MILWAUKEE -- When Sal Bando retired after the 1981 season, few people in baseball pictured him stepping into a gray suit complete with suspenders and sliding behind a front-office desk.
Yet here he is, the rookie general manager on a team with a rookie manager, catcher and shortstop that suddenly has challenged the leaders in the American League East.
The accepted blueprint after his playing days were over called for Bando to stay in uniform, moving from third base to the dugout as manager of the Milwaukee Brewers. He became a special assistant to then-general manager Harry Dalton with the general assumption he was Harvey Kuenn's heir apparent.
Instead Bando, the acknowledged leader of the Oakland Athletics' three-time World Series champions (1972 to 1974), founded a small business investment company and integrated himself into the community. It was his decision.
"I had the opportunity [to manage]," said Bando, sitting in the dugout before last night's game with the Orioles. "But I didn't have the desire.
"It's too much the lifestyle of a player," Bando said. "Once I got away [from playing], I didn't want to go back in uniform."
Bando was content with his role until last fall, when Brewers owner Bud Selig, who can be very persuasive, decided his team needed a makeover. It started in the front office, where Dalton became Selig's special assistant, and extended to the playing field, where manager Tom Trebelhorn and his coaches were the next to go.
"I didn't think about it [becoming general manager] until the owner suggested it at the end of last year," Bando said.
At that point, the competitive nature that Bando decided not to take from the playing field to the manager's office took over.
Instead of being a full-time member of the business community and a part-timer in the front office, he reversed the roles. It would be wrong to say that Bando is the architect of the current Brewers, but once the moves were made at the top, he had the foresight not to force changes for the sake of appearance.
"We knew that we had played well the last two months last year," said Bando, "so we approached 1992 with the idea that we had the talent. Our main objective was to stay focused, to not let April get away from us. You have to take the talent for what it is."
Bando entrusted that talent to Phil Garner, a teammate for a couple of years at Oakland who was a coach for the Houston Astros the past three years. "That was the biggest decision, because two days after I took the job I had to change managers," said Bando.
From that point on, there's been no looking back. "Our pitching has been consistent, and that made us respectable," said Bando. "[Shortstop Pat] Listach has given us a spark and [infielders] Scott Fletcher and Kevin Seitzer have been great. Seitzer particularly has given us great offense, plus good defense."
The emergence of Listach, second in the American League with 23 stolen bases going into last night's game, comes complete with the Bando influence -- but not Sal's. Listach is listed in the Milwaukee media guide as a right-handed hitter, but it was three years ago (after the 1989 season) that the shortstop became a switch-hitter.
"My brother [Chris, former big-league catcher] changed him at [Single-A] Stockton," said Sal. "I really don't know the circumstances, because I wasn't involved, but I'm sure taking advantage of his speed was a big factor."
Listach (.291) and catcher Dave Nilsson (.246) are the rookies producing on the field, while Garner and Bando are the first-year men overseeing the Brewers' resurgence.