Sal Bando passed away over the weekend. The unquestioned leader of the Swingin’ A’s team about which I wrote in Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic, his viewpoint and memories was essential to my ability to tell that tale. What kind of guy was Captain Sal? He picked me up from the airport in Phoenix, hung out with me for a day, answering all my questions—even the difficult ones—then returned me to the departure gate, saving me the price of a rental car.
On a team studded with Hall of Famers, Bando experienced the most in-sport success of any Athletic, following his 11 years with the A’s (four All-Star appearances, three top-5 MVP finishes) with five years with the Brewers. In 1974, when Bando was 30, he was mentioned as a possibility to become player-manager of the A’s after Dick Williams stepped down. That never happened, in Oakland or anyplace else, which mattered little in light of the fact that he spent eight seasons as the Brewers GM in the 1990s.
As Reggie Jackson wrote in his 1984 autobiography, “Sal Bando was the godfather. Capo di capo. Boss of all bosses on the AOakland A’s. We all had our roles, we all contributed, but Sal was the leader and everyone knew it.”
One of my favorite passages from Dynastic pertained to Bando’s influence on the 1973 playoffs against Baltimore:
Vital to the A’s was Bando’s presence in the field. Not his fielding—his presence. Prior to the series, Bowie Kuhn issued an edict aimed squarely at Dick Williams, banning a repeat of the manager’s traveling roadshow from the ’72 World Series. Managers would be restricted to one mound visit per inning the Commissioner said; any more would automatically trigger a pitching change. Williams took it in stride, saying with a wink, “That doesn’t mean my third baseman can’t go out there.” He meant it, too. Bando visited the mound multiple times each inning to work his particular brand of magic on Catfish Hunter, reminding the right-hander to concentrate on the first pitch of a given at-bat, to not be afraid to waste a pitch, to maintain his arm slot, to watch his mechanics or to just focus goddammit. It was not so different than the moment in Game 2 of the 1972 World Series when Bando stomped toward Hunter and screamed, “What’s wrong with you? Are you trying to lose this game?” Williams went so far as to laminate the team’s scouting report for the third baseman to carry in his pants pocket for easy cross-checking. It was an unnecessary gesture. “I know them backwards and forwards,” said Bando after the game. “We’ve had so many meetings about Baltimore I know it by heart.”
“Take [Bando] away and that team was nothing,” the A’s former traveling secretary Jim Bank said shortly after Bando left the team. Pitching coach Wes Stock agreed. “If there was one guy who made a difference,” he told me, “there’s no doubt in my mind it was Sal Bando.”
I miss him already.