Some people are useless in certain situations but thrive in others. They can’t do a damn thing right under one set of circumstances, but are world beaters otherwise. That’s how Luke Appling was with the White Sox. In his first five years with the team, Appling played under three different managers. The first two were not his style, he suffered under their thumbs, but once he got to his third boss, Appling soared and went on to a Hall of Fame career.
When Appling was a rookie the White Sox had a manager by the name of Donie Bush, a former shortstop who appears elsewhere on this list. Bush cut his teeth during the rough-and-tumble Deadball Era, he’d been a teammate of Ty Cobb for years, and he was as hard as gravel. Bush didn’t believe in talking to his players unless he was yelling. He barely acknowledged the young Appling in his two years as skipper of the Sox. The next manager to write Appling’s name on a lineup card was Lew Fonseca, a former first baseman and batting champion. Fonseca didn’t talk much to his players either, but not because he was a grouch, because he was a loner. Fonseca thought major leaguers should know what to do, and he liked to spend his time on his favorite subject: hitting. Fonseca was a pioneer in the use of film to analyze batting. He was really the first sophisticated hitting coach. While he sat in a dark room looking at “moving pictures” of men swinging a piece of wood, the White Sox floundered, which got him fired.
A few weeks into the 1934 season, the White Sox hired Jimmie Dykes, their veteran All-Star third baseman. Dykes was nearing the end as an everyday player, but he threw himself into the role of manager. One of his first orders of business was to light a fire under Appling. He told Appling that he could be the best shortstop in the league, he just needed to go out and prove it. Appling was just glad to have a manager who didn’t yell at him. He won the batting title two years later when he hit .388 with 128 RBIs, and became a perennial All-Star.
A few of the best “old” shortstops in history were Ozzie Smith, Bad Bill Dahlen, and Omar Vizquel. But the best was Luke Appling. “Ol Aches and Pains” was playing a very good shortstop when he was 36 years old, in fact that was his second-best season. His fifth-best season came when he was 39.
There’s a story, not sure if it’s true, but it allegedly happened that first year when Dykes was player/manager. In the ninth inning of a tight game, a ball was hit to Appling which the shortstop fumbled, allowing the winning run to score. In the clubhouse, Appling lamented “Why do they always have to hit to me in the pinch?” Dykes immediately confronted his shortstop: “Never let me hear you say that again, Luke,” Dykes barked. “You’ll never be a big leaguer until you want them to hit the ball to you in the tight spots.” Appling lived to be 84 years old and he was a Hall of Famer for the last 27 years of his life. He never missed an opportunity to tell people how important Jimmie Dykes was in making him a great ballplayer.
Appling won his batting crown when he was 36 years old, and he ultimately hit .300 fifteen times. He played 22 years in the big leagues, every game as a member of the White Sox. Late in his career the franchise held a Luke Appling Day, and owner Charles Comiskey Jr. presented his popular shortstop with a check for $100 for every season he’d played in a Chicago uniform. “On behalf of my father, my family, the organization, and my mother, we thank you for your great service to the city and the club,” an attached letter said.