Sal Bando (1944-2023) and a Missed Date for Cooperstown by Jay Jaffe February 2, 2023 Darryl Norenberg-USA TODAY Sports Third basemen have been underrepresented within the Hall of Fame since the institution’s inception, but one of the greats finally gained entry last week, when the BBWAA elected Scott Rolen in his sixth year of eligibility. Four days before the Hall called Rolen’s name, the baseball world lost another great third baseman when Sal Bando died at the age of 78 due to cancer. With better luck and timing, Bando might have been enshrined as well, with his passing felt far beyond Oakland and Milwaukee, the two cities where he spent his 16-year major league career. Plenty of onlookers and even some voters had a hard time wrapping their heads around the election of Rolen, a great two-way third baseman whose all-around excellence — power, patience, elite defense, good baserunning — and stardom for two Cardinals pennant winners (one a champion) somehow wasn’t enough for those who expected him to measure up to Mike Schmidt, his predecessor in Philadelphia. Or Chipper Jones, his longer-lasting contemporary. Or… Don Mattingly or even Mark Grace because, uh, reasons. To them the notion of Bando as a Hall of Famer might seem even more unthinkable, but then they’d merely have a lot in common with the crusty scribes of four or five decades ago who helped to give Hall voting its bad name. Bando spent 16 years in the majors (1966-81) with the A’s and Brewers, making four All-Star teams while most notably serving as the team captain and regular third baseman for an Oakland powerhouse that won five straight AL West titles from 1971-75 and three straight World Series from ’72 to ’74. An intense competitor with a high baseball IQ and a quiet lead-by-example style, he didn’t have quite the popularity or flair of teammates Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, or Vida Blue, but within the green-and-gold’s three-ring circus, he had those stars’ respect. “Sal Bando was the godfather. Capo di capo. Boss of all bosses on the Oakland A’s,” wrote Jackson in his 1984 autobiography. “We all had our roles, we all contributed, but Sal was the leader and everyone knew it.” Bando never won an MVP award, but he did stand out enough to make three top-four finishes in a four-year span, placing second behind Blue in the 1971 voting, fourth behind Jackson in ’73, and third behind Jeff Burroughs in ’74; teammates Joe Rudi and Jackson sandwiched him in that year’s voting. It was easy to get overshadowed by those outsized personalities, but those looking closely understood his value to the A’s. Bando was born on February 13, 1944 in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin to athletic parents; his father Ben was an infielder in slow- and fast-pitch softball leagues, and his mother Angela played softball and basketball as well. In high school he starred as a quarterback and a shortstop while also finding time for basketball and track. Upon graduation he accepted a scholarship to Arizona State University, where he starred for two years under future major league manager Bobby Winkles. He led the Sun Devils to Western Athletic Conference titles and College World Series berths in his sophomore and junior years, earning Most Outstanding Player honors while helping ASU win the College World Series in 1965. In the same week he won a championship, he was chosen in the sixth round of the first amateur draft. ASU teammate Rick Monday was the number one pick, also by the A’s; the next year, Jackson, their teammate, would be chosen with the second overall pick. So great was Bando’s time at ASU that in 2013 he was inducted into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame. The A’s were based in Kansas City when Bando was drafted, and they were doormats, though Finley and his scouts had a great eye for talent, and soon it began to jell. Bando spent parts of the 1966 and ’67 seasons in the majors, then became a regular at the hot corner as the A’s moved to Oakland the next