Each season from the early days of the relocated Seattle Pilots through to the modern Miller Park era, we apply McLeam's Formula to the roster and cook up the player who represents the Brewers as the Face of the Franchise that year.
1978 Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers finished 4th in winning percentage in 1978, and the 4th ranked player in WAR was third baseman Sal Bando.
The game was changing in a big way in the late 70's. As a result of challenges by players to baseball's archaic player management policies, arbitration and negotiations between MLB and the players' union paved the way for free agency to arrive in baseball. One of the teams most hurt by the changes were the Oakland Athletics.
The A's of the early 70's were stocked with talent and won three straight World Series. With very tight control over the players, they were able to capitalize on their ability to better scout and develop players than other franchises at the time. But free agency arrived and the strings were cut, and the veteran players of the A's dynasty were able to choose new employers. Sal Bando was a 4-time all-star and team captain for those championship teams and one of the core players of the franchise. In 1977 he was signed as a free agent by the Milwaukee Brewers, and the next season he helped his new team to its first winning season in franchise history. Reggie Jackson described best what Bando brought to the Crew, and what he meant to the A's:
"Sal Bando was the Godfather. Capo di capo. Boss of all bosses on the Oakland A's. We all had our roles, we all contributed, but Sal was the leader and everyone knew it. He didn't make a big deal out of it, but when something needed to be said, he said it."
In 1978 the Brewers made George Bamberger their new manager and the talent on the team grew. Even though he was an established and productive veteran, Bando hit mostly in the 6th and 7th spots, and his steady production in the bottom half of the lineup helped keep the Brewers in the pennant race until September. Unfortunately, back then it was much harder to make the playoffs. Even though the '78 team won 93 games (fourth most in team history) they finished third in their division behind the Yankees and Red Sox and did not play in the postseason.
It's unfortunate that the '78 season isn't remembered better, because the team had amassed a lot of talent and saw great performances from some players. Larry Hisle was acquired as a free agent from the Twins, and Mike Caldwell finished 2nd in Cy Young voting to Ron Guidry. But Bando's veteran leadership made the big difference - he was confident, and he was a winner. From his first full season in 1968 to his last season with the Brewers in 1981, Bando had only one losing season.
After the '81 season Bando retired. He became Assistant General Manager of the Brewers in 1982, and was General manager of the team from 1991 to 1999. His tenure as GM is not remembered nearly as fondly as his appearance on The Simpsons in 2006.
1978 FotF: Sal Bando was a winner. He brought legitimacy to the franchise as the cornerstone of a dynasty, and he brought confidence to the team and supported his teammates with his glove, bat, and attitude. Unfortunately, in retirement he had an even greater long-term effect on the franchise as general manager that was less successful. He is remembered for his hustle, his positive attitude, his toughness, his baseball skills, for drafting Geoff Jenkins and Ben Sheets, and for offering future Hall of Famer Paul Molitor a pay cut.