Voted the greatest living White Sox player in a 1969 fan poll, Appling was almost a member of the Chicago Cubs. After two years at Oglethorpe University, Appling signed with the Atlanta Crackers (Southern Association). He was sold to the Cubs late in the 1930 season, but thanks to the intervention of Milt Stock (Eddie Stanky‘s father-in-law), Appling joined the White Sox in a cash transaction that also involved little-known outfielder Doug Taitt. There was nothing remarkable about Appling’s first two seasons. His arm was powerful, but his throws were inaccurate, and sometimes wound up in the stands. Worse yet was his penchant for muffing the most routine ground ball.
The arrival of Jimmy Dykes as manager in 1934 had a positive effect on the young shortstop. Dykes cajoled, pleaded, and instilled confidence. When Appling finally realized that he wasn’t going to drive the ball out of spacious Comiskey Park, he adjusted his stance and became one of the most productive hitters of the decade. With a keen batting eye, the leadoff hitter would foul off pitch after pitch before selecting just the right one, or drawing one of his many bases on balls. Legend has it that on one occasion, Appling fouled off seventeen straight pitches before hitting a triple, and his 1,302 lifetime walks (with a high of 122 in 1935) ranks 25th all-time.
In his greatest year, 1936, Appling led the AL with a .388 average. It was the first batting title won by a White Sox player. He also had a club-record 27-game hitting streak and a seven-for-seven performance over three games. In 1943, at age 35, he won his second batting title. He hit .300 15 times.
Appling held down the shortstop position for nearly twenty years. In that time, he established ML shortstop records for games played and double plays and AL records for putouts and assists; all were later broken by Luis Aparicio. In spite of his everyday play, he acquired the epithet “Old Aches & Pains” through 20 years of complaining about his various physical ailments, the condition of the infield (“I swear, that park must have been built on a junkyard!” As it turned out, he was right), and salary disputes with General Manager Harry Grabiner. A $5,000 bonus promised him for winning the batting title in 1936 was later rescinded. In disgust he tore up his 1937 contract. Owner J. Lou Comiskey weathered the storm, and when Appling was ready to play, he was given a new contract. This time he signed on for another year, even thought it was $2,500 less than what he wanted. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1964, Appling worked as a batting instructor for the Atlanta Braves in the 1980s and rekindled memories with a home run off Warren Spahn in the first Cracker Jack Old-Timers’ Game.