By and large the athlete's wife could give Miss America a run for her money, and why not? An athlete gets around, takes his pick. His wife is usually the sharpest, prettiest girl in her crowd. She is his high school or college sweetheart, or a homecoming queen, a stewardess, a registered nurse, a schoolteacher. She is almost never the girl who hangs around arenas and ball parks. The sports wife is fiercely independent—a quality that seems more innate than acquired. Her ego is highly developed. She does not take kindly to cages. "A clinging vine does not survive," said one wife. She has a problem: establishing an identity in a spotlight that seeks out only him. Another problem: she must actively work at handling the strain of a playoff, a World Series, a Super Bowl or the sudden screech of tires at Indy. Otherwise, being married to an athlete is much like being married to anyone else: squabbles, adjustments, the birth of babies, the marking of time—the agonies a bit more exquisite, perhaps, because he marches to a louder drummer.... If she is smart, the athlete's wife develops a sense of humor.
Diane Sadecki's husband, Ray, likes to tell about the time he was to be demoted to the Cardinals' Atlanta farm team. "I went home and told my wife, 'I've got bad news for you. We're being sent down to the minors.' Diane gives me a look, and says, 'Oh, no. I married a major-leaguer. You got sent down. I'm staying here.' "
What I've been reading and hearing all winter is that the Giants don't want me. I think I'm in my prime.
—HAL LANIER, 1970
Three years ago, in December of 1969 to be exact, Nancy Lanier, wife of the then San Francisco Giant shortstop, Hal Lanier, telephoned some of the other baseball wives in the Bay Area. Have you heard? the conversation began each time. Have you heard that Diane Sadecki has been traded to the Mets? In 1972, by her own account, Nancy got traded to the Yankees. Well, obviously, the wives get traded too, along with babies, the washing machine, stereos and all the other stuff that will make a house a home—somewhere.
Tall and shapely, Nancy's long fingers curled around a vodka martini at the bar of a restaurant called Shadows in San Mateo, Calif. "We knew for about two years that it was going to come sometime," she said. "It was like standing around waiting for the ax to fall. You know it's going to drop, but you don't know when. Don't ever let a player tell you that he's perfectly happy and on top of things, and then to his astonishment gets traded."
Hal Lanier had spent his entire career with the Giants. Most of the players called him Maxie after his father. Pitcher Max Lanier. Willie Mays started that when Hal was 10 years old.
"This was home to Hal, security," said Nancy. "His ego was involved. What hurt him most was leaving his friends. I felt the hurt he was feeling. But after you get over the initial shock, you dry your tears and say, 'Hey, this is great! Now, I've got a whole new start, a new chance, a great ball club to play for.' Then you start making plans, and this whole thing takes place in 48 hours. You don't have time to sit around licking your wounds. You lick them once and get going." But a licked wound is not necessarily a healed wound. Of course, anyone with intelligence understands the owner's point of view, Nancy conceded. "It would be like someone who had a cattle ranch and made a pet of all of his cows. He wouldn't want to send them to market, would he? So the owner remains detached."
The waiter bustled over. "Well, Mrs. Lanier," he said. "I guess we can't use that old joke anymore, can we? You know, the one that goes, the Giants aren't drinking beer anymore, they've lost their openers." He laughed and retreated.
Nancy shook her head. "Obviously, he doesn't know I've been traded."
They gripe like Army drifters, the girls do, but few would deny the compensations: the nonregimentation, the peculiar mobility, the excitement of homecomings, long winter or summer holidays together, depending upon the sport. But glamorous? About as glamorous as being married to a traveling salesman, said one wife. He's gone and before he gets back the plumbing goes haywire, the car breaks down, she's standing in grass up to her kneecaps.
"Marriages," said Nancy Lanier, "are conducted on the telephone. Oh, I smile when I see those girls hanging around the ball park, so in love with the cute ballplayers. Take emergencies, for example. There is something in the rule book that says a husband can't be around for any emergency, disaster or occasion. Terrific! But then nothing ever happens when they're home anyway. Never! Perfect harmony. Not a sniffle. No one even gets a splinter. Last year Hal and I were separated during spring training due to the birth of our daughter. She was born the day he left—naturally. She was due two weeks before he left, but nothing happened. I said to Hal, 'If you will just leave, I'll have this baby.' So he left at seven in the morning and by midnight I was in labor." Even babies mind the rule book.
I quit. I believe one of the marks of a successful race driver is that he can retire in one piece.
