‘Time Of My Life’
Countless kids in America grow up dreaming to be professional athletes. At 14, Warren Sollod of Pikesville embarked on what many of those same kids would consider the next best thing.
For the 1958, 1959 and 1960 seasons, a teenage Sollod served as an Orioles batboy, observing and interacting with hometown heroes such as Brooks Robinson and Ron Hansen on a daily basis.
For 77 home games a year, Sollod — working with a handful of other teenagers — was responsible for the day-to-day grunt work carried out in the clubhouse: picking up countless pieces of dirty, sweaty uniforms, polishing the players’ shoes and organizing each individual locker for the next day’s game.
For $1.50 a day ($3 for a doubleheader) Sollod, now 69, would hop two buses and arrive at Memorial Stadium by 3:30 p.m. for a night game — more than four hours before first pitch.
While the majority of his work relegated him to the clubhouse, at various points throughout the game he would sprint up a flight of stairs and watch the action from the tunnel behind home plate. After the game, he would stay as late as midnight, picking up towels, scraping mud off cleats with a wire brush and hanging up clean uniforms.
Long hours, menial work. Said Sollod: “I had the time of my life.”
How he captured the position would make this generation’s job hopefuls cringe. In December of 1957, he wrote a letter — no more than a couple of sentences — to the organization, asking if he could serve as batboy. Some five days later, he received a letter from clubhouse manager Whitey Diskin informing Sollod that he had been accepted for the role.
“I didn’t expect to hear back that quickly,” Sollod said. “I was counting the days until I started.”
Sollod remembers entering the locker room for the first time. There stood a then 21-year-old Brooks Robinson, the first player he interacted with during his first day on the job. There was mammoth catcher Gus Triandos, who Sollod described as “a large Greek man,” who despite his imposing, chiseled figure, was a friendly guy. Pitchers Hoyt Wilhelm, Milt Pappas and Billy O’Dell stood just feet away.
“I was in awe, just looking at them in awe,” Sollod recalled. “[And] they were all good-natured guys.”
However, just because a player was good-natured didn’t necessarily mean his choice of vernacular was. Sollod said his first year as a batboy was a crash course in foul language. Utility player Dick Williams seemingly cursed with every other word. He wasn’t swearing at anyone in particular, it was just how he talked.
Profanity didn’t elude the venerable Robinson, who, after an early season victory over the Yankees in 1958, jubilantly galloped into the clubhouse shouting: “Who says we can’t beat those [expletive] Yankees?”
Said Sollod, “That’s something I’ll remember until the day I die.”
As a Jew in the clubhouse, Sollod said he never felt even a tinge of prejudice from any of the players. In fact, the one time he faced any semblance of bigotry, it was one of the players who had his back.
One night during a game, Sollod was on the phone talking to his mother when an older, bigger fellow batboy barked, “Hey, get your damn Jew nose back to work!”
Unknown to Sollod, his mother, who overheard the shout, called Diskin to tell him what she heard. Later on that night, Sollod was approached by shortstop Foster Castleman.
“Warren, everything OK? No problems?” Castleman asked, with the other batboy clearly in earshot. Not wanting to cause a stir, Sollod responded that everything indeed was fine. “You sure?” Castleman continued, “Because if you have any problems, you let me know.”
Castleman, who Sollod said had Jewish roots, would later explain to him that he had learned of the incident and broached the topic in that manner on purpose. Sollod never had any trouble from that batboy again.
Orioles players also liked having Sollod around.
“Batboys were always a lot of help, especially to the new guys because we didn’t know our way around,” said former Orioles shortstop Ron Hansen, who played his first full season with the team in 1960. “If you had a question about something, you’d ask the batboy. Warren was a big help.”
On occasion, Sollod’s interactions weren’t just limited to Orioles.
In 1960, Sollod was watching a game against the Yankees from his standard perch behind home plate, when he noticed that he could detect the pitch signals from the opposing catcher.
He alerted third base coach Lum Harris — because “nobody spoke to [manager] Paul Richards unless he spoke to you” — of what he was seeing.
Harris instructed Sollod to scratch the left side of his head when a fastball was called and the right side of his head to indicate a breaking ball.
Harris would then tip off the Orioles’ hitters of what pitch to expect.
Apparently, Sollod was not very discreet.
Soon after the plan was put into play, Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel sauntered out of the Yankees’ dugout and made his way to the home plate umpire. The ump than signaled for Richards.
Before he knew it, Sollod was whistled over by Diskin. The 16-year-old had been “ejected” from the game.
“I was embarrassed,” Sollod said. “[But,] I was just doing what they told me to do.”
After the game, Sollod was picking towels up off the floor when he was approached by Stengel.
“I’m sorry I had to do that,” Stengel said, “But you can’t do that.” He then handed Sollod an autographed baseball.
For Sollod, a semiretired jeweler, stories such as these sometimes roll of the tongue easier than trying to remember what he ate for breakfast the previous day. His experience resulted in friendships with players in the Orioles organization that exist to this day.
During the time he served as a batboy, he was just along for the ride.
As he aged, he realized what a unique environment he had the opportunity to experience.
“I was just … there,” said Sollod. “I didn’t think about any of that until years later, just how cool it was.”
David Snyder is a JT staff reporter firstname.lastname@example.org