I went looking for a team card today because no particular player was jumping out at me. As I perused the group shots of the entire Orioles club, there was a constant presence on the margins of each year's photo. Take a look at the rotund, white-haired man in the white pants and black Orioles jacket standing front row right. Longtime O's fans know him to be Ralphie Salvon, who got his start working in the St. Louis Browns' organization in 1953. He followed the team to Baltimore and worked his way through the ranks before becoming the head trainer for the big league club in 1968. He would stay in that position for two decades, right up until his death in 1988. He did a lot with a little - the trainer's room in Memorial Stadium was 10' by 5'.
According to Mike Flanagan, Ralphie was something of a confidant to the players, serving as a sympathetic ear when they were fed up with Earl Weaver's abrasive personality and then deflecting the tension by telling amusing anecdotes in his own genial, boisterous way. It also goes without saying that he was very skilled at his job. Under his care, Oriole arms stayed healthy enough to post twenty-three seasons of twenty wins or more.
But the most memorable stories about Salvon involve food, as you might imagine by looking at him. Jim Palmer wondered if "there was a maitre d' between Baltimore and Tokyo that Ralphie didn't know on a first-name basis". The squatty trainer was on such good terms with a restaurant owner in Milwaukee that he would call ahead when games ran late and get the guy to keep the place open for the team. Palmer also claimed that a friend was honeymooning in Puerto Rico, and even in San Juan, the mere mention of Mr. Salvon served as an international credit card: front row table, meal on the house, the whole nine yards. Flanagan mused about Ralphie having "sponsors". He would apparently wait around the lobby and intercept different players on their way out the door. Guys would be so honored to have his company that they would pick up the tab, and he was covered for three square meals a day!
Ralphie Salvon is one of the great characters of Orioles history, the unheralded working men that did the grunt work to make this team one of the model franchises in baseball.