COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — He never once played a position other than shortstop in 18 major seasons, and his performance there set the standard by which all other shortstops are measured.
Fifty-four years ago this week, Luis Aparicio was named the 1956 AL Rookie of the Year by receiving 22 of the 24 possible votes.
Hailing from Venezuela, Aparicio’s slick fielding, speed and hitting abilities redefined the role of the shortstop in the major leagues. He led the American league in stolen bases with 21 during his rookie campaign, and topped the league in the category for each of his first nine seasons. Aparicio’s speed was so beloved by his fans that each time he would reach base they would chant, “Go! Go! Go!”
“They do not understand that I cannot steal all of the time,” Aparicio told Baseball Digest in August 1964. “But sometimes, when we are ahead by five or six runs, I steal for them, to make them feel happy.”
He played an integral role in Chicago’s 1959 pennant-winning team, leading the major leagues with 56 stolen bases. In 1966, Aparicio earned a World Series ring when his Baltimore Orioles swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Fall Classic.
Aparicio collected nine Gold Glove Awards – including five straight from 1958 to 1962 – and led the American League in fielding eight times. At the time of his retirement, he held the career record for shortstops for games played, double plays and assists.
“Luis Aparicio is the only guy that I ever saw go behind second base, make the turn and throw Mickey Mantle out. He was as sure-handed as anyone,” said longtime New York Yankees shortstop Phil Rizzuto.
The 13-time All-Star retired at age 39 following the 1973 season. Aparicio was successful in 13 of his 14 steal attempts during his final season, and stole his 500th career base against Milwaukee on July 1, 1973.
In 2,599 career games, Aparicio batted .262 while driving in 791 runs and stealing 506 bases. He had a lifetime .972 fielding percentage at shortstop. He finished second in the American League MVP voting in 1959, behind teammate and double-play partner Nellie Fox.
In 1984, Aparicio was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In doing so, he became the first Venezuela native to be inducted into the Hall.
Cody Eding was the public relations intern in the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program Class of 2010 at the Baseball Hall of Fame