Sal Bando, A's captain and Brewers 3B/GM, dies at 78

January 21st, 2023

MILWAUKEE -- Sal Bando, the former third baseman and captain of a trio of World Series-winning A’s teams in the 1970s who was the first free agent pickup in Brewers history and later Brewers general manager, died Friday in Oconomowoc, Wis., after a battle with cancer, his family announced. He was 78.

A statement released by the Brewers said, "It is with a heavy heart, the Bando family is sad to announce the passing of its beloved husband and father, Sal, who last night lost his battle with cancer that began over five years ago. Sandy, Sal's wife of 54 years, and sons Sal Jr., Sonny and Stef, send their love to family, friends and fans who mourn the loss of a humble and faithful man."

“We are heartbroken to learn of the passing of Athletics Hall of Famer Sal Bando,” the A’s said in a statement. “‘Captain Sal,’ as he was affectionately known among the A’s faithful, was a four-time All-Star and led the Club to three consecutive World Series titles. Our deepest condolences are with his family, friends, and fans.”

“Captain Sal” grew up outside Cleveland and considered offers to play college football at Ohio State or Minnesota, but a pair of broken collarbones convinced him that playing baseball was a safer bet than being an option quarterback.

The Kansas City Athletics took him in the sixth round of the inaugural Draft in 1965. Bando was in the Majors the following year, beginning an A’s tenure in which he made four All-Star teams and three times finished in the top five in American League MVP balloting while developing a reputation as the leader of a team that won three straight World Series from 1972-74.

He was further along in his playing career when he got to the Brewers beginning with the ‘77 season, but still hit 17 homers in each of his first two seasons in Milwaukee before his playing time began to diminish in 1979. Bando remained a force in ‘78, when the Brewers, fortified by their additions, took a leap from 67-95 one year to 93-69 the next, and finished 6 1/2 games behind the 100-win Yankees in the American League East.

“What was the welcome mat was now a legitimate contender,” Bando said in 2019 as the Brewers approached the 50th anniversary of their move to Milwaukee.

Milwaukee Brewers

News of his passing was met with sadness by Wendy Selig-Prieb and Laurel Prieb, who ran the Brewers during Bando’s tenure as GM from the end of the 1991 season until 1999.

"Our hearts are broken by the passing of our Captain and our friend," the Priebs said in a statement. "Sal was a pillar of strength who also had a huge heart. He was unwaveringly loyal and beloved by his teammates and those who worked with him when he moved into the front office. We cherish the times we had together and the many wonderful memories he leaves us with. Our hearts and prayers are with Sandy, Sal Jr., Sonny, Stef and their families."

Said Brewers president of business operations Rick Schlesinger: “We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Sal Bando. Sal impacted the organization proudly for many years as both a player and as an executive. His addition to the team in 1977 helped establish the first great era of Brewers baseball. Our heartfelt condolences go out to Sal's loved ones."

Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers were hot in pursuit of Bando in the fall of 1976, when Hank Aaron was retiring after finishing his career in Milwaukee and free agency was about to revolutionize Major League Baseball. Bando was one of the first big stars available on the open market, 32 years old after a decade of excellence with the A’s.

Brewers owner Bud Selig, whose club was coming off the seventh of eight straight losing seasons to begin its Milwaukee tenure, wanted Bando so badly that he flew to Bando’s home outside Oakland to make a pitch in person. Selig had a wingman in scouting director Dee Fondy, who flew up from Los Angeles.

The Giants, right across San Francisco Bay, were also after Bando. So were the Pirates. All of the clubs were offering five-year deals, but the Giants’ was a few dollars richer, and the Pirates were tempting because they had just hired Chuck Tanner, who’d been Bando’s manager in ‘76 with the A’s.

But despite the Giants’ proximity and the Pirates’ familiarity, Bando chose the Brewers. He remembered making Selig and Fondy wait 24 hours or so before getting their answer.

“Subconsciously, when they came to my home it put some pressure on me,” said Bando. “But it made me realize how bad they wanted me to come to Milwaukee.”

"It can never be overstated the role Sal had in Brewers history, both on and off the field. I cannot emphasize that enough. When he joined us as a player, that was a big day in our history," Selig told former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Tom Haudricourt.

It wasn’t until later that Bando was able to place his own arrival into the larger story of the Milwaukee franchise. He signed on Nov. 19, 1976, two and a half weeks before the Brewers traded George Scott to the Red Sox for Cecil Cooper. In January, Milwaukee signed free agent closer Ken Sanders. And later in 1977, the Brewers drafted Paul Molitor, traded for Mike Caldwell and Ben Oglivie and signed another big free agent, Larry Hisle.

The pieces of a winner were falling into place, even though it didn’t show up in the standings until 1978.

“Sal was a name,” Bob Uecker said. “He was a world champion, right? He came here, and we were getting into an era where the club was starting to spend some money, we were starting to get some names who had done something. We’re starting to make some moves.”

The Brewers remained contenders in ‘79 and ‘80 before finally breaking through in 1981, which was split into halves because of a midseason players’ strike. Bando had slipped into a reserve role under manager Buck Rodgers, but he got opportunities to start the American League Division Series against the Yankees and notched three hits in Game 2.

That postseason was the end of his playing career. Bando remained with the Brewers as a special assistant in 1982, and was so respected by Selig that he was offered the manager’s job when Rodgers was dismissed that June. Bando declined, believing he was too close with the players who had just been his teammates a year earlier.

But when the Brewers began to struggle late in the season, Bando did agree to GM Harry Dalton’s request to travel with the team and serve as an extra bench coach alongside manager Harvey Kuenn. Later he transitioned into a role as special assistant to Dalton and then succeeded Dalton as GM after the 1991 season, holding the job until August 1999. As GM, Bando oversaw a period of dramatic change in the economics of the game exemplified by Paul Molitor’s contentious free agent departure following Bando’s first year on the job.

Molitor’s departure marked the beginning of the end of an era. Jim Gantner retired after 1992 and Robin Yount played one more season before calling it a career after 20 seasons with the Brewers. Aside from a good run in 1997, the ‘90s were not kind to the Brewers.

There was one exception, however. Bando was running the team during the successful fight to build Miller Park, the team’s new domed home which opened in 2001 and has since been renamed American Family Field. In retirement, Bando had various business ventures in the Milwaukee and Phoenix metro areas and was a longtime supporter of the Milwaukee-based charity Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer.

“It was the best decision I ever made, coming here to Milwaukee,” Bando said. “I wish we could have done more, but we did the best we could under the climate we were in.”