This week we lost two baseball greats. Frank Thomas was 93 and Sal Bando was 78. Thomas was born in Pittsburgh on June 11, 1929, and his parents sent him to a Roman Catholic Seminary in Ontario, Canada, because they wanted him to be a priest. He played baseball in Canada and was signed by the Pirates.
Thomas was a power hitter for the Pirates in the 1950s. He was an all-star for the National League in 1954, 1955 and 1958, belting 35 home runs and driving in 109 runs for the Pirates, while batting .281. He was often traded during his career: moving to the Cincinnati Reds, the Chicago Cubs and the Milwaukee Braves before he was traded to the Mets in 1961. The Mets at that time were assembling a team to appear in the National League under Casey Stengel – building a franchise for the 1962 year. He was an outfielder, mostly in left during his career. Under Stengel’s leadership the team set a record of losing 120 games that first season. Thomas set the team record of 34 homers with 94 runs driven in that first season. The record was eventually broken by Dave Kingman in 1975. The Mets played in the Polo Grounds for their first two seasons, and Thomas was prone to pull the ball very often, which upset Casey. Thomas once told a reporter that he was happy to make it to the Big Apple because he expected to make a lot of money between salary and endorsements; outside of salary he made about $2,000. He was traded to the Phillies in 1964. Thomas later played for the Houston Astros and then back to the Braves, then back to the Cubs. He smashed 286 home runs during his career and drove in 962 runs. After his playing time was over, he liked to say that his name is in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and it is, only it refers to a later Frank Thomas who made the Hall in 2014.
Sal Bando was born in 1944 in Cleveland, Ohio, and graduated from Warrensville Heights High School, where he played baseball, football and basketball and also ran track. His next station was Arizona State University Sun Devils, where he became the MVP of the College World Series in 1965 when the Sun Devils won the championship. Drafted by the Kansas City Athletics, he became a captain of the squad at the early age of 25. The team went on to win three consecutive World Series on a team loaded with talent; in addition to Bando it included Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue and Joe Rudi. The As beat the “Big Red Machine,” the Cincinnati Reds that had Pete Rose and Johnny Bench in 1972. They beat the Mets in 1973 and the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1974. He played third base during his career and missed very few games while with the Athletics, averaging more than 20 home runs and 90 RBIs per season during his time in the majors. Bando was selected to the All-Stars four times, and the Society of American Baseball Research found that between 1969 and 1973 his “wins above replacement” figure (which estimates the total contribution of a player to a hypothetical replacement) was the highest in baseball at the time, beating out Jackson, Rose and Bench. After the 1976 season, Sal Bando became a free agent and signed with the Milwaukee Brewers. He retired after the 1981 season and became a front office administrator in the Brewers organization. He was the General Manager for most of the 1990s.
These two contributed much to the game of baseball during their time on the field.
(Editor’s Note: Bill Stewart, better known to Saugus Advocate readers as “The Old Sachem,” writes a weekly column about sports – and sometimes he opines on current or historical events or famous people.)