White Sox owners once figured that Appling cost them about $2,300 a year in balls fouled into the stands. On one occasion the Senators owner Clark Griffith refused Appling’s request for free seats in Washington, D.C., so Appling stood at home plate and fouled sixteen consecutive pitches into the stands. On a hot afternoon at Comiskey Park, with Charles (“Red”) Ruffing of the Yankees pitching, Appling fouled off fourteen pitches in a row before Ruffing finally walked him. The next White Sox batter promptly hit a home run.
Appling was the outstanding player on mediocre teams in the 1930s and 1940s, and he was selected as the White Sox player of the century in a 1949 poll of 5,000 White Sox fans and in a 1969 poll of the Chicago Chapter of Baseball Writers of America. He was selected as the outstanding White Sox shortstop in a poll taken by the Chicago Tribune in 2000. He was a member of the American League All-Star team four times and elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1964.
Appling, at five feet, ten inches, and 185 pounds, was initially described as a gangly youth, but filled out into a solidly built player. His nickname, “Old Aches and Pains,” came from the maladies and injuries, real or imagined, he complained of on a regular basis. He was baseball’s favorite hypochondriac. He said that he always played the best when he felt the worst. But he had only two major injuries in his twenty-year career. He broke a finger in 1930 shortly after arriving in Chicago, causing him to miss the end of his initial season; and in 1938 he had a broken ankle, which limited him to eighty-one games. Yet Appling complained about fallen arches, indigestion, dizzy spells, torn leg tendons, insomnia, gout, astigmatism, stiff neck, mysterious pains in his kneecap, and, at least once, vertigo. In his worst season, 1942, when he hit only .262, he blamed his performance on the fact that he felt good all year. Teammates, the press, and ownership took Luke’s complaints in stride as long as he kept hitting and showing his tremendous zeal for the game. He missed two seasons, 1944 and 1945, when he was drafted into the army in 1943. He reported to Fort Sheridan, north of Chicago, and was honorably discharged in 1945.
Following his retirement in 1951, Appling began a forty-year career as manager and coach. In the 1950s he managed the Memphis Chicks of the Southern Association and subsequently the Indianapolis club of the American Association. He managed for a brief period of time at the majorleague level with Kansas City in 1967. He coached in Baltimore, Detroit, Oakland, Cleveland, Chicago (White Sox), and Kansas City. He ended his career in baseball with a seventeen-year relationship with the Atlanta Braves beginning in 1974 as coach, minor-league instructor, and minor-league batting coach. He retired from the Braves just two days prior to his death and was scheduled to appear at a baseball-card show two days later.
Appling died at age eighty-three while undergoing surgery on an abdominal aneurysm at Lakeside Community Hospital in Cumming, Georgia. He and his wife, Fay Dodd, to whom he remained married until his death, had two daughters and one son. He is buried in Sawnee View Gardens Mausoleum in Cumming.
Appling was the most dynamic player on a mediocre team at midcentury. He was a quality, all-around player whose magnetic, outgoing personality made him the most famous player on the White Sox as well as a perennial member of White Sox all-century teams. His entire life was committed to playing, coaching, and managing the game that he loved.
There are no full-length biographies of Appling. The best information is from the clippings files of the Sporting News; Warren Brown, The Chicago White Sox (1952), and Richard C. Lindberg, The White Sox Encyclopedia (1997). Obituaries are in the New York Times (4 Jan. 1991) and Annual Obituary (1991).
Harry Jebsen, JR.