Luke Appling homers off Warren Spahn in Cracker Jack Old Timers Game at RFK Stadium
When Luke Appling retired after the 1950 season, he had 2,749 hits over his 20-year career for the Chicago White Sox. But only 45 of those were home runs.
On July 19, 1982 – at the age of 75 – Appling added to his long ball total.
The former infielder led off the first annual Cracker Jack Old Timers game with a home run off fellow Hall of Famer Warren Spahn. Appling sent Spahn’s pitch 320 feet and over the fence, surprising the 29,196 people on hand at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.
“I hit it, but I didn’t even look at it,” Appling told The New York Times after the game. “I just started to run around the bases. Slowly.”
Appling’s home run was the first homer at RFK Stadium in a decade since the Washington Senators left town. The stadium then being used by the Washington Redskins football team.
“It was just a good pitch,” Appling said after the game. “It was right there. I just swung away.”
His solo shot into left field helped propel the American League old timers to a victory over the National League, with a final score of 4-2. Spahn, the winningest left handed pitcher to take the mound in major league history with 363 victories, wanted to take the game seriously from start to finish, but Appling got in the way of that.
“I told Luke last night my strategy was to pitch around the young guys and get the old fogeys out,” Spahn told The Washington Post after the game. “But he didn’t give me a chance.”
In a game with greats like Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, Appling’s home run was just one of two in the game, the other coming off the bat of 40-year-old Jim Fregosi. Never hitting more than eight home runs in a season, Appling’s 45 career long balls paled in comparison Mays and Aaron’s combined 1,415.
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Known as one of the best singles hitters in baseball, Appling ended his career with a .310 batting average, twice leading the league in hitting.
He ended his career with more extra base hits than strikeouts, with 587 and 528 respectively. He averaged just 35 strikeouts a season and had an on base percentage of .399.
Appling was working as a traveling minor league hitting coach at the time of the Cracker Jack Old Timers game and was joined by 30 other players and managers who were either already Hall of Famers or would be in the future, such as Brooks Robinson, Ernie Banks, Bob Feller, Bill Mazeroski and Robin Roberts.
The Cracker Jack Old Timers game was played from 1982-1990.
“Baseball,” Appling once said, “is a game to keep old people young.”
Appling was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1964 and is one of just 24 shortstops enshrined in Cooperstown. He passed away on Jan. 3, 1991.
Cady Lowery is the 2017 public relations intern in the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum