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WSI News - Season Features

Special 70th Birthday Tribute

Luis Aparicio

Another EXCLUSIVE from White Sox Interactive!   

By Mark Liptak 

On Thursday, April 29, 2004 a White Sox legend has a birthday. Down in Maracaibo, Venezuela, Luis Ernesto Montiel Aparicio turns 70 years young. 

“Little Looie,” as he is still known and loved by Sox fans was the catalyst of the Go-Go Sox of the 1950's and early 1960's. After being traded in part because of a salary issue, Aparicio came back to town in 1968 where he had some of his finest seasons despite being in his mid 30's. 

He finally retired after the 1973 season having spent 18 years in the major leagues with three different teams. Aparicio is regarded as one of the finest shortstops ever in the game’s history. He was the American League Rookie Of The Year In 1956, led the American League in stolen bases nine consecutive years, was a ten time All Star, won seven Gold Gloves just with the White Sox, appeared in two World Series, winning one, finished second behind teammate Nellie Fox in the 1959 Most Valuable Player voting, and handled more chances then anybody ever at his position 12, 930... an incredible total. 

But raw numbers don’t tell the whole story.  

Aparicio changed the way the game was played with his abilities and raw speed. Despite being only 5-9, 160 pounds then Sox G.M. Frank “Trader” Lane signed him in the winter of 1954-55 and assigned him to Waterloo, Iowa where he started his pro career hitting .282. In 1955 he was at Memphis, hitting .273 with, an unheard of number of stolen bases, for that time, 48. That was enough for Lane who traded starting Sox shortstop and fellow Venezuelan “Chico” Carrasquel to the Indians for Larry Doby and handed the job to Luis as the 1956 season began. 

Looie was well known among baseball executives before he made the White Sox though.  In fact according to Sox historian Rich Lindberg, when the Sox re-acquired Jim Busby from Washington on June 7, 1955, for Clint “Scrap Iron” Courtney and Johnny Groth, then Nats owner Calvin Griffith supposedly said to Lane, “what about that boy you have down there...some kind of Italian name.” Griffith was playing dumb, really talking about Aparicio...Lane wasn’t buying the pitch.  

On Opening Day 1956 the Sox faced Cleveland and Aparicio collected the first of his 2,677 hits when he slashed a single in the 7th inning off pitcher and future Sox manager, Bob Lemon. It helped set up the winning run. 

Luis was off and running...literally. That first season he nabbed 21 out of 25 stolen bases while hitting .266. But the best was yet to come. 

Offensively Aparicio began to refine his hitting, waiting for his pitch, stroking singles and doubles and letting his legs carry him along. His pure speed began to upset pitchers and the Sox began to build a philosophy of run, run, run. Along with Fox, Jim Landis and “Jungle” Jim Rivera the Sox became known as the “Go-Go” Sox. Anytime they got on first the crowds at Comiskey Park would start clapping and yelling in rhythm, ‘go, go,go.’ It was not uncommon for pitchers to throw over to first base four, five, six times. And when the pitcher finally threw to the plate, the Sox were off and running to second or more as wild throws were common. 


Luis' stolen base is a key play in the 1959 World Series for another White Sox winner!

Aparicio was Maury Wills before Maury Wills. Those who saw him play said that if the game then was as wide open as it is today with few restrictions on when guys could steal, Looie could easily have grabbed 100 or more bases a season. The most bases Aparicio stole with the Sox was 56 in 1959. That mark stood until 1983 when Rudy Law broke it. Looie’s career high was 57 with the 1964 Orioles. In 1973 at age 39, Aparicio still had the speed and base running moxie to swipe 13 of 14 with the Red Sox. He’d finish his career with 506 steals at a time when very few teams played the speed game. For his career Aparicio converted an astonishing 79% of his attempts. 

Looie was a consistent performer with the Sox in his first tour of duty. His average was around the .265 mark, he’d score about 85 runs a season and was a reliable lead off man. 

He also got along great with his teammates. Aparicio had a broad grin, wore large oversize fedora’s (which were usually pulled down around his head) and could pull a joke with the best of them. The fans adored him and he responded, always making time for them. 

