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Lucius Benjamin Appling was born in High Point, North Carolina on April 2, 1909. He played football and baseball in high school and attended Oglethorpe University in Georgia for two years.

Appling quit college and signed a bonus contract in 1929 to play with the Atlanta Crackers baseball team of the Southern Association. After one year with Atlanta, his contract was sold to the Chicago White Sox. Appling broke his finger in a morning workout and had to sit out the rest of the 1930 season after playing only 6 games. He played very well in spring training the following year and got rave reviews from many sportswriters. Appling was named as the starting shortstop for the year but before he had a chance to play, he was injured again. During batting practice on opening day, Appling was struck in the elbow by a wild pitch while he was waiting in the batting cage for his turn at bat. His elbow swelled so much that it was difficult for him to even lift a bat, but he did manage to play that day, striking out four times. After going hitless in 28 trips to the plate, Appling was taken out of the starting lineup. When he returned his confidence did not. His errors increased and his batting average was low. The 1932 season was not much to brag about either. Lew Fonseca became the White Sox general manager in 1932 and decided to work with Appling to rebuild his confidence at spring training the following year.

In the spring of 1933, Appling was benched in the second game of a doubleheader after his errors cost his team the first game. The real turning point for Appling came when Fonseca cornered him on the bench. Fonseca told Appling that no matter how many strike outs or errors he made, he was going to be the starting shortstop for the rest of the season. Appling's confidence returned and he finished the season with a batting average of .322.

Appling was repeatedly injured throughout his career. In 1934, he hurt his ankle sliding into first base and in 1936 he broke his leg in an exhibition game. Tightened leg muscles bothered him in 1939 and in 1940 he suffered a pulled muscle as well as another ankle injury. Despite his injuries, Appling had a batting average of at least .303 for the years he was injured. In 1940, he even finished second to Joe DiMaggio for the American League batting title.

After the 1943 season Appling served in the Army for two years before returning to baseball late in 1945. He retired from playing in 1950 and went on to manage teams in the minor league for 7 seasons. Appling won pennants with Memphis in the Southern Association in 1953 and with Indianapolis in the American Association in 1962. He temporarily managed the American League's Kansas City team briefly in 1967, as a temporary successor to Alvin Dark. Appling permanently retired from baseball following the 1971 season after serving as a coach with the Chicago White Sox.

Appling was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1964. During his 21 year career as a baseball player, Appling had a batting average of .310 and batted .300 or better during 16 seasons. He also recorded 2749 lifetime hits.

Appling died on January 3, 1991 in Cumming, Georgia and is buried at Sawnee View Gardens Mausoleum there.