—DAN GURNEY, 1970
Evi Gurney, housewife, sort of. Lovely home, beautiful girl; a bit more reserved than Nancy Lanier. A native of West Germany, Evi was doing public relations for Porsche when she met Dan. She was no stranger to the track and, unlike most women, she can listen to long monologues about changed stock blocks without falling asleep.
"The less you know about the business the better off you are," she said. "People ask me how I could bear to watch Dan race. I don't know. I was a nervous wreck and still suffer from it. The night before, you don't talk much about it. You look at each other and you know, but you don't talk about it. I was in bad shape because I had already lost so many friends. You give a party, and suddenly they're gone. So when I married Dan I knew very well what I was getting into, but still I didn't know. It was different, closer. Dan gets frustrated at times that he's not racing anymore. It comes and goes. He misses the competitiveness, I think.
"The last race was the worst for me. I never knew if Dan would really go through with it, the retirement, or maybe change his mind at the last minute. Very few say, here is my helmet, that's it. I was always worried, but there was a little extra fear in that last race. Emotion doesn't show on the outside. When you go to the races you see the wives. You wouldn't guess what they're going through, unless you look at their hands. Their hands give them away."
When you're through playing, when you're older, you go back to your friends.
—DAVE DEBUSSCHERE, 1970
Harry Stevens' restaurant, in the Madison Square Garden complex, is a basketball hangout. On game night it may be difficult to get a reservation if you're not into the basketball scene but Gerri DeBusschere is treated like a queen. She gets the special attention accorded the wife of a Knick star. Gerri, a native New Yorker, takes it in stride.
"It's hard for me to believe that I'm going to have to live in Detroit when Dave retires," she said, "but Detroit is where Dave is from and that's what he loves. The day I got married four years ago, I walked down the aisle and said to myself, 'Gerri, here you are in Detroit for the rest of your life,' and when he got traded to the Knicks I couldn't believe it. I was walking on air.
"When Dave played in Detroit, it wasn't the same at all. Everyone knew him there. So he played basketball; big deal. It wasn't this do a banquet here and do a banquet there, now do a commercial here. There's so much of that in New York. I guess they give him credit because he was the last piece fitted into the whole. Willis [Reed] wasn't comfortable playing forward, so when Dave came along Willis became the center and Walt [Frazier] went into a starting position and everything clicked. The whole team kind of jelled.
"Dave minds the travel now more than I do. He misses watching the kids grow up. For instance, he'd be gone for two weeks and when he got home our daughter, who was younger then, didn't know him. It broke his heart. He used to do all sorts of things to get her attention. Now, on a game day at home, if the weather is nice, he takes her to the park and sits on a bench and does a crossword puzzle. Sometimes he just sleeps. It isn't the exhaustion of traveling. He's been doing it for so long that his body is geared to it. Sometimes at home, when I want him to do something, he will say, 'Oh, I'm too tired to do that today,' and I say, 'Come on, don't give me that.' The guys are all very physical. They do what they have to do no matter how tired they are.
"When Dave is away, I keep busy. I take tennis lessons and belong to a health club. I'm having a ball. At first I was afraid to be alone. I was sure someone was going to break in and kill me. Dave got me a dog, a Norwegian elkhound named Boltar.
"Our only social life is after the games. You go through a lot of phases. At first you do everything, go everywhere, accept all the invitations, and all of a sudden you say, 'I really don't want to do this anymore.' Now, we just do what we want to do. I don't know what I'll do when he's underfoot all the time, though. When he was writing his book he had a tape recorder and he used to carry it with him and talk into it all the time; he used to drive me insane.
"I dread the day it all ends. He gets letters from girls, but if I worried about other women I'd be a wreck, so I don't. I worry more about all that flying he does. I'm terrified of flying. I have to be really bombed to get on a plane, and here we are this summer going to Spain with about 100 NBA players." Gerri laughed. "God wouldn't take a whole plane full of basketball players, would he?" Three waiters at Harry Stevens smiled in unison. Gerri is their darling.
The first year I cleared $18,000 even though all I had to keep me going was a pregnant wife and a loopy swing.
—DAVE MARR, 1967
The athlete's wife does the best she can. She adjusts to travel, copes with camp followers and bleeds a little when he has a bad season. Sometimes she can't cut it, and then she calls it quits. The ex-wife of touring pro Dave Marr called it quits. Susan, who has recently remarried—a lawyer this time—is attractively petite, energetic. She speaks in bursts, her speech frequently followed by derisive laughter. Or she speaks quietly, as if to herself. Behind each statement, the question: what happened?