The national press noticed as well. Looie was named to his first All Star Team in 1958 and became a regular fixture for the American League for the next seven straight seasons. Then he made three more appearances with them,  from 1970 through 1972. Aparicio was on the cover of Sports Illustrated on August 10, 1959 when he stood side by side with his friend and teammate Fox under the caption ‘Magic In The Middle.’ He returned to SI in the April 30, 1962 edition sliding into a base with the heading, ‘Players With Magic.’ He and Fox formed the best double play combo in baseball and it was Aparicio who on the night on September 22, 1959 grabbed a ground ball off the bat of the Indians Vic Power, stepped on second, rifled a throw to first and then celebrated as the Sox clinched their first pennant since 1919. In that 1959 World Series Aparicio hit .308 with eight hits and a stolen base    

Defensively he was without peer in baseball. His good friend and teammate for several years Billy Pierce when asked about Aparicio commented, “I was very glad he played when I pitched. I can’t tell you the number of ground balls he got to. He had a strong arm, great speed and was the best I ever saw at the position.” 

White Sox author, historian and assistant sports editor of the Chicago Tribune, Bob Vanderberg remembered another magical moment. “I’m pretty sure this was in 1960. The Sox were playing the Kansas City A’s at Comiskey Park and I think “Whitey” Herzog was batting. Herzog hit a pop fly down the left field line that seemed certain to drop in because “Minnie” Minoso, the Sox left fielder was shaded towards left center for the left handed hitter. Looie kept racing out and finally reached out with his hand and caught the ball....with his bare hand!”

Unfortunately relations began to sour between Aparicio and the Sox front office. Then Sox G.M. Ed Short was convinced Louie was slowing down after his 1962 season ended with a ..241 batting average and only 31 stolen bases. Aparicio was also enraged at Sox management after having his salary cut. So on January 14, 1963 Short sent Aparicio and Al Smith to Baltimore in perhaps the most lop sided deal in Sox history. The Sox got in return, 3rd baseman Pete Ward, relief pitcher and future Hall Of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm, shortstop Ron Hansen and outfielder Dave Nicholson.  

As he left the organization, Aparicio started ‘the Looie Curse,’ often forgotten about by baseball fans who continue to only remember billy goats and Babe Ruth. Aparicio told the Chicago media that “it took the Sox 40 years to win a pennant, it’ll take them another 40 years to win another one.” Maybe Looie really meant 50 years...or 60....or 75? 

Vanderberg clearly remembered what happened the first time Luis came back to play the Sox in Chicago. “It was a twi-night doubleheader May 1, 1964 as I recall, my dad got us tickets. There was a stir, of course, as he approached the plate. Tates Johnson, the Sox public address man gave the announcement. ‘first batter for Baltimore, number 11, the shortstop, Looie Aparicio.’ And do you know what? Looie was booed, quiet heavily. I remembered being stunned that Sox fans could boo Luis Aparicio!”   

The four players the Sox got in the trade helped rebuild the club overnight and shot them right back in championship contention. Between 1963 and 1965 the Sox averaged 96 wins and nearly won the pennant in 1964. 

Looie thrived in Baltimore continuing to make the All Star Team and in 1966 won his World Series as the Orioles shocked the Dodgers in four straight games. In the four games he hit .250 going 4 for 16. 

Before the 1968 season the Sox got Aparicio back along with Russ Snyder in exchange for Don Buford and Bruce Howard. Looie was glad to be back home saying that he didn’t really mean what he said about taking 40 years to win a title again back in the winter of 1964. 

Amazingly the older Luis got the better he started to hit, raking pitchers to the tune of a .280 average in 1968 and a career high .313 in 1969 when he was named the starter for the American League in the All Star Game, the last one he appeared in representing the White Sox.  Looie received his own day on July 19, 1970 in a ceremony between games of a double header with Baltimore. 


The Sox reacquired Aparicio before the 1968 season.

