Ex-Brewers third baseman and GM Sal Bando dies at 78
Sal Bando, who spent the final five seasons of a decorated playing career with the Milwaukee Brewers and then held the role of general manager with the franchise for another eight seasons, died Friday at age 78 in Oconomowoc. A statement from his family said Bando had been battling cancer for five years.
The three-time World Series champion as a player with the Oakland Athletics made four all-star teams during his playing days with the A’s and signed a five-year contract worth $1.5 million with the Brewers after the 1976 season, the first premier free- agency additions in Brewers history.
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“It can never be overstated the role Sal had in Brewers’ history, both on and off the field,” said former Brewers owner and baseball commissioner Allan H. “Bud” Selig. “I cannot emphasize that enough. When he joined us as a player, that was a big day in our history. He helped us turn the corner and was everything we hoped for, and played an important role in helping develop our younger players such as Robin Yount and Paul Molitor, into stars.He was truly our captain.
“More than a great player, he was a tremendous person, a really great man. And he really loved Milwaukee, choosing to stay here and raise his family, which meant so much to him. Beyond all of that, Sue and I, and Our entire family, cherished our friendship with Sal. He will be truly missed. This is a sad day.”
The Brewers’ first free agent
The Brewers selected the third baseman Bando in the now-defunct free-agency “draft” of 1976, putting them among a small group of teams with negotiating rights. Getting him to agree to a deal marked a new era for the club.
“It has long-term importance, because it proves we can sign free agents, and that will be important in future years,” Selig said at the time.
The Brewers thought they had a chance to sign Bando’s roommate in Oakland, catcher/first baseman Gene Tenace, but he ultimately chose San Diego. Still, the Brewers improved marginally in 1977 and then went on a run of six straight winning seasons, starting with a 93-win team in 1978 that was the first winning club in Brewers history.
Bando played in Milwaukee from 1977-81, posting his best year in the uniform with that 1978 team when he batted .285 with 17 homers. He also played 32 games for the 1981 team that became the first playoff qualifier in club history, serving in a player-coach role for his final two years.
Selig had bragged that when the Brewers signed the third baseman, he’d gotten strong recommendation from people with the A’s.
“You don’t understand,” Selig said then. “The heart and soul of the Oakland A’s is not Catfish Hunter, and it is not Reggie Jackson, and it is not Rollie Fingers. It’s Sal Bando.”
From player to front office immediately
With his playing career complete, Bando immediately became a special assistant to general manager Harry Dalton, the architect of Milwaukee’s run of success from the late-1970s through the 1980s. But the Brewers hadn’t finished higher than third in the American League East for nine years after the run to the 1982 World Series, and after a series of free-agent signings for the 1991 season flopped, Selig turned to Bando, just 47 years old. old, as the new president of baseball operations. Dalton stayed on as a senior vice president.
“I would be less than candid if I told you I was particularly thrilled about no longer being the general manager of this team, but I am very, very pleased about remaining with the team,” Dalton said at the time.
Bando’s first major bit of business was firing incumbent manager Tom Trebelhorn, and he led the search that ultimately landed Phil Garner as manager for the 1992 season. Bando’s only winning season in his GM tenure was that first one, a memorable 1992 campaign in which the club won 92 games and took second in the American League East behind World Series champion Toronto.
“He was a mild-mannered person, very even-keeled,” said Garner, who first met Bando when the two were teammates with the A’s in 1973. “Calm as a captain. But personally, he could be real hard on himself. He’d get so angry when he’d strike out or not drive a run in. One particular game he’d struck out once or twice and then bases were loaded and he popped up, and he was furious. In the old Oakland dugout there was a bathroom right where the manager would stand.
“I was sitting near the manager, which I typically did, and Sal came storming off after he popped up with his bat and his helmet and he threw his helmet down and took his bat in the bathroom. Somebody next to me said, ‘Uh oh, there’s getting ready to be a lot of damage.’ We didn’t hear anything for a minute and Sal came out and was laughing and he said he’d closed the door and swung the bat and couldn’t even hit the sink.Even though he was a pleasant man to be around, he was an intense player and a super player.And that personality carried over to his general-managing stint, which matched my managing career with Milwaukee.”
Garner and Bando were inextricably linked
Bando and Garner were partners throughout Bando’s GM tenure; When Garner was fired midway through the 1999 season and replaced on an interim basis by hitting coach Jim Lefebvre, Bando resigned at the same time.
