Sal Bando, former Oakland A’s captain, anchor to 1970s World Series winners, dies at 78

Sal Bando, the mustachioed third baseman and captain on the “Swingin’ A’s” teams that won three straight World Series titles from 1972-1974 has died after a  battle with cancer. He was 78.

Oakland, CA October 21, 1973: Oakland Athletics third baseman Sal Bando jumps onto the pile of players after the final out in game seven of the 1973 World Series at the Oakland Coliseum. (Russ Reed/Oakland Tribune) 

Bando’s family released a statement Saturday morning that the member of the A’s and Brewers’ Halls of Fame died overnight at his home in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin: “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.”

“Captain Sal” spent the first 11 of his 16 years as a player with the A’s before joining the Milwaukee Brewers as a free agent after the 1976 season. He later joined the Brewers front office and was served as Milwaukee’s general manager from 1992-99.

Bando was originally drafted by the A’s when they played in Kansas City, and, along with Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter, was one of the first stars of the franchise’s Oakland era. Although his 33 WAR from 1969-73 was the best in baseball, he was somewhat overshadowed by future Hall of Famers Jackson, Hunter and Rollie Fingers. But Bando was also the unquestioned leader on a team that fought each other — and then-owner Charles Finley — but rarely missed a beat on the field.

Oakland Athletics Sal Bando slams a double to center field in the sixth inning to score teammate Allan Lewis and the winning run in the final game of World Series against Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati, Ohio, Sunday, Oct. 22, 1972. The A’s defeated the Reds 3-2 to win the World Series championship. (AP Photo) 

Then A’s manager Hank Bauer named Bando the A’s team captain before the start of the 1969 season. Bando was just 25.

“I was a leader by example not by talking,” Bando said in an article in the Brewers’ 1978 scorecard magazine. “You don’t tell a (Reggie) Jackson, a (Jim) Hunter, or a (Joe) Rudi what to do. You lead by example, by giving 100 percent, by giving a continuous effort. A successful individual is one who is dedicated, on and off the field.”

The A’s won the American League West five times and were second three more times during Bando’s nine seasons in Oakland. The A’s rarely were on the field without Bando during that stretch. He played in at least 146 games every season from 1968-76, including in all 162 games three times.

Bando finished in the top four in Most Valuable Player voting three times, finishing second to teammate Vida Blue in 1971, and was a four-time All-Star.

Despite being a strong defensive player, Bando never won a Gold Glove because the Orioles’ human vacuum cleaner Brooks Robinson was a contemporary. But Bando typically finished n the top five among A.L. third basemen in putouts, assists, and double plays.

“Bando has such a strong arm that he can run down the ball after taking it in the chest and get the runner out,” longtime A’s beat writer Ron Bergman once wrote in The Sporting News.

Bando was a huge part of the middle of the “Swingin’ A’s” lineups, averaging 23 home runs and 90 runs batted in from 1969-1976. He ended his career with 1,790 hits, 242 home runs, 1,039 RBIs and a .254 batting average.

A’s celebrate after beating the Reds in the 7th game of the 1972 World Series. Mike Epstein, Dave Duncan, Joe Rudi, and Sal Bando dump champagne over their heads. (Ron Riesterer / Oakland Tribune Staff Archives) 

Bando was inducted into the A’s Hall of Fame last summer along with former teammates Ray Fosse, who died of cancer in the winter of 2021, and Jose Rudi as well as the A’s best third baseman since Bando, Eric Chavez, Keith Lieppman and Steve Vucinich. Bando did not attend the ceremony at the Coliseum, where he played in 720 games.

Bando’s departure following the 1976 season as a free agent marked the end of the A’s “Swinigin’” era. Also leaving following that season were Campy Campaneris, Bando’s partner on the left side of the infield for their entire run in Oakand, Rudi, Fingers and Gene Tenace, following Jackson, Hunter and Ken Holtzman the previous years. By spring training of 1977, only Blue and Bill North remained from the core of the consecutive World Series winners.

But Bando wasn’t finished leading teams to success. The first free agent in Brewers history played five seasons in Milwaukee. In 1978, at the age of 34, Bando batted .285 with 17 HR and 78 RBI in 152 games and helped the Brewers to a 93-69 record — their first winning season in franchise history. He was also a part of the first Brewers postseason team in 1981, his final season in the majors..

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