Sal Bando, who spent the last five seasons of a decorated playing career with the Milwaukee Brewers and then served as the franchise’s general manager for another eight seasons, died Friday at age 78 in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.
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.
Bando hit .254 with 242 homers and 1,039 RBI in 16 seasons with the Athletics and Brewers. He won three consecutive titles with the A’s from 1972 to 1974.
“You can never overstate the role Sal has played in Brewers history, both on and off the field,” said former Brewers owner and baseball commissioner Allan H. “Bud” Selig. “I can’t stress that enough. When he joined us as a player, it was a big day in our history. He helped us turn the corner and was everything we hoped for, and played a part important in the development of our young players such as Robin Yount and Paul Molitor, stars, he was really our captain.
“More than a great player, he was a great person, a very great man. And he really loved Milwaukee, choosing to stay here and raise his family, which meant so much to him. Beyond it all , Sue and I, and our entire family, treasured our friendship with Sal. We will truly miss him. It’s a sad day.”
The Brewers’ first free agent
The Brewers selected third baseman Bando in the now-defunct free agency “draft” of 1976, placing them among a small group of teams with negotiating rights. Getting him to accept a deal marked a new era for the club.
“It has long-term significance because it proves that we can sign free agents, and that will be important in the years to come,” 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 slightly in 1977 and then went on a six-game winning streak, starting with a 93-win team in 1978 that was the first winning club in Brewers history.
Bando played in Milwaukee from 1977 to 1981, posting his best year in uniform with that team in 1978 when he hit .285 with 17 homers. He also played 32 games for the 1981 team that became the first playoff qualifier in club history, serving as player-manager for his final two years.
Selig had bragged that when the Brewers signed the third baseman, he received a strong recommendation from people with the A’s.
“You don’t understand,” Selig said then. “The Oakland A’s heart and soul is not Catfish Hunter, and it’s not Reggie Jackson, and it’s not Rollie Fingers. It’s Sal Bando.”
From player to front office immediately
Once his playing career was over, Bando immediately became a special assistant to general manager Harry Dalton, the architect of Milwaukee’s streak of success from the late 1970s through the 1980s. But the Brewers hadn’t finished more. high as third in the American League East for nine years after the 1982 World Series run, and after a string of free agent signings for the 1991 season fell through, Selig turned to Bando, just 47 . old, as the new president of baseball operations. Dalton remained senior vice president.
“I would be less candid if I told you that I was especially thrilled to no longer be the general manager of this team, but I’m very, very happy to stay with the team,” Dalton said at the time.
Bando’s first major deal was firing outgoing 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 tenure as general manager was was the first, a memorable 1992 campaign in which the club won 92 games and took second place in the American League East behind World Series champions Toronto.
The departure of Paul Molitor
The game was stacked against Bando in the 1990s when wages began to skyrocket and small-market brewers couldn’t keep up until revenue sharing began in 1996. That may have played a role when Bando was at the forefront of one of the most questionable decisions. in franchise history, not bringing back franchise legend Paul Molitor for the 1993 season.
The Brewers’ braintrust 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 this whole negotiation, and I guess I didn’t understand the economics of what they were going through at the time,” Molitor later said. “I just thought I didn’t have the support. I thought they tried to make me look like the bad guy at the time, and they were trying to protect their image and do damage control too.”
At 36, Molitor appeared in the first of two consecutive All-Star seasons with the Jays, finished second in MVP voting and became World Series MVP. Molitor and Robin Yount are the two Baseball Hall of Famers considered primarily Milwaukee Brewers.
Bando resigned in August of the 1999 season shortly after firing Garner, who was replaced by interim manager Jim Lefebvre. Just like his predecessor, Bando was reassigned within the organization, in the newly created role of special assistant to the club president.
Bando, a Cleveland native who played college baseball at Arizona State, has remained connected to Milwaukee. Bando’s son, Sal Jr., was the head coach of the Marquette High School baseball team that won back-to-back second-place finishes in the WIAA Summer Baseball State Tournament in 2016 and 2017.
Bando was inducted into the Brewers Wall of Honor as a founding member in 2014. He was inducted into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2013 and the Athletics Hall of Fame in 2022.
JR Radcliffe can be reached at (262) 361-9141 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @JRRadcliffe.