Luis Aparicio, arguably the best defensive shortstop in baseball history, was known for his speed as well as his sure hands. More than three decades after he retired from the major leagues, the only Venezuelan enshrined in the Hall of Fame is still revered in his homeland, where he was named Athlete of the Century in 1999. But 10 games into his stint as manager of the Venezuelan winter league's Tiburones (Sharks) of La Guaira last December, Aparicio, 71, found himself handcuffed by a bad hop. When officials added a last-minute game without consulting Aparicio--creating a double-header and throwing his pitching rotation into disarray--the 10-time All-Star took offense and quit.
After being promoted to manager near the end of the season, Aparicio had guided the last-place Tiburones to a five-game winning streak. But the nine-time Gold Glove winner had already become frustrated by modern players' disregard for the game's fundamentals. "[They] don't think about baserunning, and they miss the cutoff men. I don't think they know the importance of bunting," laments Little Looie, who led the American League in steals for nine straight years with the Chicago White Sox and the Baltimore Orioles and once held the lifetime records for games, double plays and assists by a shortstop.
After retiring from the majors in 1973, Aparicio returned to his home country, where he served as a color commentator for Venezuelan league broadcasts and managed various teams. He still returns to Chicago for Old- Timers' Games, and he was the honorary AL captain at the 2003 All-Star Game.
But the accolades haven't shielded Aparicio from tragedy. In 2001 his daughter, Sharon Iris Aparicio Llorente, was shot during a carjacking in Maracaibo and paralyzed from the neck down. Aparicio and his wife, Sonia, spent much of the next three years caring for Sharon, until she died in 2004. "People are scared," Aparicio says. "It's dangerous now in our country."
He devotes much of his time to his five other children. "I spent so many years away from [my family]," says Aparicio, who also played for the Boston Red Sox during his 18-year career. Yet baseball, he admits, "gets in your blood," and it keeps drawing him back. As Aparicio watched his team practice last season, he said, "You can still learn something new every day." Believing their young players can benefit from his wisdom, the Tiburones hope he will rejoin them this year in some capacity. "For Aparicio," says team spokesman Manuel Urbina, "the door is always open." --Melissa Segura
The diminutive shortstop remains an icon in his native Venezuela, but life has dealt him some knockdown pitches.
MARK KAUFFMAN (COVER)
Little Looie still extols the virtues of small ball.
[See caption above.]