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Remembering Sal Bando

The former Kansas City Athletics third baseman passed away this week.

MLB Photos Archive Photo by Louis Requena/MLB via Getty Images

Sal Bando, longtime third baseman for the Athletics and Brewers, passed away Friday January 20 after a five-year battle with cancer. Bando, a Cleveland native, was a four-sport star at Warrensville High School on the city’s east side. He played baseball for legendary coach Bobby Winkles at Arizona State and was part of their 1965 World Series Championship team, in which he was named Most Outstanding Player. Also on that team was future Athletics teammate Rick Monday and Met’s catcher Duffy Dyer.

The Kansas City Athletics took Bando in the sixth round of the 1965 draft, which just happened to be the first draft for professional baseball. Charlie O. Finley, owner of the Athletics, screwed up a lot of things during his tenure in Kansas City but one thing he did get right was the draft. Finley and his staff dominated the draft. In 1965, they took Monday with the first overall pick, Joe Keough in round two, Bob Stinson in round three, Bando in the sixth and Gene Tenace in the 20th. That’s 146 WAR between those five with most of that coming from Monday, Bando and Tenace. In the 1966 draft, Finley & staff lucked into Reggie Jackson (74 WAR) and in 1967 he scored Vida Blue (45 WAR) and selected Darrell Evans (59 WAR) who was later lost to the Braves in the Rule 5 draft. In those three years, he also signed Rollie Fingers (26 WAR) and Chuck Dobson and picked up Joe Rudi (26 WAR) in a trade for a couple of spare parts. That was an incredible haul of talent over three short years. The only thing I can compare it to were the drafts by the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1969 to 1972, when they acquired the foundation of their dynasty.

And those Athletics did develop into a dynasty. Unfortunately, it happened after they moved from Kansas City to Oakland. Bando, however, did make his debut with Kansas City. It occurred on September 3rd, 1966, in a game against Boston at Municipal Stadium. Bando, just 22, collected his first hit a few nights later, a fifth-inning single off Clyde Wright of the Angels. He started the 1967 season at AAA Vancouver, but by May 11th, he was back in the majors for good. Bando struggled in his early days, hitting only .208 in 58 games with Kansas City. He found his groove with the move west. He knocked his first career home run on April 13th, 1968, a sixth inning shot off Phil Ortega of the Washington Senators.

Bando really blossomed in 1969, blasting a career-high 31 home runs. That season kicked off a brilliant eight-season run for Bando, as he made four All-Star teams and picked up MVP votes in seven of those seasons. He finished second in the 1971 MVP vote behind teammate Vida Blue, which is understandable. The 1971 season was the summer of Vida. The A’s won their first of five consecutive Western Division titles in 1971 and won three consecutive World Series championships between 1972 and 1974. Reggie Jackson may have been the straw that stirred the drink for those A’s, but Bando was the captain of the ship. And everyone knew it.

Any fan of the early Kansas City Royals remembers how much we hated the A’s. Most of that was the hurt of being snubbed by Finley only to see them climb to the top of the mountain. Part of it was also that those A’s teams were good, really good, and thus became villains, what with their swagger and mustaches and devil-may-care attitudes. But Bando was a little different. He commanded grudging respect, even from Royals fans.

Bando became a free agent after the 1976 season and eager to get out from under Finley’s thumb, he signed with the Milwaukee Brewers for five years and $1.5 million. Bando’s presence immediately changed the culture in Milwaukee and the team had its first winning season ever in 1978 and made the postseason for the first time in 1981. Bando had announced his retirement after the 1981 season and in his final postseason went 5-for-17 (.294) as the Brew Crew lost a tough five-game series to the Yankees. The captain’s last hit, and RBI, came in Game three when he clipped Tommy John for a seventh-inning single.

In retirement, Bando stayed with the Brewers as an assistant to General Manager Harry Dalton. He took over the GM post in October of 1991, a position he held until August of 1999. Over his 16-year playing career, Bando ended with a slash of .254/.352/.408 with 1,790 hits, 242 home runs, 1,039 RBI, and 1,031 walks. Bando was a durable player, leading the league in games played on four different occasions. He played in over 150 games in ten of eleven seasons during his prime. Despite his accomplishments, Bando never got much love from Hall of Fame voters, falling off the ballot after only collecting three votes in his first year. I was fortunate to see Bando play quite a few times in his prime and in my mind, he was a Hall of Famer. There’s always hope as seven players from that 1987 ballot eventually were voted into the Hall and two others, Dick Allen and Roger Maris, like Bando, have compelling cases.

For the last five years Bando had battled that scourge called cancer. It finally claimed him last week at his home in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. He leaves behind his wife of 54 years, Sandy, and three children, Sal Jr., Sonny and Stef. Bando was 78.