By Rich Campbell
On Saturday the news of the death of legendary Oakland (and Kansas City) A’s third baseman Sal Bando broke. Coming on the heels of Ray Fosse’s passing in 2021, it was another tough day for A’s fans.
Sal Bando, selected as the best third baseman in Athletics franchise history by MLB.com’s Martin Gallegos in 2020, set the bar for the green and gold at the third and started a parade of excellent players at the hot corner that have anchored the best A’s teams of the last half-century.
Bando, who later served as general manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, was an excellent player in his 11 seasons for the A’s, slashing .255/.359/.418. After playing just 58 games for the Kansas City A’s in 1966-67, he became a fixture in the lineup beginning in the team’s first season in Oakland. In the next nine seasons, he played at least 146 games each year before departing via free agency to Milwaukee where he played five seasons before concluding his career.
His years in Oakland included three consecutive World Series titles (1972-74) and plenty of personal accolades, including four All-Star Game appearances, finishing second (1971), third (1974), and fourth (1973) in MVP voting, while garnering down-ballot MVP votes in four other seasons. In 11 seasons for the A’s he totaled 52.1 bWAR, but more importantly, earned the nickname “Captain Sal” on one of the great dynasties in MLB history.
Interestingly, each high-level A’s team since has featured a third baseman of note. The team that reached three consecutive World Series from 1988-1990 (winning in 1989) featured stalwart Carney Lansford, who was already an AL batting champion (1981 in Boston) when he joined the A’s in 1984 and spent 10 seasons in Oakland slashing .288/.343/.404. Like Bando he was a durable fixture at third, appearing in at least 134 in seven of those seasons. His bWAR in Oakland was 27.3.
The next great A’s team, known colloquially as the Moneyball Era team, again had a third baseman as a cornerstone. Eric Chavez arrived in Oakland as a precocious 20-year-old in 1998 and stayed thirteen seasons, winning six Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger, and down-ballot MVP votes in four seasons. He slashed .267/.343/.478 and reached the 100 RBI mark four times in Oakland. Surprisingly, he never made an All-Star Game. While sometimes remembered as injury-prone, Chavez was durable from 2000-2006 when the A’s made the playoffs four times. He averaged 148 games in those seven years, while the team averaged 95 wins during those seasons. Chavez had 35 bWAR in Oakland.
The next series of playoff appearances for the A’s was 2012-14 and at the center of it was third baseman Josh Donaldson. He finished fourth (2013) and eighth (2014) in AL MVP voting and was surprisingly shipped to Toronto at the end of 2014 and went on to win the 2015 MVP for the Blue Jays. While his stint with the team was considerably shorter than Bando, Lansford, or Chavez, Donaldson was a top performer slashing .268/.347/.458 in 405 games whilst accumulating 15.3 bWAR in Oakland.
The most recent A’s playoff appearances were 2018-20 and spearheaded by third baseman Matt Chapman. Chappy won three Gold Gloves and a Platinum Glove, finished sixth (2019) and seventh (2018) in AL MVP voting, and was selected to an All-Star team in his five years in Oakland. Like Donaldson, he was traded to the Blue Jays, after totaling 23.3 bWAR for the A’s.
Who will be the next Oakland A’s third baseman to lead the team into the postseason? Heading into the 2023 season, the front office hopes the answer is Zack Gelof. The 23-year-old was a second-round pick from the University of Virginia. Though is likely to start the season in AAA Las Vegas, Zelof is highly touted and slashed .270/.352/.463 in 96 games (88 in AA) last year and is the third-rated prospect by mlb.com in the A’s organization and a top 10 third base prospect in baseball. Along with top-rated prospect first baseman Tyler Soderstrom, perhaps Gelof’s arrival will portend a run of playoff appearances as did the arrival of the first base/third base duo of Matt Olson and Matt Chapman in 2017 that led to the aforementioned three straight playoff appearances. A’s fans sure hope so.
Rich Campbell is a Marketing Professor at Sonoma State University by day and A’s fan by night. He has previously been a sports business contributor at Forbes.com and his academic writing has appeared in Sport Marketing Quarterly. You can find him on Twitter @RichCampbellPhD.
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