year. In May 1969, manager Hank Bauer named the 25-year-old Bando team captain, citing his leadership capabilities and his baseball instincts. Acting upon the advice of A’s coach Joe DiMaggio, Bando closed his stance and kept his head down to generate more power; his 31 homers that year was the most he ever hit in a season. He helped the A’s to 88 wins that season, though it would be two more years and two more managers before the team finally claimed its first division title. In 1972, the A’s beat the Reds in a seven-game World Series. The following year, they went seven to beat the Mets, and in 1974, they polished off the heavily-favored Dodgers in five. Even in victory, they were hardly harmonious, fighting with each other and with managers Dick Williams and Alvin Dark but “united in their disdain for frugal owner Charlie Finley,” to use John Shea’s words. Bando was unafraid to stand up to Finley. When the owner tried to have second baseman Mike Andrews declared medically unfit and removed from the roster after he made two critical errors in Game 2 of the 1973 World Series, Bando suggested that the team wear black armbands. He later criticized Finley for not getting the team a good television deal to generate interest in Oakland, where attendance lagged. Finley retaliated; when Bando filed for a salary of $125,000 before the 1975 season, the owner called him “a popoff and one of the worst fielding third baseman in baseball,” then after winning the case gloated, “It is my obligation to … stop these shenanigans,” referring to the high salaries of stars. Finley soon chased the circus out of town. Like Blue, outfielders Rudi and Don Baylor, shortstop Bert Campaneris, fireman Rollie Fingers, and catcher Gene Tenace, Bando refused to sign a contract for the 1976 season. The players received the maximum 20% pay cut from their 1975 salaries, and became among the first wave of stars to join the brave new world of free agency that fall. Jackson, who had been traded to the Orioles before the season, did so as well. Acting upon a recommendation from people with the A’s who identified him as the team’s heart and soul, Brewers owner Bud Selig pursued Bando, believing that he would help bring legitimacy to a franchise that had yet to experience a winning season in its eight-year history. Bidding against the Giants, who offered more money, and the Pirates, who had hired Chuck Tanner, Bando’s final manager in Oakland, the Brewers ultimately won out, signing Bando to a five-year, $1.5 million deal. Though the team lost 95 games in 1977, they won 93 the next year, Bando’s last good season, and they remained above .500 for the rest of his tenure, which lasted through 1981, when he was a player-coach on a team that claimed the AL East title in the second half of the strike-split season — the Brewers’ first playoff berth. While taking a lesser role, Bando helped mentor young players including shortstop Robin Yount and second baseman Paul Molitor, both of whom wound up in Cooperstown. Upon retiring after his age-37 season (which had included just 73 plate appearances), Bando immediately joined the Brewers’ front office as a special assistant to general manager Harry Dalton. In 1991, he took over as the president of baseball operations, with Dalton staying on as senior vice president. The Brewers had just one winning season with Bando at the helm (1992) before he resigned in August 1999, becoming the special assistant to the club president. Bando finished his playing career with a slash line of .254/.352/.408, though all anybody saw in those days on the back of the baseball card, within the Sunday newspaper stats, or in The Sporting News registers was the batting average, along with his 242 homers and 1,790 career hits. He topped 20 homers six times, and drove in 100 or more runs twice. Though he was a good defender despite leading the AL in errors once and ranking second twice, he didn’t win a Gold Glove, mainly because Orioles third baseman Brooks Robinson monopolized the award, winning 