Sal Bando

May 4, 2010

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:


  1. Although a somewhat lesser light, there’s also my personal favorite Cardboard God Richie Hebner in the pantheon of ’70s 3Bs. I took in a Gwinnett Braves game last week and my friends and I were overjoyed to see that Hebner was the batting coach for the opposing Norfolk Tides. We debated for a while about who was going to lean into the dugout and say “Hey pudlips, you pack flame?”, but decided discretion was the better path.

  2. “ensnared in some sort of half-real, half-cartoon world, the cartoon encroaching upon the real, asserting its dominance”

    Funny, I feel the exact same way now about the Oakland Coliseum itself. It used to be a beautiful thing, but now, there’s Bugs Bunny tearing up the countryside beyond the outfield fence. It’s a badly drawn hat on a nice old photo.

  3. Good point about the golden era of 3b during the “Cardboard Gods” era. Although you left Darell Evans and Buddy Bell off the 3b list from the cardboard era.

    I would probably rank Eddie Mathews 2nd all time at 3b.

    Then you have Paul Molitor who started about 1/3 of his career at 3b and Wade Boggs, whose career started right after the cardboard god. Then you have Eddie Mathews and Ken Boyer whose careers ended right before the cardboard gods era began.

    I think part of the reason 3b are so underrated and underrepresented in the HOF is because basically 86% of the 15 greatest 3b in baseball history played a majority of their careers during a 25 year period of 1962-1987

    Schmidt, Mathews, Brett, Boggs, Santo, B. Robinson, Molitor, D. Evans, Nettles, Boyer, Bando, Bell, and Cey.

    There’s really only 2 players, Home Run Baker and Stan Hack, that crack the top 15 that didn’t play from 62-87. Scott Rolen has cracked the top 15 but is still active.

  4. I forgot about Chipper Jones, he’s in the top 5.

    Bando really should be a borderline HOF candidate, but they basically don’t elect 3b to the HOF.

    He ranks 105th all time in career WAR among position players, which is really impressive.

  5. “He didn’t have a colorful nickname or an outlandish personality”

    C’mon, man, when your name is Sal Bando you don’t need a nickname! His name just rolls off your tongue, it sounds like a single Spanish word for, I don’t know, maybe a relaxing vacation, or a comfortable type of shoe.

  6. PeoriaBadger: You know what, you are totally right. I guess I was just thinking of him in comparison to guys with outrageous facial hair and Superduperstars, etc., but he too held a distinct place in my little kid mind for sure.

  7. When I was a kid I had a Sports Illustrated Salvatore Bando Poster from his first year with the Brewers hanging on my wall. Still got the poster stashed away in storage. He was the Brewers first real hope for legitimacy after way too many Tim Johnsons, Pedro Garcias, Ollie Browns and Bob Sheldons. It was a bit of an odd signing considering the Brewers already had Don Money at 3B, but it was more the fact that the Brewers needed a leader – someone to show them how to win.

  8. I seemed to get a lot of Sal Bando cards, so he definitely held in place in my imagination.

    In fact, having come of age during a time when summer-replacement network TV series seemed to find their peak years of expression, I always felt that Sal could have taken his own place in the pantheon and fit in quite nicely among the likes of Don Rickles’ “CPO Sharkey,” “Shields & Yarnell,” “Man from Atlantis,” and (who could forget?) Ned Beatty’s “Szysznyk.”

    If you remember what it was like back then, by late August primetime television was out of repeats, and various short-lived summer sitcoms, dramas, and variety shows of dubious quality utterly captivated legions of semi-conscious kids dazed and lethargic from the heat, home from summer camp, and taking up more space on the couch by the hour…

    Anyway, I always kind of pictured Bando cast as a likeable ‘ethnic’ type – a chubby, demonstrative butcher perhaps, living in a changing urban neighborhood, married to a brash, outspoken Stockard Channing type… two teenage daughters… Bert Campaneris playing the wacky neighbor…

    “The Sal Bando Show.”

    I mean how could it not work??

  9. Amen, ramblin’ pete. I can see him in a dirty butcher’s apron now. It’s hard not to picture Burt Young as a last-minute casting replacement, however.

  10. That airbrushed cap on Bando’s head is a disgrace to everything that I stand for. Who worked quality control over at Topps? Probably some guy who was trying out his one-hit pipe in the alley behind the building.

    As a kid, I remember all the A’s cards with all-star designations. God, what a great team that was. Nearly an all-star at every position. And the green and yellow uniforms really gave their cards a lot of color. Those A’s cards from the 1970’s really stand out in hindsight.

  11. I received your book in the mail today. It’s excellent. I’m going to post about it on my blog shortly. You’re the first author I’ve read who has given voice to the connection between collecting baseball cards and childhood not only by way of nostalgia, but by examining the emotional intelligence that defines who we become. Your book is meaningful and memorable, and thank you for writing it.

  12. Psychsound,

    It would have been interesting to see what would have happened to the A’s and the Reds if Free Agency hadn’t happened and they were able to keep those teams together.

  13. Thanks a lot, Patricia. Much appreciated!

  14. Anybody remember the 3-D baseball cards from Kellogg’s cereal? I know I have a 1974 Sal Bando 3-D card somewhere (and a few others).

    Article about them on Super 70’s dot com- http://www.baseballchronology.com/Super70s/Sports/Memorabilia/Cards/Baseball/1970/Kellogg%27s_Checklist.asp

    Love the blog Josh, lots of memories here as well.

  15. BTW, Bando did have a nickname: “Captain Sal”. OK, it’s kinda bland, but I think it works as the title for his 70s TV show.

  16. Toward the back of that same issue of EW they reviewed the book and gave it an “A”.

    Ten minutes after I finished watching an episode of “CPO Sharkey” the NYC blackout of 1977 occurred.

    I do remember the 3D Kellogg’s baseball cards.

  17. @psychsound – I’m tickled by the mention of a one-hit pipe! Great ’70s artifact. Guy I knew had one like this:

    How people thought this would fool the Fuzz escapes me; a guy hunched over trying to stuff bud into the top of an obviously fake metal cigarette isn’t exactly conducting a covert operation.

  18. Oops — screwed up the image tag. Again:

  19. I am a lifelong Mets fan but loved Sal Bando, loved the A’s, and loved ’70’s baseball. I was rooting hard for Captain Sal in the ’76 AL home run race in which he finished tied for second to Nettles. Partly because I always felt he was overshadowed and partly because the winner was on the repulsive Yankees. Interesting that Nettles won that year with “only” 32 dingers and Sal tied for second with 27. Strangely low totals.

  20. Shelives,

    I guess we got so used to the HR totals from the 90’s and the 00’s that we kind of forget that 30hr back in the 70’s was kind of a big deal and 40 hr was incredible. And no one hit 50HR in the American League in the 70’s or the 80’s. Jim Rice’s 46 in 1978 was the high water mark in A.L. in the 70’s.

    From 1970-1979 in the American League, 40+ HR were hit in a season only 5 times!
    From 1970-1979 in the American League, 35+ HR were hit in a season only 17 times!
    From 1970-1979 in the American League, 30+ HR were hit in a season only 44 times.

  21. The 70s were a period of low offense, for sure. From 1971-76, I think on three separate occasions the AL league leader in home runs had only 32. Hard to imagine such a low amount these days, but as late as 1989 Fred McGriff had 36 to lead the league.

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