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Top 50 Orioles of All Time: #37, Luis Aparicio

One of the best defensive shortstops of all time, the Hall of Famer Aparicio delivered five stellar seasons for the Orioles from 1963-1967.

Luis Aparicio Kneeling For Photographer

Here’s a fun trivia factoid: How many trades in baseball history have swapped one Hall of Famer for another?

A: By my count, the answer is eight, two involving the Baltimore Orioles.*

One was in 1958, when the Birds sent Larry Doby, the first African-American player to make it to the American League, to Cleveland in exchange for Dick Williams and two other players (Williams would make it to Cooperstown as a manager for the Athletics).

The other one, in 1963, saw the Orioles and the White Sox swap one of the greatest knuckleballers in history for one of the greatest defensive shortstops. Technically, the Orioles lost that trade on value (though, in hindsight, I think they can be forgiven for not guessing that the then-40-year-old Hoyt Wilhelm would go on to pitch for ten more seasons). But what they got in return in Luis Aparicio was five seasons of pure defensive brilliance. Put it this way: out of baseball’s top ten defensive infielders of all time (by dWAR), four are Orioles—Mark Belanger, Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken, Jr., and #37 on this list, Luis Aparicio.

After signing with the White Sox in 1954 at age 19, Aparicio shot to fame quickly. He was named the American League Rookie of Year in 1956, turning heads with his diminutive size (5’9”, 160 lbs), his theatrical play at short, and his league-leading 21 stolen bases. When it came to base-stealing, Aparicio didn’t just dominate the league; he helped change the way the game was played. He’d lead the AL in stolen bases for nine straight seasons (no other player has ever held that title for more than six years in a row), including a career-high 57 in 1964 as an Oriole.

In addition to bases, Aparicio also started racking up Gold Gloves and All-Star nods like he had a bad habit. He was named to seven straight All-Star Games and picked up six Gold Gloves from 1958-1964. (In 18 seasons at short, Aparicio ended up with nine Gold Gloves, making him the third-most decorated shortstop after Omar Vizquel and Ozzie Smith.) He also led AL shortstops in fielding percentage each year from 1959-66. In 1958, White Sox owner Bill Veeck called Aparicio “the best I’ve ever seen. He makes plays which I know can’t possibly be made, yet he makes them almost every day.”

On January 14, 1963, the White Sox traded Aparicio to the Orioles. Alongside second baseman Jerry Adair and third baseman Brooks Robinson, that trade helped give Baltimore one of the best defensive infields of the decade.

Aparicio’s five seasons in Baltimore saw him rack up two Gold Gloves, two stolen base titles, and two All-Star Game appearances. These were some of his finest years as a player. In 1963, he set a record for fielding percentage by a shortstop (.983). In 1964 he hit .266 and led the league with 57 stolen bases and in 1966, he hit .276 and led the AL in plate appearances. He also nabbed a World Series ring that season as the Orioles swept the Dodgers in four games. A highlight reel from that year shows the Orioles’ infield captain flashing his confidence, flair, range, and arm.

After the 1967 season, the Orioles traded Aparicio back to the White Sox. He played six more seasons between Chicago and the Red Sox before retiring in 1973. Aparicio was elected to the Orioles Hall of Fame in 1982, and the National Hall of Fame in 1984.

That trade, meanwhile, fetched for Baltimore two pitchers who’d appear in all of 29 games for them—as well as a future 19.2 career wins above replacement in Don Buford. Meanwhile, into the vacant shortstop position stepped one Mark Belanger, who’d go on to man the Birds’ infield for the next fourteen seasons. It was a little reminiscent of the Hoyt Wilhelm trade four seasons prior. As one door closes, another window opens?

* The eight Hall of Fame swaps: Christy Mathewson (Reds) for Amos Rusie (NY Giants) (1900), Burleigh Grimes (Brooklyn Robins) for Casey Stengel (Pirates) (1918), George “High Pockets” Kelly (Giants) for Edd Roush (Reds) (1927), Goose Goslin (Washington Senators) for Heinie Manush (St. Louis Browns) (1930), Burleigh Grimes (Cardinals) for Hack Wilson (Cubs) (1931), Larry Doby (Orioles) for Dick Williams (Indians) (1958), Hoyt Wilhelm (Orioles) for Luis Aparicio (White Sox) (1963), Orlando Cepeda (Cardinals) for Joe Torre (Braves) (1969).