By Mary Kate Lau,
Digital Communications Intern
In 1965, Arizona State University was just a little different.
Hayden Library was a drawing somewhere on a piece of paper at Weaver and Dover Architectural Firm to be built the following year.
The College of Law had just been established.
Head football coach Todd Graham was still a baby.
And third baseman Sal Bando won most outstanding player at the College World Series and ASU Baseball brought home their first National Championship.
“He's one of the people who put ASU baseball on the map,” Senior Associate Athletic Director Don Bocchi said. “He had some really good teammates, but he was one of the guys who was on top of the pack. Sal Bando was out front in paving the way for the legacy that is ASU baseball.”
This Saturday, that legacy will grow a little bigger as Bando becomes ASU Baseball’s eighth inductee into the College Baseball Hall of Fame.
That’s double of what LSU, the next school in line has, and second only to Texas with nine.
“Arizona State has been very fortunate to have more than one player inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame,” Bocchi said. “What it is, is a reflection of how Arizona State University is represented in the world of college baseball. To me that's what it comes down to. Obviously we claim a lofty spot, and we do because people like Sal Bando.”
While Bocchi was happy to have Bando as a part of ASU Baseball’s grand lore, Bando is happy he was able to be a Sun Devil.
“It’s a very rich tradition and there’s a lot of pride that you were a part of it and were able to contribute to it,” Bando said. “There are going to be ups and downs during the course of history but it’s nice to know you were a part of the successful program.”
Bando got a call earlier in the year that he would be put on the ballot and was humbled when he found out he had been selected as a member of this year’s class.
“As far as college baseball goes, it’s the highest level you can achieve,” Bando said. “As a team, the highest level is winning the College World Series, but on a personal level, being inducted into the Hall of Fame is right up there with winning the College World Series.”
Bando knows all about that, too. Back in ’65, the Sun Devils had only made it to the College World Series once before and that was just the previous year. Led by coach Bobby Winkles (also a Hall of Fame member), the team slaughtered the competition in early rounds, beating Lafayette 14-1 and Saint Louis 13-3. The only team that gave them trouble was Ohio State, but they beat the Buckeyes when it counted in the final, taking home ASU Baseball’s first World Series title with a 2-1 win.
While coach Winkles is undoubtedly credited with putting together this stellar roster in 1965, he got some help from a mysterious math professor.
“I used to play ball back in the summer in Cleveland, Ohio, for a gentleman named Rick ‘Liss-oh-vich’. Don’t ask me to spell it,” Bando said. “But he was a professor of math at ASU. He had recommended a player who was a year older than me, Tony Alesci, and coach Winkles gave him a scholarship. He ended up being one of their better catchers even though he was a freshman and freshman couldn’t play at that time. Then the next year I got recommended, and it ended up being that five guys on our NCAA championship team came from that camp in Cleveland.”
And the rest is history, as Bando went on to have an illustrious career in Major League Baseball, getting drafted in the summer of 1965 by the Kansas City Athletics, where he won three World Series titles and was an All Star four times. He went on to do a little bit of commentary work before becoming the General Manager for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Bando still stays close to ASU baseball, spending five months out of the year in Arizona and maintaining friendships with many of the guys from the ’65 title team.
While the induction this weekend will bring up a lot of great memories for ASU baseball and Bando, Bocchi also sees it as an advantage point for ASU’s future.
“Today's player would look at someone like Sal Bando and have no idea who he was,” he joked. “But they will know that Sal Bando is in the College Baseball Hall of Fame. They know the legacy that they have to uphold. How hard they have to work.
I would think that sometime during the course of the 2014 season, they'll meet Sal Bando, and they'll be impressed with him as a man, but I'm sure his message to them will be these were some of the best years I spent here at Arizona State and I want them to be the same for you.”