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The Day in Sports | COUNTDOWN TO 2000 / A day-by-day
recap of some of the most important sports moments
of the 20th Century: JULY 19, 1982

Appling Had Many Years to Perfect His Swing

July 19, 1999|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

On a dark and stormy night in Washington, D.C., a bunch of ex-major league stars gathered to play an old-timers' game.

At first, it looked like a rainout. An hour-long thunderstorm preceded the game, turning the field at RFK Stadium into a lake.

About 30,000 spectators huddled under cover, hoping the storm would pass.

It did, and players like Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey, Lew Burdette and Bob Feller trotted onto the soggy field on aching joints.

Fitting, it seemed, that the American League's leadoff hitter would be 75-year-old Luke Appling, whose nickname in a 20-year career was "Ol' Aches & Pains." From 1930 to 1950, teammates said, Appling led the league in hypochondria.

He was a career singles hitter, and a good one. He had a lifetime average of .310, twice leading the American League in hitting. He played in seven All-Star games.

One thing he didn't do much of was hit home runs. His highest number was eight, in 1947. In 20 seasons, he had 45.

So naturally, Appling led off the game with a home run. And off no less than Warren Spahn.

As Appling, laughing all the way, rounded the bases in ankle-deep water, Spahn, 62, followed him, slapping him on the back with his glove. The crowd loved it, standing to cheer his lap around the infield. When Appling reached the AL dugout, he feigned a heart attack and collapsed into the arms of teammates.

Appling's was the only homer, save for a 430-footer stroked by McCovey, 44, in batting practice. Aaron, 48, who'd hit 710 more home runs than Appling in his career, could come no closer than bouncing a line drive off the outfield fence.

Appling died at 83 in 1991.

Also on this date: In 1933, in Cleveland, Boston catcher Rick Ferrell hit a home run off his brother, Indian pitcher Wes Ferrell. Later in the game, Wes Ferrell also homered. . . . In 1910, Cy Young won his 500th game. . . . In 1927, Ty Cobb reached 4,000 hits.

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