Panic wasn't exactly sweeping the ranks of American League pitchers, but, all things being relative, there was no denying that Luis Aparicio was tearing the cover off the ball last week.
He singled on Tuesday, for example, and then again on Friday and Saturday. Three singles in five games does not ordinarily constitute a hitting streak, but standards must be raised—or lowered—for one as sorely beset as the Boston shortstop. Indeed, when Aparicio nudged a gentle grounder past Kansas City Pitcher Mike Hedlund on June 1, it was his first base hit in 45 at bats. He had gone zero for 44 from May 20, reportedly the most appalling slump for a nonpitching man in Red Sox history. It is no wonder then that by the weekend Aparicio's singles were being acclaimed as grand slam home runs generally are. On Friday night in Fenway he had the single, walked twice, scored three runs and batted in two. He received an ovation.
During the long drought, sympathetic well-wishers came forward with helpful hints, good luck charms, inspirational messages and condolences. At one point Red Sox Broadcaster Sherm Feller offered Aparicio a mezuzah—a scroll symbolic of Jewish faith in the Almighty. "Can I hit with it?" inquired Aparicio, who, in fact, used the same old 32-ounce bat to finally exorcise the demons. Boston Manager Eddie Kasko never lost faith in his shortstop. He "rested" him only three times during the slump. "Luis isn't hurting us," said Kasko with admirable conviction. "His work in the field has been outstanding." And it was. Aparicio did not have an error while making all those outs at the plate.
Last winter the Red Sox traded for Aparicio, in his 37th year, after he had enjoyed his two most rewarding seasons at bat (.313 and .280) with the White Sox, a team of hitless wonders. And in the beginning there was little to portend disaster. Aparicio hit successfully in his first seven games. He drove in 13 runs in his first 12 games. But he was barely above .150 when he stroked that historic single off Hedlund, an occasion made all the more memorable by a message from the White House.
June 13, 1971
"In my own career," wrote Richard Nixon to Luis Aparicio, "I have experienced long periods when I couldn't seem to get a hit regardless of how hard I tried. But in the end, I was able to hit a home run...."