“I was younger than Sal and didn’t feel like I was necessarily in his social group, but I felt like there was a lot of mutual respect when he hired me,” Garner said. in Milwaukee, ‘Sal, on the condition that when the time comes to fire me you just say hey, it’s time. No explanations, and we go play golf and we stay where we are in our relationship.’ And he said, ‘Good deal.’ So when he called me he felt bad about it and said, ‘It’s time. And I’m firing myself, too.’ I said, ‘Oh Sal, don’t do that.’ But he said that’s what he wanted to do. Again, another one of his terrific traits – I don’t think he wanted me to take the fall by myself, so he went along with it too.”
Just like his predecessor Dalton, Bando was reassigned within the organization, into the newly-created role of special assistant to the club president.
“In terms of working with the man, he was as good a boss as you could ever have,” Garner said. “He was compassionate, he was competitive and wanted to win just as much as anybody else. In the eight years we were together, he only one time ever made mention of something I should do. He never told me what to do on the field. We talked about everything, we talked about lines as you would with your general manager. We talked about personnel. We talked about all kinds of things. But he never said, ‘Phil, do this,’ in all the years we were together except one time.
“Greg Vaughn was one of our good young players, and we didn’t have any power on our team. Greg was a budding young power hitter and I had him hit fourth. We were going through our struggles and we’d had a particularly tough couple weeks.Greg was hitting fourth and was in a particularly tough slump and so Sal after one of these games comes down to my office and I’m sitting behind the desk.He paces back and forth for what seemed like five minutes, and I knew he wanted to say something, and he hadn’t chewed me out at all in the last couple years. He’s steaming, you can see it coming off his head. Finally he stops in front of the desk and he puts his finger in the air – he doesn’t point it at me – and he says, ‘I’m not going to tell you what to do. But I’ll tell you one thing. That fourth hitter you’ve got is killing you! And then he walked out the door. He made his point.”
Garner said in 1976, Bando wasn’t able to attend the all-star game and suggested that Garner take his place, which is what happened.
“He was a terrific person,” Garner said. “The Oakland A’s were a rip-roaring, in-your-face, anything-goes kind of a team. Sal, as the captain of the team, somehow held it all together. As a rookie, I think I earned his respect. In those days it was, ‘Don’t be heard from, just be seen,’ but Sal included me in some things.”
Paul Molitor’s departure
The deck was stacked against Bando in the 1990s when salaries began skyrocketing and the small-market brewers couldn’t keep up until revenue sharing began in 1996. That may have played a role when Bando stood at the forefront of one of the most dubious decisions in franchise history, not bringing franchise legend Paul Molitor back for the 1993 season.
The Brewers brain trust delayed contract negotiations after the 1992 season, then infamously asked Molitor to take a pay cut; Instead, the Toronto Blue Jays entered the fray with a three-year offer worth $13 million. The Brewers offered him a shorter, cheaper deal.
“I didn’t understand their approach to that whole negotiation, and I guess I didn’t understand the economics of what they were going through at the time,” Molitor said later. “I just thought that I didn’t have the support. I thought they tried to make me out as the bad guy at the time, and they were trying to protect their image and do some control damage, too.”
At age 36, Molitor turned in the first of two straight all-star seasons with the Jays, finished second in the MVP voting and became World Series MVP. Molitor and Robin Yount are the two players enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame regarded primarily as the Milwaukee Brewers.
“He took over in Milwaukee when free agency was starting to take off and we were limited in the resources that we could use, and as a small-market team it was difficult,” Garner said. money in one spot; you couldn’t just go out and do it like the Yankees did or a lot of the other teams did because you couldn’t afford to make any mistakes. It made it kind of difficult. So he had a difficult job as a general manager in that period.”
Bando, a native of Cleveland who played college baseball at Arizona State, remained connected to Milwaukee. Bando’s son, Sal Jr., was head coach for the Marquette High School baseball team that grabbed back-to-back runner-up finishes in the WIAA summer baseball state tournament in 2016 and 2017.
Bando was inducted into the Brewers Wall of Honor as a charter member in 2014. He entered the National College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2013 and the Athletics Hall of Fame in 2022.
“He never made you feel uncomfortable,” Garner said. He never made you feel that you weren’t his equal. He never talked down to anybody. I always thought that he thought outside the box a little bit. I thought he was a good problem solver. He was a guy who could see the big picture and try to come up with solutions. Sometimes you get stuck and can’t see the forest through the trees. Sal was always a guy who could see the forest pretty good. I had a great deal of admiration for his skill to do that.”
Todd Rosiak contributed to this story. JR Radcliffe can be reached at (262) 361-9141 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @JRRadcliffe.
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