16 straight from 1960–75. Similarly, Robinson dominated the fan voting for the All-Star Games, and among his 11 starts were five that overlapped with Bando’s time as a starter, in 1968 and then from ’71-74. Graig Nettles was elected to start in 1975, and then George Brett from ’76-79. Bando could only squeeze in one start, in 1969. And so Bando landed on the BBWAA’s 1987 Hall of Fame ballot with a resounding thud. By this time — just months before the ballot was released actually, in the 1986 edition of The Baseball Abstract — Bill James had introduced his Hall of Fame Monitor metric, which dishes out credit for things that have tended to sway voters — seasons or careers with a .300 batting average, awards, league leads in key stats, playoff appearances and championships, and so on — with a score of 100 indicating a likely honoree (not necessarily a deserving one). Since Bando had retired by then, he wasn’t included among the active-as-of-1985 players list, for whom James wrote anywhere from a sentence to a page and a half (for Don Sutton, whose case still stirs up deep thoughts). Nor was his score listed among the 100 or so players in another capsule summary that included Hall of Famers (e.g., Hank Aaron, 405), future bad choices (Bill Mazeroski, 48), Veterans Committee hopefuls (Wally Berger, 57), or tasteless counterexamples (Walt Bond, 0 in a 365-game career cut short by death from leukemia). No, Bando’s score of 34 made him the type of player who could slip through the cracks in such a roundup. His name made only a cameo in the Associated Press articles that mentioned that year’s top holdovers and first-time candidates, which wasn’t to say that his case deserved the kind of dismissive barb that Daily Breeze sports editor Mike Waldner offered when he wrote of the 1987 ballot, “Eligible for the first time are Sal Bando, Bobby Bonds, Jerry Grote, Mike Marshall and Steve Stone. Not receiving votes for the first time this year from your correspondent are Sal Bando, Bobby Bonds, Jerry Grote, Mike Marshall and Steve Stone.” In those days it was a rarity for a Hall of Fame voter (let alone a nonvoter) to dissect a ballot in print. Heaven forbid a voter show any effort in weighing a candidate’s merits. In offering a pithy sentence or two about several candidates, the Hartford Courant‘s Bob Sudyk wrote of Bando, “Couldn’t grow hair on his head but was captain of the mutinous and famed Mustachioed Gang in Oakland that made long hair and beards fashionable.” Elsewhere, Sudyk focused not on the numbers but on such matters as the battles Dick Allen fought over being called “Richie,” Orlando Cepeda‘s marijuana bust, Vada Pinson‘s punching a writer for suggesting he bunt more to raise his batting average, and Minnie Miñoso’s cameo pinch-hitting appearances in his 50s. Analysis, folks! Sadly for Bando, Wins Above Replacement and even James’ Win Shares had not been invented yet, though on the basis of the latter James would rank Bando as the 11th-best third baseman in history in the 2001 version of his Historical Abstract. Similarly, the current version of Baseball Reference WAR ranks Bando’s total of 61.5 as the 10th-highest among third baseman to that point. Remarkably, seven of the top 15 third basemen in WAR at that moment were still active: Top Third Basemen by WAR Through 1986 Rk Player Years H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+ WAR 1 Mike Schmidt++ 1972-1986 1954 495 .268/.384/.536 151 99.3 2 Eddie Mathews+ 1952-1968 2315 512 .271/.376/.509 143 96.1 3 Brooks Robinson+ 1955-1977 2848 268 .267/.322/.401 105 78.5 4 George Brett++ 1973-1986 2095 209 .314/.377/.505 143 74.2 5 Ron Santo++ 1960-1974 2254 342 .277/.362/.464 125 70.5 6 Graig Nettles 1967-1986 2172 384 .249/.331/.424 112 68.8 7 Buddy Bell 1972-1986 2273 177 .282/.341/.409 111 65.0 8 Ken Boyer 1955-1969 2143 282 .287/.349/.462 116 62.8 9 Home Run Baker+ 1908-1922 1838 96 .307/.363/.442 135 62.8 10 Sal Bando 1966-1981 1790 242 .254/.352/.408 119 61.5 11 Stan Hack 1932-1947 2193 57 .301/.394/.397 119 