If I were an Oakland A’s fan, I would have realized it was all over for good with this 1977 Sal Bando card. The exodus of stars from the Green and Gold had already been in progress for a couple seasons, and things had been going downhill, but the A’s had still managed to remain competitive. Catfish Hunter had been the first to leave, signing with the Yankees before the start of the 1975 season; in his absence, Oakland’s three-year run of championship titles came to an end. The following year, Reggie Jackson was gone, and the A’s, battling the up and coming Royals to the end, finally relinquished their half-decade rule of the American League West.
Then, this: Sal Bando ensnared in some sort of half-real, half-cartoon world, the cartoon encroaching upon the real, asserting its dominance, despite Bando’s confident fuggedaboudit smirk. Bando was an A, just like the blurry figure in the background of the card, but now he’s part of something else a lot flimsier, and if Bando can be seized by absurd cartoon reconfigurations of the world, then none of us are safe.
The other A’s who had been part of this scattering hadn’t been as troubling. Catfish and Reggie were colorful and cartoonish themselves, the kind of larger than life characters who could have had their own Saturday morning cartoon without anyone blinking an eye, like other real-life figures of the time such as the Harlem Globetrotters and the Jackson Five. But Bando was different. He didn’t have a colorful nickname or an outlandish personality. He even seemed to prefer to go without the customary Oakland A’s mustache.
So when he showed up on this card clumsily doctored into Brewer garb, the Oakland kids my age must have suffered a gut punch that they would never be able to fuggedaboud. Sal Bando, the steadiest and realest of the A’s, had vanished in the decade’s perpetual and meaningless cartoonish migrations.
A couple more Bando thoughts. First, has there ever been a greater era for third basemen than the epoch of the Cardboard Gods? Arguably the three best to ever play the position, George Brett, Mike Schmidt, and Brooks Robinson, appeared during that time, in addition to several very good players just below that legendary echelon in Bando, Santo, Cey, Madlock, and Nettles. Second, has there ever been a less celebrated second banana among position players on a dynasty than Sal Bando? Ruth had Gehrig, Foxx had Simmons, Gehrig had DiMaggio, DiMaggio had Berra, Mantle had Maris . . . and Reggie had some guy named Sal.
I did some live radio yesterday for the first time since I was a college DJ mumbling in between playing “Legalize It” by Peter Tosh and the king of all “let me slip outside the studio and see if my one-hitter still works” songs, “Mountain Jam” by the Allman Brothers (in other words, possibly my first-ever moments of live radio that I may remember). Click here to listen to me talking with RC McBride and Jim Fitzpatrick on their afternoon show yesterday on WJBC.
Finally, as mentioned in a recent comment by “Lonnie Smith for president,” the current issue of Entertainment Weekly has a review of my book, and also mentions it on their “Must List” for the week (note: these things seem available only in the actual magazine, and not on EW’s website). Here’s a Cardboard Gods “collage” from the magazine stuff: