A FAMILIAR FACE PAYS VISIT TO A’S CAMP
Prior to today’s spring training opener, manager Bob Melvin held a brief clubhouse meeting with the team. On the bulletin board, the daily schedule indicated the primary reason was to “review signs.” Yet, A’s players got a little more than they bargained for. After the discussion about takes, bunts, steals and indicators waned, Mr. Melvin shared a bit of franchise history with his troops. The Oakland skipper introduced Sal Bando, the man he chooses to honor by wearing his No. 6 jersey. And why shouldn’t he? After all, Bando still lives in rarified air when you talk about the greatest leaders in U.S. professional sports history. Who outside of Michael Jordan, Bill Russell and Bart Starr can claim to be the captain of teams that won three straight World Championships?
Well, Captain Sal was the heart and soul of a band of A’s players who ran the table in 1972, 1973 and 1974 in collecting three straight World Series trophies. While his career statistics were not Cooperstown worthy—.254 average, 242 HR, 1039 RBI—it was Bando’s intangibles that galvanized a ridiculously talented team into a champion. As a leader, he was the strong, calming force on an eclectic cast of characters as diverse as Reggie Jackson and Campy Campaneris. And that leadership revealed itself in many ways. No one on the A’s was a more clutch hitter. Yet, it was not an uncommon sight to see Bando drop down a perfectly executed bunt in the seventh inning of a tied game if that’s what the situation called for. Try naming another cleanup hitter in baseball who would willingly do that? And then there was his bazooka arm and soft glove. Invariably, it was Captain Sal who would bail out a pitcher with a late-inning, around-the-horn double play.
What made this morning so special is Bando has not been sighted at Phoenix Muni or the Oakland Coliseum in many years. That has been partly due to his subsequent role as general manager of the Brewers from 1991-99, and the fact that he divides his time now between homes in Milwaukee and here in Arizona. He also told me around the batting cage today that “the change of owners and management over the years tends to further distance you from the people you once knew.” So, when equipment manager Steve Vucinich fitted him with an official green-and-gold cap this morning, it was a sight to warm the heart of any longtime A’s fan. Even more so when he joined former teammate Phil Garner, now an A’s special adviser, at the dugout railing. Old stories about Charlie Finley, Rollie Fingers and Ken Holtzman began to flow. It was Bando, as GM, who once hired Garner as his field manager in Milwaukee. And who was Garner’s bench coach with the Brewers in 1999? Bob Melvin. So, in many ways, today served not only as the triumphant return of Captain Sal to his old team, but a reunion of sorts for three outstanding baseball men. It also served as a reminder that leadership, fundamentals and team chemistry can make a difference in this game. Sal Bando was living proof.