55.5 12 Darrell Evans 1969-1986 1947 347 .251/.363/.432 120 54.7 13 Ron Cey 1971-1986 1845 312 .261/.354/.446 122 53.8 14 Jimmy Collins+ 1895-1908 1999 65 .294/.343/.409 113 53.3 15 Toby Harrah 1969-1986 1954 195 .264/.365/.395 114 51.5 16 Bob Elliott 1939-1953 2061 170 .289/.375/.440 124 51.0 17 Heinie Groh 1912-1927 1774 26 .292/.373/.384 118 48.4 18 Larry Gardner 1908-1924 1931 27 .289/.355/.384 109 48.3 19 Lave Cross 1887-1907 2651 47 .292/.329/.383 100 46.5 20 Deacon White++ 1871-1890 2067 24 .312/.346/.393 127 45.7 SOURCE: Baseball-Reference Yellow = active circa 1986. + = Hall of Famer circa 1986. ++ = Hall of Famer elected since 1986 Not shown in the rankings were three other third basemen enshrined circa 1986, namely Pie Traynor (ranked 24th at that cutoff, with 38.5 WAR), George Kell (25th at 37.6), and Freddie Lindstrom (52nd at 28.3). As I wrote in The Cooperstown Casebook, Hall of Fame voters — by which I mean both from the BBWAA and the small committees — have long had a problem identifying what constituted a Hallworthy third baseman. Since the selection process began in 1936, they’ve failed to keep pace with other positions in honoring the best, and they’ve often proceeded in haphazard fashion. Collins, a turn-of-the-century fielding whiz who managed the Boston Americans to victory in the first modern World Series in 1903, was the first one elected but not until ’45, nine years after the selection process began… and two years after he died. Traynor was second, in 1948, via the BBWAA, and Baker, a deadball-era slugger and World Series hero who should have been the first, was instead the third in ’55 via the Veterans Committee. The VC needed another 21 years to add a fourth, Lindstrom. Meanwhile, Mathews, the all-time leader in home runs among third baseman at the time he retired (and sixth all-time to that point) needed five years on the writers’ ballot before gaining entry in 1978. If there’s a logic that connects those elections, it’s an emphasis on batting average. Until Wade Boggs came along, Traynor’s .320 was the highest mark of any third baseman with at least 5,000 PA, with White (.312, but not elected until 2013) third behind the mid-career Brett, Lindstrom (.311) fourth, Baker (.307) sixth and Kell (.306) eighth. Mathews? Never mind the 512 homers, that paltry .271 average and 1,487 strikeouts (second all-time when he retired) clearly worked against him. Robinson (.267) got a pass thanks to his defense and the Orioles’ success, but Santo, with his .277 average, 342 homers, and “only” five Gold Gloves for the perennially frustrated Cubs? Fuhgeddaboutit. He wouldn’t get elected until the 2012 VC ballot, a year after he passed away. As you’ll notice with regards to several of the other valuable third basemen above, Bando wasn’t alone among those with modest batting averages, but that wasn’t entirely his fault. He played in pitcher-friendly parks in a low-offense era; the park-adjusted league batting average for non-pitchers in 1968 was just .231, and similarly for ’72 was .236. But what he did do was walk (12.1% of all plate appearances) and hit for power; his 242 homers to that point ranked ninth among players who had spent the majority of their careers at third base, and his 119 OPS+ 13th. The traits that made Bando valuable were shared by several other third basemen of his era. With increasing frequency, managers and general managers were willing to park players with comparatively low batting averages at the hot corner if they could play at least solid defense and knock some balls out of the park. Consider that through 1965, just eight times had a player who spent the majority of his season at third base hit at least 15 homers with an average of .260 or lower and a non-negative total of fielding runs (zero or better) via Total Zone; five of those seasons to that point came from Mathews. From 1966-88, players did it 66 times, with Nettles leading the way at eight, Schmidt second with five times, then Bando and Cey four times apiece, Darrell Evans