"I have a great nostalgia for the good years on the tour. Oh, we were on a great ride, and it was at the right time. Everything about it was magnificent. Even the air smelled magnificent every single day. When we were first married I used to watch David practice for an hour or two, then watch him play for five hours, then watch him practice again, then we'd go home together and go to dinner, and go to a movie together and go to bed together, get up in the morning together and go to the golf course together. Someone once said, 'Divorce is the closest thing to death,' and I think that is true. You can't be married to someone for 12 years and then suddenly say, 'Well, I'm over that.'
"There are very few cities in the world I can think of without thinking of David Marr. I would still rather see him swing at a golf ball than any other living human. That includes Nicklaus and Palmer and all the rest of them. He is loaded with style in everything he does, from golf to clothes to the way he handles himself—the whole thing.
"David once said, 'If you can't live on tour as well as you do at home, you shouldn't be out here.' I almost remember when I had the first pang of doubt. I thought, my God, I'm wasting a lot of my brain. I can remember walking around the golf course, or sitting by a pool, or driving for hours. I mean, I sort of knew Kennedy was President, and I sort of knew what was going on in the world, but these things were relatively unimportant compared to who was the biggest money-winner.
"I adored the first couple of years. We were married in 1960 during the concluding round of the Bob Hope Desert Classic, so our marriage sort of spanned the incredible rise in the popularity of golf. You could hack around when you were playing for $50,000, but when you are playing for $1 million it does change things. Golfers are businessmen now, and it's a whole different world. The wives are more uptight with so much money riding on the game. The peak of my life with David was before our first child was born. That's a very sad thing to say, but I will never forget the joyousness of discovering the United States with this glorious human being. The peak as far as play is concerned was not when he won the PGA, it was Augusta. Isn't that strange? I will never forget the four rounds he put together at Augusta in 1964, when he came in second.
"I would say the worst thing that ever happened was winning the PGA, which is an appalling thing to say, but to me it turned the whole thing around. Once you're up there, you're busy and frantic, the fun is gone. I remember praying the day that David won the PGA. I prayed, 'Please, let him win this tournament because he needs it. I think it will make him a better person.' I thought then that he would relax and feel assured, but the opposite happened. He then felt he had to prove it wasn't a fluke. Tony, my youngest son, was born a few hours after David won the PGA. He flew home the next day, spent a few hours in the hospital with me and went on to the next tournament. He was player of the year then and head of the PGA tournament committee and on the Ryder Cup team. From then on we never stopped. It was a kind of public performance of going here and there. I left my newborn baby to see him play in the Ryder Cup. You make these incredible decisions! I mean, my son will be with me forever, but the Ryder Cup matches lasted for three days.
"The last trip I ever took with David was in July 1970 to the British Open. I had never been away from the children for three weeks. I started dreaming about something happening to one of them. When I came back I told him I would never leave them for that long again. I realized I had reached the end of trying to tear myself between being a wife for a week and then flying home to be a mother for a few weeks and then flying out again to be a wife for a week. David probably resented my not being with him more, the children definitely resented my not being with them and I resented everybody tearing me apart.
"If I had to select one word to describe the sports wife, I would say 'tough.' It's funny how I keep finding girls from the South—they have a sort of earthy wisdom very young. Once I asked Carole Brewer, 'When do you think Gay will quit?' and she said, 'Gay will quit when we're flying over a golf course sprinkling his ashes on the fairways.' And it suddenly occurred to me that David was never coming home.
"So much depends on the kind of man you marry. Take Jack Nicklaus, for example. He is amazing. When he was really coming into his own, I'd see him in the supermarket buying stuff. Barbara was flying in with the children, and he wanted to have the house full of food when she got there. This is unheard of on the tour, you know. Then there's Winnie Palmer. I asked Winnie once if she had any idea when she married this golfer from the coal-mine area of Pennsylvania, if she ever thought he would be the Arnold Palmer someday, and she said with her little girl's smile, 'You wouldn't believe me if I told you yes.' But I do believe her. Absolutely. I think she made up her mind, literally planned it before it happened and decided how she would handle it. I used to think it didn't matter to Winnie whether Arnold was Arnold Palmer or not, or matter to Barbara whether Jack was Jack Nicklaus or not, but it does. It matters a lot. We are all ambitious women basically, adventurous and tough. I am going to make a strong statement. I do not know of many good marriages on the tour. It is very difficult for a man to turn down what is so available to him. I don't mean only other women; I mean the parties, the distractions. David has chosen golf over life. A friend of mine once said, 'A football player knows it's over by the time he's 40. A golf star is a golf star all his life.' And that's what happened, really. David became a star."
Barbara has had a profound effect on my personality. She came to know me, my moods, my actions and accepted them. Sometimes I like to talk about the game, sometimes not. She knows when, and it helps.
—FRANK ROBINSON, 1971
"Oh, did he really say that about me?" said Barbara Robinson. "Tell me more. That's news to me. Build my ego," and Barbara bounced up and down on the couch in the living room of her Ladera Heights, Calif. home. Having grown up in Los Angeles, the house was there, ready and waiting, when Frank Robinson got traded this year to the Dodgers. Barbara, at 31, is as youthful and bouncy as a teen-ager.
"When we were first married, almost 11 years ago, I used to be even more outgoing than I am now. I just loved people, period. Frankie taught me to judge people more closely, not to just love indiscriminately. I had to learn how to manage when he was gone; grocery shopping, which I had never done before, keeping a house. I couldn't cook. He ate what I cooked, and I don't know how he got it down. The first time I cooked frozen vegetables they were still almost frozen. He ate them without a word. Looking back, I think it was tremendous that he would eat the stuff I gave him.
"Frank has come out of his shell a little. He used to be very quiet and shy. Compared to me, he still is. I think he understands himself now, he knows himself as an individual. Maybe having me to take care of helped him. Somebody in the family had to be mature. Frankie had a pretty hard time with the Red-legs, so much so that he almost quit baseball. Oh, he loves baseball. It's his whole life. Trading a player is the owner's prerogative and presumably for the good of the team, but you don't discard a man like rubbish. I'm a great talker, tell me when to stop.
"In Baltimore, on the other hand, they were beautiful. They let us know that Frank might be traded, and we understood why it had to be done. It's a great team and living there was fantastic. Not all rosy, of course, but the most beautiful years of our life together.
"Frank is very easygoing and understanding. He thinks deeply. In Baltimore he got involved working for the drug program and he gave everything away. We have kids growing up, and we're scared of the drug situation, so I think it's beautiful that he's working to help, but he gave away my clothes, a brand-new carpet, our color TV, linens, books. We went back to clean the apartment out after we got traded, and I started looking for some of my stuff to pack. I only came up with one TV and we had four! Dishes, towels, the kids' toys, my bike, the kids' bikes. I'm sure God blesses him for that. The only thing is, I'm out of a bike. Being traded is very expensive, you know. They don't pay moving expenses. Not that there was much left to move. Well, God love him. As long as he stays healthy, I won't complain. If he's healthy, he'll hit."
So many of the football wives are really homecoming queen types. You can't really talk to them about anything much except makeup and clothes, or curtains and drapes.
—SUSAN MARR, 1972
Cynthia Washington, wife of the San Francisco 49er Wide Receiver Gene Washington, was USC's homecoming queen in 1968. She and Gene have been married for 2½ years and live in a two-bedroom town house in San Francisco.
Cynthia's legs were encased in knee-high blue suede Gucci boots. She was taking her hair out of curlers. "How do you like these boots?" she said. "Something just fell off. A buckle, I think. Don't you hate to pay good money for something and have it fall apart?
"Gene and I both had cold feet about getting married. We kept putting it off". We waited until after he had been in the pros for a year. I wanted him to get it all out of his system, the glamour and all that stuff. The first year I actively worried about other girls. I didn't want anyone to even talk to him. I was so naive. Now I just can't worry about it. I really can't. Any relationship that's going to last has to be built on trust. So I trust him. Once after a Jet game in New York, Joe Namath asked Gene to go out with him. I was there in New York, and he didn't go. The women just seem to love that guy. He must have something. I'd like to meet him once just to see if he's all that good. I know something fell off these boots.
"I know very little about football. Sometimes I go toward the end of the game to pick up the pieces and take them home. Once the 49ers' front office asked me to write a piece about what Gene does for the official brochure. They were doing a wife a week. They said I couldn't ask my husband. I was up all night. I finally wrote something funny. It was the only way I could make it. I've never really been that interested. Last year they made him a flanker, and I thought, my gosh, what is he going to do? He really is good at catching the ball. Then I found out he was still going to catch the ball. Anyway, they moved him back to wide receiver.
"He and John Brodie make a great team. Gene and I both went to Brodie's Scientology classes for a couple of sessions, but neither of us dig it too much. Brodie recently attended a seminar in Los Angeles to 'get clear.' I don't know what that means unless it means your bank account gets clear. That Scientology costs about $35 a session. I think I might dig Buddhism. It sounds cheaper than Scientology.
