On my quest to complete the whole 1959 Topps set, this Christmas I became 3 cards closer. Here are the stories of those players:
Card #310 of 572
20th White Sox Player
22nd Hall of Famer
Getting to 1959:
Luis Aparicio Montiel was born on April 29th, 1934 in Maracaibo, Venezuela. His father, Luis Aparicio Ortega, was a shortstop in the Venezuelan baseball leagues and along with his brother (Ernesto Aparicio Ortega) was an owner of a Venezuelan Winter League team. Our Luis Aparicio's father and his brother were an incredibly well-known duo of Venezuelan baseball players with the older Luis being the star athlete and shortstop- and the first professional baseball player from Venezuela to play across Latin America- while Ernesto was the scientist of baseball being an excellent manager and coach. To say that Luis was born into the right family to succeed is an understatement. But, he also needed to work exceptionally hard to prove his worth as the international market was much more difficult to traverse in the 1950's than it is today.
Luis Aparicio Montiel started to really make a name for himself across the baseball world at the age of 19-years-old in 1953 while he was playing for the Venezuelan team in the Amateur World Series. He would later begin his professional career that season for the Gavilanes of Maracaibo, the same team that his dad played for. It was during the 1953 home opener that Luis Aparicio Ortega would stand in as the lead-off hitter for the first pitch, take it, and then walked back to the dugout to let Luis Aparicio Montiel replace him. Ortega would retire after, handing the reigns as the best player from Venezuela over to his son to live up to. I think it is safe to say that he did, but that's spoiling the story.
It was during December 1953 that the Cleveland Indians were trying to sign Aparicio to play for them, but concerns about his height squashed the deal before it could be made. Luckily, other teams expressed interest and the Chicago White Sox got ahead of the crowd by offering a $10,000 bonus for him to enter their organization. Luis Aparicio would spend the next two seasons in 1954 and 1955 playing in the minor leagues between the Waterloo White Hawks and Memphis Chickasaws. It was an uphill battle for the future star shortstop as he went from being a superstar in his hometown to just a member of a minor league team, who spoke a language he was just starting to learn, but he battled through. Though he couldn't help the situation- like his shorter stature- Aparicio overcame this by showcasing his talent on the field.
Right before his 22nd birthday, Aparicio would break into the Major Leagues as the starting shortstop for the Chicago White Sox going into the 1956 season. He immediately impressed with his abilities in the field and on the basepaths as he led the American League in stolen bases (21) en route to winning the Rookie of the League award. He was the first Latin American player to do so.
In 1957, Aparicio followed up his freshman season with a very similar season, again leading the AL in stolen bases (28), but his lack of offensive production (he hit .257) was a bit of a concern. He was going to need to showcase excellent defensive to keep his spot in the major leagues. To say he did so is a bit of an understatement.
An All-Star nod and a Gold Glove at shortstop came forward for Aparicio at the halfway and end of the 1958 season as he led the American League in stolen bases (29) for the third straight season. This was the beginning of Aparicio's showcase.
From 1959 On:
The 1959 season was Luis Aparicio's closest that he would get to winning an MVP award, finishing 2nd place (behind Nellie Fox) while collecting 8 of the 24 first place votes. It was during that season that Aparicio would lead the entire MLB in stolen bases (56) while also collecting over 150 hits for the first time in his career, getting two All-Star nods, and winning his 2nd straight gold glove award.
Luis Aparicio would continue to do this same thing, year-after-year, for his entire stint with the Chicago White Sox. He was a huge factor of bringing back the stolen base into baseball and bringing stellar defense at a premier position into the limelight. In 1960, he lead the MLB with 51 stolen bases while taking 2 more All-Star nods and a 3rd straight gold glove. In 1961, he lead the MLB with 53 stolen bases with making an end-of-season All-Star team and a 4th Gold Glove award. In 1962- his final year with the White Sox- he led just the American League with 31 stolen bases, came back with both All-Star nods and his 5th straight Gold Glove award.
Following his first 7 years in the MLB with the Chicago White Sox, Aparicio would get traded to the Baltimore Orioles as per a request after feeling disrespected by the front office. He would make his first two years in Baltimore in 1963 and 1964 worthwhile as he continued his traditions by leading the MLB in stolen bases during both seasons (with 40 and 57 stolen bases respectively), taking home All-Star nods in both seasons (for his 6th and 7th straight seasons), and a Gold Glove award in 1964 (his 6th in 7 years).
Aparicio would spend another 3 years from 1965 to 1967 with the Baltimore Orioles with poor seasons on either end of another Gold Glove winning season (his 7th) in 1966. It was that 1966 season that the Baltimore Orioles would win the World Series, which Aparicio largely helped them reach while hitting above .275 for the 2nd time in his career and finishing Top-10 in the MVP vote for the 2nd time (and first time since 1960).
Time would help heal the wounds Aparicio felt as a 20 year old, as he would return to the Chicago White Sox for another 3 year stint starting in 1968 and through the 1970 season. Unlike his final 3 years in Baltimore, Aparicio saw him sandwich two Gold Glove winning seasons (in 1968 and 1970; his 8th and 9th) around a subpar middle season in 1969 (though that was the year he collected his 2000th career hit). In that 1970 season he was an All-Star again (his 8th year and 11th time) for the first time since 1964 while also hitting above .280 for the first time in his career as well. It was during this 2nd White Sox stint that Aparicio started to hit the ball better, even though he was venturing into his mid-30's.
The resurgence of Luis Aparicio was inspiring to see, so much so that the Boston Red Sox took interest in the aging veteran shortstop and traded for him at the end of that 1970 season. He would immediately become an All-Star player for the Red Sox in 1971 and 1972, but as a 37 and 38 year-old it was clear his time as an elite defender were quickly going by him. In 1972 he would collect his 2500th career hit.
Aparicio would play his final season in 1973 with the Boston Red Sox while collecting two final career milestones: his 500th career stolen base (he would finish with 506) and the record for hits by a shortstop (breaking Luke Appling's record of 2594) while finishing with 2677. He would retire after the season was over.
Luis Aparicio would retire back to his home country of Venezuela and start working on continuing the development of the game as a manager in the Winter Leagues. He would also go to spend time with his family and community. Aparicio also had a short stint in broadcasting with "Radio Caracas Television" in the early 1980's. In the 1990's he would return to coaching and managing.
In 1982, Aparicio was inducted into the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame. Then, two years later in 1984, Luis Aparicio had his number 11 retired by the Chicago White Sox in the same year that he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame (receiving 84.6% of the vote on his 6th ballot). Though, in 2010- with his permission- Aparicio allowed the number to temporarily come out of retirement to be worn by Omar Vizquel.
The White Sox would also unveil a statue of Aparicio in 2006 in the pose to receive a ball from fellow White Sox Hall of Fame infielder, Nellie Fox (who had his own statue fielding the ball to Aparicio placed nearby).
In addition to being in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Luis Aparicio is also in the Venezuelan Baseball Hall of Fame (in 2003) and the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame (in 2007). He is also the namesake of the "Luis Aparicio Award", which is a yearly award voted on by the Venezuelan press to be awarded to the best Venezuelan player that year in the MLB.