and two other players three times. Expansion from 16 teams to 26 did play a part, but this was more of a philosophical shift. Via WAR, Bando wasn’t an elite defender, but he was no slouch, 36 runs above average for his career (and hardly worthy of Finley’s derision). He was also 15 runs above average in terms of baserunning and double play avoidance. In fact, his game was well-rounded enough and his performance impressive enough that he ranked among the AL’s top 10 in WAR seven times, all with at least 5.6 WAR and with a high of 8.3 (1969, good for third). For the 1969-73 period, his 33.0 WAR was tops in baseball, 1.7 WAR ahead of Jackson and Joe Morgan, and 2.0 ahead of Johnny Bench, who won two MVPs in that span. For the 1969-78 period, Bando’s 56.6 WAR ranked fifth behind only Morgan (68.0), Bench (59.5), Rod Carew (59.2), and Jackson (57.0), and notably ahead of Pete Rose (54.1) and Nettles (52.4). If 1987 voters had WAR at their disposal, there’s no guarantee they would have voted for Bando, particularly on a ballot that also included Boyer (the 1964 NL MVP) and Santo, not to mention Dick Allen, whom my JAWS system classifies at third base because that’s where he accrued the most value even if he did play more games at first base (808) than third (652). Even so, I don’t think it’s a stretch to believe that Bando, whose WAR trailed only those of Santo, Billy Williams (63.6, and one of two players elected that year along with Hunter), and Boyer, would have received far more than the three token votes he actually collected — enough to maintain eligibility and give voters the opportunity to see his name again and perhaps think a little harder, maybe even do a little research. If not elected via that route, he might have at least built enough momentum for repeated looks from the VC and the Era Committees, as Allen, Boyer, and Santo did. Each of those players had been bumped off the ballot by the 5% Rule in the 1979-83 period but given another chance in ’85, and while they never got close to 75% via that route, they remained viable candidates. Bando deserved at least that, as did Nettles and Bell, who would follow him into the Hall of Oblivion within the next decade. Nettles, a six-time All-Star who played on four pennant and two World Series winners while winning two Gold Gloves and leading the AL in WAR twice, never exceeded his debut share of 8.3% in four tries on the ballot from 1994-97. Bell, a six-time Gold Glove winner and five-time All-Star whose 174 fielding runs ranks fourth at the position behind Robinson (294), Adrián Beltré (218), and Rolen (175), went one-and-done on the 1995 ballot with just 1.7%. Neither has appeared on an Era Committee ballot To be fair, the excellence of Bando, Bell, and Nettles was soon surpassed by the third basemen who followed in their wake. Schmidt arrived in September 1972, five months after Bell, and became one of the great sluggers of his era, leading the NL in homers eight times, totaling 10 Gold Gloves and winning three MVP awards; he sits atop the third base WAR and JAWS leaderboards (the latter averages a player’s career WAR total with his that of his best seven seasons): Top Third Basemen by JAWS Rk Player Years WAR WAR7 JAWS 1 Mike Schmidt+ 1972–1989 106.8 58.8 82.8 2 Eddie Mathews+ 1952–1968 96.1 53.9 75.0 3 Wade Boggs+ 1982–1999 91.4 56.4 73.9 4 Adrián Beltré 1998–2018 93.5 48.7 71.1 5 George Brett+ 1973–1993 88.6 53.3 71.0 6 Chipper Jones+ 1993–2012 85.3 46.8 66.0 7 Brooks Robinson+ 1955–1977 78.5 45.8 62.2 8 Ron Santo+ 1960–1974 70.5 53.8 62.1 9 Paul Molitor+ 1978–1998 75.6 39.7 57.7 10 Scott Rolen+ 1996–2012 70.1 43.6 56.9 11 Edgar Martinez+ 1987–2004 68.4 43.7 56.0 Avg of 16 HOFers at this position – 68.4 43.0 55.7 12 Graig Nettles 1967–1988 68.0 42.4 55.2 13 Home Run Baker+ 1908–1922 62.8 46.8 54.8 14 Ken Boyer 1955–1969 62.8 46.2 54.5 15 Buddy Bell 1972–1989 66.3 40.5 53.4 16 Sal Bando 1966–1981 61.5 44.4 53.0 17 Dick Allen 1963–1977 58.7 45.9 52.3 18 Evan Longoria 2008–2022 58.1 41.9 50.0 19 Nolan Arenado 2013–2022 