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Happy Little Luis
Gilbert Rogin
May 09, 1960
The best shortstop in baseball is no bigger than a bat boy, but he makes the big plays with ease, inspiration and a cheerful flamboyance
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May 09, 1960

Happy Little Luis

The best shortstop in baseball is no bigger than a bat boy, but he makes the big plays with ease, inspiration and a cheerful flamboyance

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Crouched at short, so small and neat and dark he looks like a little boy who has run out on the field to get an autograph, Luis whistles shrilly, but somehow forlornly, through his teeth and cries out across the slope of the infield, "Ba-bee, Ba-bee." "I whistle, talk it up," he says. "If you're quiet it looks like you give up already."

Aparicio has never given up. "Like every kid," says Chico Carrasquel, who is from Caracas and played short for Chicago before Luis came up, "Luis was skinny. When he was 9, he was playing shortstop in practice. 'Be careful,' they say, 'you get hit, Luisito.' He wasn't afraid. He catch all the balls. He got the a-bil-it-y. He learn how to play ball. When he first came here he just play natural. But he learn. In 1955 he was playing real good in spring training. Then they send him to Memphis. At the train station I saw he didn't feel too good, he feel bad. 'Don't worry,' I told him. 'You're young. Maybe in two more year you be in the train going to Chicago.' 'Chico,' he say, 'do you think I make it this year?' 'Luis,' I tell him, I will tell you the truth. If they trade me you get the job.' Next year they trade me."

"Chico was my hero," says Aparicio. "It's a strange thing. He's a real good friend of mine. He's a real good friend of my father. You know, in the old days I say to myself all the time: 'I'm going to try to be my best to be a big league ballplayer.' But when you're here you have to fight to stay here. I don't think I worry too much because I want to be a good ballplayer, but you never know. Tomorrow they may trade you ["For an entire ball club," says Sox President Bill Veeck, "of course we'd say yes"]. You got to expect anything. A good year, a bad year. One year don't mean something. You have to be lucky. That's baseball. I was lucky to be in the World Series after only four year. Some guys don't get there after 10 year. I was excited last year. You see your ball club in the World Series; everyone cheer for you in the home town; they like you."

FORGET ABOUT BULLFIGHTING

"I've played since I was so young. I was bat boy. I played almost every sport but I like the baseball the best. Bullfighting? It's exciting when you see something like that. It's a real dangerous job, believe me. Me, a bullfighter? Forget it. I remember the date when I turn pro: November 18, 1953 with the Maracaibo Gavilanes. My father was playing shortstop, and after he get the first ball they stop the game and I go out and he give me his glove and I play shortstop."

"His father was the best shortstop ever play in Venezuela," says Carrasquel. "He is like Luis, always laughing, making jokes. He could have played real easy in the big leagues. But it was a different time. Sometimes we read in the paper about Marion, DiMaggio, but no one have any interest in the big leagues. Now it's different, with my uncle Alex Carrasquel [who pitched for the Washington Senators from 1939 to 1945], me and Luis."

"There's my favorite ballplayer," Luis said one day this spring. "Right there. No. 6. Stan Musial. Lou Boudreau, Joe DiMaggio, I read a lot about those guys because I'm interested in baseball. First day I talk to Ted Williams he talk to me, too. He's real nice."

Which is what they say about Luis. "He's delightful," says Veeck. And he's a delight to watch, particularly when he dangles off first base like a Yo-yo, a Yo-yo that may spin out to second base on any pitch. Luis likes to steal bases, but it is not an obsession. "Almost every right-handed pitcher," he says about stealing, "I watch the left shoulder, 95%. I've got the best jump. I got a real good quickest start. Help me 75%. I think I have the real good reflex. I'm not very fast. But when I decide to go, I just go. If I don't get a good jump, I come right back. I try to steal relax, real loose, relax, loose. I don't say to myself, I'm going to steal, but they give me a chance, I go, I go, I go.

"But you can't steal every time. And when you're four or five runs behind or ahead you don't have to steal. Every time I get on base over there [in the Caribbean] they want me to steal like they want Mickey Mantle to hit the home run. 'Vete, vete,' they say, but sometimes you just can't go."

There is, of course, more to stealing than watching the left shoulder. Carrasquel, for instance, says that Luis watches the pitcher's hands when he holds them against his chest, watches to see how many times he looks at first. Luis won't tell exactly what he does, not that he's afraid of giving his secrets away ("I don't know how to teach somebody to steal," he admits) but because he doesn't want to criticize the pitchers; for a happy guy, he has a sudden dignity. He will not speak badly of another ballplayer.

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