Appling reports for duty

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Craig Muder

Luke Appling was three months shy of his 37th birthday when he reported for Army training at Camp Lee on Jan. 3, 1944.

He had no expectation that he would ever play big league baseball again.

Fortunately for Appling and the White Sox, “Old Aches and Pains” still had plenty left in the tank.

Appling had toiled for 13 big league seasons when he joined the United States’ effort in World War II, and he was coming off one of his best. In 1943, Appling topped the American League with a .328 batting average and appeared in 155 games for the White Sox, the most of his career. The durable shortstop amassed 192 hits, 80 RBI and a career-best 27 stolen bases in his age-36 season, finishing second in the AL Most Valuable Player voting.

But as his military career began, the Associated Press reported that Appling “said he already had had trouble with his legs and felt they wouldn’t stand up under a major league season by the time he got out of the Army.”

Just 20 months later, however, Appling was back in the White Sox’s lineup after being discharged from the Army that summer. In 18 games in September of 1945, Appling hit .368 with 10 RBI, posting a .478 on-base percentage.

He went on to play four more full seasons and part of a fifth, retiring after the 1950 campaign. He hit better than .300 in each of his final four full seasons, including .301 with 121 walks in 1949 at the age of 42.

Only Barry Bonds in 2007 has ever drawn more walks in a season at age 42-or-older.

“I played with him and against him, and he was the finest shortstop I ever saw,” said five-time World Series champion pitcher Eddie Lopat. “In the field, he covered more ground than anyone in the league. As a hitting shortstop, there was no one in his class.”

Appling finished his career with a .310 batting average, a .399 on-base percentage and 2,749 hits. Despite often voicing his problems with one physical affliction or another – resulting in his memorable nickname – Appling appeared in 2,218 games at shortstop, first on the all-time list at the time of his retirement.

His .388 batting average in 1936 remains the best ever for a modern-era shortstop.

A seven-time All-Star, Appling coached throughout his post-playing days and managed the Kansas City Athletics at the end of the 1967 season.

At the time of his death on Jan. 3, 1991, Appling was a hitting instructor with the Braves’ organization – a position he held for 15 years.

“He was a true Hall of Famer on and off the field,” said Braves general manager Bobby Cox at the time of Appling’s passing. “Even in his 80s, Luke retained and outstanding enthusiasm for the game of baseball. As much as anyone I’ve known, Luke lived a very happy life.”

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series