RIP Sal Bando

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.

Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic

Recalling the First Guy to Play All Nine


In the wake of Detroit’s Andrew Romine playing all nine positions during a game against the Twins, it seems pertinent to call up a shard that was trimmed from an early version of “Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic,” concerning the early years of Charlie Finley’s Kansas City Athletics.

Whereas Romine’s stunt appears to be motivated by manager Brad Ausmus’ simple appreciation of him as a player, when Campy Campaneris became the first guy ever to pull the trick in 1965, it was all about draw:

By 1965, Finley’s master plan of building from the ground up was not close to paying off. His two key pieces from baseball’s first-ever player draft, Monday and Bando, were still years away from big league playing time, and even with future stalwarts like Campy Campaneris, Dick Green and Catfish Hunter, the A’s finished 59-103—a level of futility that did little to help an apathetic fanbase overcome their dislike of the Owner. So Finley had to come up with other ways to draw a crowd.

One of them happened on Sept. 8, when he ordered manager Haywood Sullivan (who would go on to an extensive career in the front office of the Boston Red Sox) to play Campaneris at all nine positions, shifting him after every inning. It was a bald-faced promotional stunt; nothing like it had ever happened in major league baseball and for good reason—it had no on-field value. Still, with the A’s already approaching 90 losses and sitting 35.5 games out of first place, it might just get people to come out. An advertisement for that night’s game read:

For the most exciting and enjoyable evening of the 1965 season
Purchase Tickets Early—Available at all A’s Outlets

It worked. The gate of 21,576 doubled the previous night’s attendance and blew the following night’s 1,271 entirely out of the water. The only trouble was that the game went 12 innings, and the A’s might actually have won had they not been preoccupied with shuffling their Cuban missile all over the field.

In the sixth inning, Campaneris, playing right field, dropped a fly ball for an error that allowed California’s Albie Pearson to score, putting the Angels ahead, 2-1. In the eighth, with Campaneris on the mound (as promised), California scored its third run on two walks and a Joe Adcock single. Then in the ninth, the lightweight Campaneris, playing catcher for the first time in his big league career, was leveled by 200-pound Ed Kirkpatrick on a play at the plate. Campy held the ball for the final out of the inning but was carted off to the hospital with an injured shoulder. Kansas City still managed to score two in bottom of the frame to tie it, then held on for four more innings before succumbing, 5-3. Campy ended up missing four games. It was, said Sullivan after the fact, “a silly thing to do.”



Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic, Retaliation

When Getting Knocked Down Works Out In Your Favor

Fosse cardGoing through old A’s interviews while prepping for an upcoming presentation about my new book, Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic, I found this unwritten-rules nugget from catcher Ray Fosse, who told me about an incident on July 31, 1971, before he joined the A’s:

I’m with the Indians, playing Oakland in Cleveland. [Bert] Campaneris is at first, another runner [Dick Green] is at third, and a squeeze bunt is put on—a busted squeeze. Graig Nettles is playing third for us. I caught the ball and started running down the line to force the rundown. Out of the corner of my eye I see Campy rounding second, so I threw the ball to Nettles, then went to third and called, “Graig, Graig!” So he tagged [Green] and threw it back to me.

I crushed Campy with the tag. Crushed him. It was unintentional, but my momentum took me as he came to the bag and I went down and just fell on him. He was safe. I didn’t think anything about it, but [A’s pitcher] Chuck Dobson comes to bat the next inning and tells me, “You gotta go down.” I said, “What?” He said, “Yep, I got instructions. I got to throw at you.” Here’s the pitcher who’s actually going to be doing it, at the plate saying, “You got to go down.”

I said, “Are you kidding me? Because of what I did at third base with Campy?” He said, “Mm-hm.” So I come up to hit, Dobber threw a ball over my head and knocked me to the ground. I got up pissed off, and hit a double. When I got to second base, I looked at A’s dugout and said, “Stick that up your …” I was so pissed, I said it right to [A’s manager] Dick Williams. The last thing I ever thought was that I would be traded to Oakland.

So after I was traded, we’re sitting in Cleveland, getting ready to catch a commercial flight—to Cleveland, of all places. We’re at the airport, and Dick’s in the restaurant, by himself, and I walk up to him and say, “Skip, this has been on my mind. Do you remember the play?”

He said, “I remember it.” I said, “The last place I thought I would ever be traded was here.” He says, “I remember that play, and that’s why we want guys like you.” Because I was willing to do that to one of his players, unintentionally as it was, and then  responded by looking into the dugout after they decked me. He said, “I like that.”

After four seasons in Cleveland, of course, Fosse experienced his first-ever  winning record with the A’s, followed in short order by back-to-back championships. If you’re not already following it, check out @DynasticBook for a day-by-day account of Oakland’s 1972, 1973 and 1974 championship seasons.