AN ARTICLE FROM THE BASEBALL MAGAZINE:FEB.
Old aches and pains
THERE WERE FIVE BALLPLAYERS SITTING IN THE ROOM SIGNING AUTOGRAPHS. IT WAS EARLY MORNING, THE LIGHT WAS DIM, RAIN COULD BE HEARD FALLING OUTSIDE, AND THERE WERENT TOO MANY PEOPLE WAITING ON LINE. AT THE VERY END OF THE ROOM SAT PAUL HORNUNG AND THEN BUNCHED TOGETHER WERE TOMMY HENRICH, CHARLEY SILVERA, CLIFF MAPES AND OLD ACHES AND PAINS LUKE APPLING.
Henrich and Silvera were talking to each other. Cliff Mapes sat at his table staring straight ahead, hands clasped together. A large man, he seemed to dwarf the other players. Only at Luke Applings table was there any kind of line. Sitting at his right-hand side was a young boy who helped give Luke the items he had to sign. There were balls and books and cards and one fellow (who turned out to be a dealer) was waiting on line with what looked like at least 15 to 20 bats and 2 or three cases of balls.
Every once in a while Appling would turn to the boy and make a remark. Now looka here, you see this picture. This was taken before you was a twinkle in your mommas eye. That was a good bat I had there. I yousta have to tape it up to get me a better grip on it, but it sure stuck with me. My gosh son, do you know what youre holding there? Thats a picture with me and Lefty Grove there. You dont know nuthin about Lefty, but take it from me, he was one tough hombre. You just couldnt do anything against him. He was better than this here Ryan guy.
LUKE APPLING CAME INTO BASEBALL ALL SPIT AND FIRE AND COON SHOOTING AND WATERHOLE FISHING AND CRACKER BARREL SATURDAY NIGHT GET TOGETHERS WITH THE GOOD OLE BOYS AND CORNPONE LIQUOR AND CHURCH GOING SUNDAY MORNING MEETINGS.
He played in the golden age of baseball where the feats of Rogers Hornsby and the Babe and Lou and terrible tempered Mr. Grove and Mel Ott, and Joe D. and Dizzy and Daffy and the others will never be duplicated. He played with them and also Ached and Pained his way into the era of Mickey, and Jackie, and Ted, and Robin Roberts and Warren Spahn and Early Wynn, and Roy and the Dook and Bobby Feller. The game was different then. You wore baggy pants and loose fitting blouses. You gripped the bat with flesh and didnt rely on namby pamby gloves. When you were beaned, there was no helmet to protect you. The ball skidded and bounced on real grass and pitchers got up to bat and also pitched more than just a few innings before getting somebody in to relieve them. It was Golden Age baseball. It was Luke Appling baseball.
On this day Luke Appling was talking to his fans. He would sign, look up and chat a bit, make a comment about an item before him, stop and call out to one of the ballplayers on the other side of the room, lift up a bat and inspect it, put his hand into a faded dirt-stained glove and pound it once or twice, pose for pictures with little kids and adults and through it all there would be a constant flow of dialogue. Yeah, you know I was 75 when I hit that homerun. Ole Warren, he just threw that one down the middle and I popped it outta there. It was a good poke. Hey thanks for reminding me. I havent seen ole Elmo in oh I dont know Id say its around 15, 20 years now. He was a good hitter, but he made his living with his glove. Why sure honey, you come on over here and well let daddy take some pictures of us. I dont know why you want to pose with an ugly puss like mine. Alright now, smile for your poppa. Whats your name Harriet .OK now Harriet, lets do it right.
By this time the room had begun to fill up. Applings table was busy and he seemed to thrive on it. I left for awhile to talk to Cliff Mapes who over the years had become a friend of mine. When I went back to Applings table he was gone.
Three months later I was at work. I had come in early to take care of a deadline. It was very quiet, I was absorbed with what I was doing, and around 7:30 Bob Munhall came in, hung up his coat and walked over to me. Herb, you knew Luke Appling didnt you? Bob had asked me questions like that before. I froze, stopped what I was doing and waited for Bob to continue. I heard on the radio that he just died this morning.
In his obituary it talked about his HR at age 75, his propensity for talking about his Aches & Pains, his ability to hit foul balls almost at will, and his election to the Hall Of Fame.
For me the picture of him country boying it up at that card show three months ago, says it all.
This originally appeared in the February edition of One More Inning: Issue number eleven: November 1992