52.2 44.6 48.4 20 Darrell Evans 1969–1989 58.8 37.3 48.0 21 Robin Ventura 1989–2004 56.1 38.7 47.4 22 Manny Machado 2012–2022 52.0 42.5 47.3 23 Stan Hack 1932–1947 55.5 37.5 46.5 24 Jimmy Collins+ 1895–1908 53.3 38.6 45.9 25 Ron Cey 1971–1987 53.8 37.0 45.4 26 David Wright 2004–2018 49.2 39.5 44.3 27 Josh Donaldson 2010–2022 46.7 41.7 44.2 28 Toby Harrah 1969–1986 51.5 35.4 43.5 29 Bob Elliott 1939–1953 51.0 35.0 43.0 30 John McGraw++ 1891–1907 45.7 39.1 42.4 39 Deacon White+ 1871–1890 45.7 26.1 35.9 51 George Kell+ 1943–1957 37.6 28.1 32.8 54 Pie Traynor+ 1920–1937 38.5 26.8 32.6 83 Freddie Lindstrom+ 1924–1936 28.3 26.4 27.4 SOURCE: Baseball-Reference + = Hall of Famer. ++ = Hall of Fame manager. Brett, chosen one pick before Schmidt in the second round in 1971, reached the majors in ’73, won three batting titles, an MVP and a Gold Glove award, racked up 3,154 hits and is fifth in WAR and JAWS. Boggs, a five-time batting champ who totaled 3,010 hits, arrived in 1982 and is fourth in WAR and third in JAWS. Chipper Jones, who debuted in 1993, made eight All-Star teams and won an MVP and a batting title and is now sixth in WAR and JAWS. Those four were elected to the Hall by the writers within a 24-year span, each on the first ballot, with Schmidt (1995) followed by Brett (1999), Boggs (2005), and Jones (2018); alongside them were Molitor (2003) and Edgar Martinez (2019), both of whom spent more time at third base than any other defensive position, but moved to designated hitter because their offense was too valuable to lose to injuries. That’s six BBWAA honorees in a quarter-century, compared to just three (Traynor, Mathews, and Robinson) in the institution’s first 57 years. Even with all of that plus the Veterans Committee election of Santo (2012), by the JAWS count just 16 third basemen are in the Hall, a total that’s tied with catchers for the fewest; every other position has at least 19. Next year Beltré, with his 3,166 hits and 93.5 WAR, will be an easy selection, but it could be a over a decade before we find out whether Nolan Arenado (52.2 WAR) and/or Manny Machado — respectively heading into their age-32 and age-31 seasons — joins them, by which time the total of catchers will likely have overtaken them on the strength of Joe Mauer, Buster Posey, and Yadier Molina, each of whom will hit the ballot within the next five years. Don’t get me started on Russell Martin and Brian McCann, or Thurman Munson and Bill Freehan; those are stories for another day. We’re missing several quality catchers in the Hall, and it will suffice to say that even with the loose definition I’ve used here that counts Martinez and Molitor, we’re also missing at least a few very good third basemen because voters couldn’t see past their batting averages to recognize the full value of their accomplishments. We’re lucky that the current electorate was malleable enough to come around in time to recognize Rolen. Alas, it’s probably farfetched to think that Bando will ever get his day in Cooperstown, and not just because his batting average and hit total (short of the Rule of 2,000) are so low. The Era Committee process is now so compressed that finding space for one-and-done candidates is all but impossible; roll over, Lou Whitaker, and tell Bobby Grich the news. Even Allen, an obvious superstar with a higher peak and a shorter career, keeps coming up short, and the structure of the process seems particularly designed more to keep candidates out than let them in. When writing the Casebook, I had to leave a Bando capsule on the cutting room floor because by that point I had blown past all sane notions of word count. In the Bell capsule on the final page of the third base chapter, I acknowledged choosing him over Bando on the basis of longevity but concluded, “[T]he line for third basemen to get into Cooperstown starts in Oneonta, so don’t wait up.” Even if we’ll never see Bando in the Hall, the least we can do in acknowledging his passing is recognize that he certainly could have been there.