Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Appling's fouls cost Sox $2,160 in 1940s

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

In my years of recreationaly reading microfilm of back issues of The Sporting News, I’ve learned not to accept everything I see there as gospel truth.

By its nature, much of the content in the paper was, at best, second- or third-hand information. They often rewrote or reprinted material that had been published elsewhere, which may or may not in itself have been completely accurate.

One such item that I found in the Feb. 1, 1945, issue causes me to ask, “Can that be true?”

In a short article headlined “Appling’s Absence Nets $2,160 Savings in Balls,” it was stated that with shortstop Luke Appling in the Army for the 1944 season, the Chicago White Sox had realized a significant savings in baseballs not fouled into the stands.

The article quoted a team official as having figured that Appling was responsible for 75 percent (1,080 of the 1,440) of the baseballs lost annually. American League “Publicitor” Earl Hilligan was quoted as saying the Appling fouled an average of just over 14 balls per game into the hands of fans.

“At $1.50 a ball,” the article continued, “Appling represented an investment of $2,160 in fouls, in addition to his $15,000-a-year salary. With Luke in the Army, the White Sox have been saving that much, but at the expense of their standing in the league race and of their run-making ability. The erasing of the team’s shortstop worries, alone, would be worth the $2,160, but Appling won’t be back until the war is over.”

I suppose it’s possible that a discerning hitter such as Appling could have converted three or four balls into souvenirs during each trip to the plate, but I found it surprising that the team and league had kept such exact data on the subject.

In his 20-year major league career Appling was a lifetime .310 hitter. His 162-game average was 87 walks with just 35 strikeouts.

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