Bert Campaneris and Luis Aparicio are Hispanic legends, both former All-Star major league shortstops. Bert Campaneris and Luis Aparicio were quite similar in size and style, both anchoring pennant and World Series
champion infields. Bert Campaneris and Luis Aparicio are revered even today throughout Latin American baseball playing nations, so great was their contribution to the game.
Luis Aparicio, nicknamed “Little Looie”, was born in Maracaibo, Venezuela on April 29th, 1934. Standing but five foot nine inches tall and weighing only 160 pounds, he broke in with the Chicago White Sox in 1956 and promptly led the American League with 21stolen bases. He would lead his league in this category from 1956 until 1964, with his highest total coming in ’64, when he swiped 57. Never a high average hitter, he was an excellent bunter and his speed helped to bring the stolen base back into vogue throughout baseball.
He teamed with future Hall of Famer Nellie Fox to form one of baseball’s all time best middle infield double play combinations. The White Sox had some of their highest finishes during the early part of Aparicio’s playing days, coming in third in the American League in 1956, second in both ’57 and ’58, and winning the pennant in 1959. He hit .308 in the World Series against the Dodgers that fall, but the Pale Hose bowed to Los Angeles in six games.
Aparicio’s fielding was nothing short of superb. He had a great arm and even greater range, getting to balls that few shortstops before or since could reach. He was awarded with nine Gold Gloves for fielding excellence, and had a career fielding percentage of .972. He held the records for most double plays, assists, put-outs, and games played at shortstop at the time of his retirement. He still holds the mark of 2,581 games played at short; incredibly, during his eighteen years in the majors he never played an inning at another position.
Sent to the Baltimore Orioles in 1963 after the White Sox thought he was slowing down, he responded by now completing possibly the best left side of a defensive field ever, combining with another Hall of Famer, third baseman Brooks Robinson. His 57 stolen bases in 1964 were his most for one year. In 1966, the Orioles added Frank Robinson to their lineup; he won the Triple Crown and carried the team to the World Series. Aparicio hit .250 in a four game sweep of the Dodgers, giving the Venezuelan legend his only world championship. He went back to the White Sox in 1968, but they were a pathetic shell of their former selves. Luis though remained at a high level, actually hitting .313 in 1970, the only time he hit .300 in his career. After spending three seasons with the Red Sox, from 1971-1973, Luis Aparicio retired with 2,667 hits and a .262 career batting average. The ten time All-Star was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1984, as the spray hitting standout garnered 341 of a possible 403 votes from the baseball writers. Phil Rizzuto, himself a Hall of Fame shortstop, was once quoted as saying that Aparicio was “the only guy he ever saw field a ball behind second base, make the turn, and throw Mickey Mantle out! He was as sure handed as anyone.” He is still beloved in his native Venezuela. When he came to Chicago to throw out the first pitch for a 2005 World Series game, countryman Ozzie Guillen, the White Sox manager, was as excited about seeing the legendary Aparicio as he was about the contest.
Dagaberto Campaneris Blanco, nicknamed “Campy”, was Cuban born, from the village of Pueblo Nuevo on March 9th, 1942. He debuted with the Kansas City Athletics in 1964 and became their full time shortstop the next season. Not the fielder that Aparicio was, he was still quite adequate with the glove. He was, however, a lot like Luis in that he was a terror on the base paths, stealing 649 bases over nineteen seasons. Similar in size to Aparicio, except an inch taller, Bert Campaneris was a proven winner and a fiery competitor. The A’s became a powerhouse shortly after their move to Oakland, and Campy was a vital part of a team that won five straight American League West titles and three consecutive World Series from 1972-1974. Unfortunately, he is remembered for a startling bat throwing incident in the 1972 playoffs against the Tigers. In Game Two, already owning three hits, two stolen bases and having scored a pair of runs, he was at bat against pitcher Lerrin LaGrow. He was hit in the ankle by a pitch; Bert proceeded to helicopter his bat a few inches over the stunned hurler’s head. A near-riot then erupted as Detroit manager Billy Martin went after Campaneris. The batter and pitcher were both ejected and Bert was suspended for the remainder of the American League Playoffs, but reinstated for the World Series. Ironically, he ended his career with the Yankees, under none other than Billy Martin, hitting a career benchmark .322 in limited action.
He struck out quite a bit for a leadoff man and did not walk as much as most, but when he got on base he drove pitchers absolutely nuts. He led the American league in stolen bases six times, with a personal best 62 thefts in both 1968 and 1969. He homered on the first major league pitch he ever saw and added another in his debut contest, one of only three players to accomplish this feat. In 1965, he became the first man to play every position in one nine inning game, including pitcher, on September 9th, a publicity stunt thought up by owner Charlie Finley.
Campaneris, like Aparicio, batted and threw right handed. As did many of the A’s star players, he fled the stingy Finley, going to the Rangers in 1977. His skills were on the decline by then, and after stints with the Angels and the Yankees, he retired in 1984. He left with 2,249 hits and a lifetime batting average of .259. He remains the A’s all time hit leader with 1,882. He is retired now, living in Scottsdale, Arizona, and enjoys fishing and golfing. “I liked stealing bases, making a good play at shortstop and making the game exciting,” he recalled during a 2002 interview. “I liked making everybody excited – the fans, the players, everybody – and I tried to help my team win. That’s the most important thing. When you go on the field, I tried to get everybody to follow me and work hard.”