Appleton was an accomplished pianist and band leader but opted for a baseball career after graduating from University of Michigan. After being named the best Triple-A pitcher while playing for the Montreal Royals in , he pitched for seven Major League clubs, including two stints with Washington Senators, from 1927 through 1945. His most productive season came in with Washington, when he posted career highs in wins (14), strikeouts (77), earned run average (3.53), starts (20), and innings pitched (201.2).
In a 14-season career, Appleton posted a 57-66 record with 420 strikeouts and a 4.30 ERA in 341 games (71 as a starter).
Appleton died in Trenton, New Jersey, at the age of 69.