When it comes to having witnessed greatness at shortstop, White Sox fans have been blessed, historically speaking.
This is especially the case when one thinks about Venezuelans at the shortstop position.
Sox fans witnessed the first Venezuelan shortstop to ever become an American League All-Star in Alfonso “Chico” Carrasquel in the 1950s. The slick-fielding Carrasquel made the AL All-Star team in four of his six seasons with the Sox (1950-55).
Then, incredibly, the Sox got an upgrade at the shortstop position, from another Venezuelan, no less.
Those who came to Comiskey Park from 1956 to 1962 and from 1968 to 1970 got to watch arguably the greatest Venezuelan to ever play shortstop in the Major Leagues: Luis Aparicio. With his smooth-fielding and daring baserunning, the man some affectionately called “Little Louie” left a mighty big legacy, whether they were Sox shortstops or fellow Venezuelans.
Luis Aparicio will celebrate his 84th birthday on Sunday, April 29. Over the course of his 18-year major league career, Aparicio was a 13-time All-Star, nine-time Gold Glove winner, and nine-time AL Stolen Base champ. The greatness of the native of Maracaibo was duly recognized in 1984 when he became the first Venezuelan elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The high standard Aparicio created for White Sox shortstops and, more specifically, for Venezuelan shortstops was inescapable. That became obvious to none other than a young Ozzie Guillén.
Ozzie on Aparicio
Speaking with La Vida Baseball in his Chicago home, Ozzie reflected on his joining the White Sox in 1985 and the expectations thrust upon him as not only a rookie shortstop for the Sox but as a Venezuelan taking on the starting role.
“When I came to Chicago it was kind of hard for me because I had to fit those shoes, fill Aparicio’s shoes and Carrasquel’s shoes.”
The challenge for Guillén was trying to establish his own identity as a ballplayer while fully aware of the greatness of his Venezuelan predecessors at shortstop for the Sox.
“Hey I’m Ozzie Guillén. Nobody can play like Luis, and nobody can play like Carresquel. I just want to be Ozzie.” That is what he recalled telling anyone who would listen: the press, Sox fans or his Venezuelan compatriots.
“Then it got, it was hard,” Ozzie noted. “I don’t feel any pressure but it’s kind of weird, because you compare me with the best out of my country, you’re comparing me with the best shortstop ever the White Sox could have.”
Indeed, to be compared to Aparicio was to be measured against the most elite standard. It put Ozzie in a funny situation. The playing style Guillén had developed was itself homage to the Aparicio family—they literally helped shape who he was as a ballplayer. A student of the game from a young age, Ozzie learned from Luis Aparicio by studying how he played in the Venezuelan league and in the big leagues. But even more directly, there were the teachings of his youth baseball coach, Ernesto Aparicio (Luis’ uncle), who taught a young Ozzie at his baseball academy.
Aparicio’s example wasn’t just felt by the fans or those who wanted to walk in his footsteps; his influence went all the way to the top.
“With his No. 11 retired on our ballpark’s façade and a bronze statue on the concourse, Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio is rightfully celebrated as one of the greatest players in White Sox history,” White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf told La Vida Baseball.
“‘Looie’ redefined the position of shortstop during his three decades of major league play, with his athleticism, agility, speed on the base paths and ability to spray the ball to all fields. His Hall of Fame credentials are unsurpassed, but Looie’s importance to the White Sox franchise cannot go underappreciated,” said Reinsdorf.
South side Hero, Venezuelan Legend
White Sox fans fell in love with Luis Aparicio for his glove, his speed, and his smile — enamored with how the Venezuelan Gold Glove shortstop played the game. Even when he made fielding errors, they’d occur on balls other shortstops didn’t even reach.
Then there was how Luis flustered opposing pitchers and catchers with his basestealing abilities Aparicio led the AL in stolen bases his first nine seasons. It wasn’t just the sheer number of stolen bases Aparicio accumulated that brought joy to Sox fans, it was his ability to swipe bases without getting caught. A 79% lifetime success rate of stealing bases saw him steal 40 bases before he hit double digits for being caught stealing.
Luis’ basestealing prowess along with the daring baserunning of Sox teammates Jimmy Landis and Jim Rivera enthralled South Siders in the late 1950s. It brought about a revival of the Go-Go Sox that had featured Minnie Minñoso and Jim Busby in the early 1950s. While a 1957 trade with Cleveland meant Minnie was no longer with the Sox in 1959, the Comiskey faithful once again chanted, in unison, “Go-Go-Go,” imploring the Sox baserunners to steal.
Luis Aparicio was right in the middle of it all, swiping a league leading 56 bases during the 1959 season that ended with the White Sox making their first World Series appearance in 40 years.
Aparicio’s baseball success made Venezuelans everywhere proud and turned him into a national hero. Even though he was slight of build at 5’9” and 160 pounds, no Venezuelan stood taller when it came to baseball. He made his country’s people proud through his stellar play as a big leaguer and his down-to-earth personality.
It’s a belief Reinsdorf holds as well. “He epitomized the great Go-Go Sox teams of the 1950s, was among the key players on the 1959 American League championship team, and as a fan favorite, smoothed the path for future Venezuelans — like Ozzie Guillen — in Chicago and in the big leagues,” he said.
His performance on the field left an enduring impression on Guillén, who admitted he had to pave his own path as a Venezuelan shortstop for the Sox and in the Majors. But one way to respect the legacy was to do precisely what Luis had done as a big leaguer.
“I don’t want to be Luis,” Ozzie remembered thinking, “but hopefully I can represent the country the way he did and that’s what will make it easier.”
A Meaningful Tribute
History matters deeply to Venezuelans when it comes to their place in baseball, whether in their native land or their success in the Major Leaguers. There were the pioneros Carrasquels: Alejandro Carrasquel, a pitcher, who in 1939 became the first Venezuelan to play in the Majors while playing for the Washington Senators. It was his nephew Alfonso “Chico” Carrasquel who started the tradition of the Venezuelan shortstop in MLB. Then there is Luis Aparicio, the first Venezuelan to make to the Hall. And there were others who carried on that Venezuelan shortstop tradition—most Venezuelans will emphatically tell you that David Concepción definitely holds a place in that revered lineage.
Ozzie Guillén made his own bit of history in 2004 when the White Sox named him manager, becoming the first Venezuelan to manage in MLB. Recognizing the historical lineage that connected Carrasquel, Aparicio, and Guillén as well as Ozzie’s own baseball hero Concepcion, the White Sox made Ozzie’s first home game as manager unforgettable.
Ozzie Guillén’s enduring memory of that first day managing the Sox at Comiskey, even more significant than the score that night, involved who was there to witness this bit of history take place.
“To me, the biggest thing about Luis Aparicio—when I was managing the White Sox my first game, something happened. Very special. It was Luis, Dave [Concepcion] and Chico Carrasquel at the ballpark watching me manage my first game.”
To see Luis Aparicio in the stands, there for him, there to watch his fellow Venezuelan make history as the first Venezuelan manager in MLB, meant so much to Ozzie.
After all, Aparicio was the standard bearer, the Venezuelan ballplayer who gave Venezolanos something they could be mightily proud. To make him proud and to make history in his presence is something that many a Venezuelan dreamt of, and Ozzie is forever grateful to share that day and historical moment with Aparicio.
“I thank the White Sox for the rest of my life for that. I mean something you never will see it again. The best shortstop out of your country, the people you look up to, people adore. I have that day with me.”
Featured Image: Library of Congress
Inset Image 1: Rich Pilling / Major League Baseball
Inset Image 2: Library of Congress