New Sox Player Personnel Director Roland Hemond took over the club in September 1970 and saw a disaster on the field. The Sox had collapsed and had the worst three consecutive seasons in their history. They lost 106 games in 1970. They needed to start acquiring quality players and one of the few marketable players in demand was Luis Aparicio. So on December 3, 1970 he was sent to the Red Sox for Mike Andrews and Luis Alvarado

Both Andrews and Alvarado helped turn the Sox around but in hindsight this may have been one of Hemond’s worst trades. In 1972 when the Sox were challenging the Oakland A’s for the divisional title they were forced to use Alvarado and Lee “Bee-Bee” Richards at shortstop. Aparicio meanwhile made the All Star team for the final time. The Sox finished five games behind the A’s. With Aparicio’s steading influence, the title might have been won. 

I saw Aparicio play that year in an afternoon game the White Sox won 2-1. He wasn’t the player he was ten years earlier but he was still better then most. In 1973 Aparicio hit .271 in 132 games before retiring. He played his final game on September 28, 1973.  

He went back to Venezuela where he became very wealthy thanks to good investments in insurance and oil and stopped back every so often to participate in Old Timer’s Games. Aparicio and Early Wynn received tremendous cheers when the Sox hosted the 1983 All Star Game. Both former Sox greats played in the Old Timer’s contest the day before. Aparicio, in fact, wore for the first time, the red pinstriped uniform that the Sox were wearing when he retired from the game.  He also came home in 1984 when the Sox retired his number #11. 

The past few years has seen a new generation get to see him as he was named the honorary American League captain when the Sox again hosted the All Star Game, this time in July 2003 and just a few weeks ago Aparicio, Davy Conception, along with Carrasquel helped usher in the Ozzie Guillen managerial era as they all threw out the first balls on opening day against the Royals.  Those four are regarded as the finest shortstops in Venezuela’s history. 

Billy Pierce offered a fitting conclusion to this celebration piece of ‘Little Looie’ with his clearest memory of the time the two played on the South Side.  

“We were playing the Yankees and it was the 9th inning. I was winning 1-0. The Yanks had a guy on, two out and Mickey Mantle was batting. I hung a pitch and Mickey hit it up and a long way out. I immediately turned to watch it and it just went foul. I happened to look at Looie and saw him bending down letting out a long whoosh of air, like ‘man that was close!’ Then he smiled. To finish the story I got Mickey to pop up and we won the game but even after all this time I’ll never forget the look on Looie’s face!.” 

Aparicio was elected to the Baseball Hall Of Fame in 1984 getting 85% of the vote. 

Happy birthday, Looie and may you have many, many more! 

Hey Sox Fans!
Relive one of the most glorious moments in Sox history!
Luis Aparicio turns the double-play to clinch the 1959 pennant for the White Sox -- Chicago's last.

It’s September 22, 1959 with the White Sox in Cleveland. Luis Aparicio ends the game by starting a double play to clinch the 1959 pennant for the White Sox! Jack Brickhouse has the joyous call. Courtesy: WGN-TV.   Let Me Hear It!

Luis Aparicio’s White Sox Stats: 

Year      G        AB       R         H     2B    3B    HR    RBI     SB     .AVG

1956   152       533      69      142     19      6        3       56      21       .266

1957   143       575      82      148     22      6        3       41      28       .257

1958   145       557      76      148     20      9        2       40      29       .268

1959   152       612      98      157     18      5        6       51      56       .257

1960   153       600      86      166     20      7        2       61      51       .277

1961   156       625      90      170     24      4        6       45      53       .272

1962   153       581      72      140     23      5        7       40      31       .241

1968   155       622      55      164     24      4        4       36      17       .264

1969   156       599      77      168     24      5        5       51      24       .280

1970   146       552      86      173     29      3        5       43        8       .313

 

Bold indicates Aparicio’s Rookie Of The Year season.        


Editor's Note:  Mark Liptak is an experienced sports journalist, holding several awards for both his electronic and print media work.  He has held numerous sports reporting positions for various TV and newspaper organizations, including Director of Sports for KNOE-TV (Monroe, Louisiana) and KPVI-TV (Pocatello, Idaho), and sports writer for the Idaho Falls Free Press, where his column "Lip Service" has appeared for for a number of years.  "Lip", his wife, and cats presently live in Chubbuck, Idaho, where they collectively comprise 100 percent of the Pocatello River Valley's long-time Sox Fan population.  

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