"I don't especially believe because two people are married they have to have the same interests. Maybe somebody else wants their husband around all the time. If they do, they've got a problem. I like my hours. I'm Cynthia first and Mrs. Gene Washington second. I almost never travel with Gene. We talk on the phone a lot. Gene loves to talk on the phone. Our whole relationship was built up on the telephone.
"Once when Gene and I were dating, I asked a Ouija board if I would be with Gene Washington New Year's Eve at midnight. Gene was behaving very badly, he hadn't asked me out. The Ouija board said yes, so I went to this party, and at a quarter to 12 Gene Washington walked in, only it was Gene Washington of the Minnesota Vikings.
"Our future is pretty well planned. Gene will play for another five years if he doesn't get seriously injured. He will retire at 30. I never worried about injuries until last year. Gene was hurt twice. They're double- and triple-teaming him now. Once someone hit him and he went straight up in the air and came down on his head. I thought, 'You can get hurt out there!' I think I'll take these boots back."
Just before my trade to the L.A. Kings, I lost interest in playing for the Canadiens. Being with a winner doesn't make up for being on the bench.
—RALPH BACKSTROM, 1972
Frances Backstrom sat on the patio of her Brentwood, Calif. home, watching her husband tinker with the diving board. Their 4-year-old son, Andrew, splashed in the pool. Two older children were in school.
"Such luxury after Montreal," she mused. "Who would have thought that when we met on a blind date in Ottawa we would wind up on a patio in California." Ralph is all the way under the diving board now with hammer and screwdriver. Only his head is visible, a head laced with 350 stitches, mementos of 12½ seasons with the Canadiens.
"His scars don't show," said Frances, "but they're there. Ralph once said the biggest fear in a hockey player's mind is losing an eye, but he never could get used to wearing a helmet. He's happy about the trade. With a team like the Kings, he feels useful. He can help the younger players.
"I was just 19 when Ralph and I were married. At that age you don't ask yourself what will it be like. You don't think, you just do. You say, it sounds like great fun, let's do it. Of course, 10 years later you laugh at how naive you were.
"The Kings didn't make the playoffs this year. Maybe next year. Montreal was always making the playoffs. They would take the whole team and move them north to a resort area in the Laurentians. The guys would live alone for a month and very seldom see their wives or girl friends. The only time I would see Ralph was after the home games. Then he would say, how are the kids? Did we get any mail? Kiss me goodby and run for the bus. Oh, I really used to resent that because he'd come out of the dressing room and suddenly all these people wanted to talk to him, and he had only 15 minutes before the bus left. I used to go away with tears in my eyes. One time I wrote him a letter during the game, and he read it on the bus.
"But there were good times, too, like after winning the Stanley Cup. It was so exciting and the pressure was off. For a week I hadn't been able to eat my meals because the pressure was so intense, and I would be anxious to talk to Ralph after that whole month of not seeing him. You have to be reasonable. I guess I got more mature. I suddenly realized that all those people were only going to have him for an hour. I was going to have him the whole summer.
"I feel sorry for girls who hang around hockey players. If one of them comes up and wants to talk to my husband, I just disappear. It happened recently at The Forum. She was very aggressive. She was staring up at him and saying, 'Gee, you're really cool. I really dig you.' I left so as not to embarrass him."
The sun shone down, the pool shimmered. Ralph tested the tension on the diving board. Andrew crawled out of the pool and shook himself like a puppy.
"The only thing that frightens me is this good living, this beautiful home. We both came from very modest homes. Our parents had to work so hard just to put food on the table. Now I wonder what kind of adults my kids are going to be, having all this. I worry about the soft life that California provides. They used to struggle through snowstorms and climb over snowbanks to get to school. Now they ride to and from school, and the sun seems to shine all the time. What is going to happen to them? Is that silly? Here I am sitting in this lovely place thinking, gee, my kids are going to be deprived of all that hardship!"
I was a cheerleader in high school, and I had to yell, 'First and 10, do it again.' I didn't know what it meant.
—LINDA SAYERS, 1972
Linda is given to blue jeans and sweat shirts. Under her Afro wig, a tiny face emerges, like that of a newborn kitten. Emerging, too, a sharp intelligence. Linda met Gale Sayers in high school, married him while they were in college. By the time he signed with the Bears, she knew what "First and 10, do it again" meant. She also knew all about trades.
"I insisted on a no-cut, no-trade contract instead of asking for a huge salary. I wanted to establish a life somewhere. [Nancy Lanier will shoot herself when she hears about that.]
"Gale had such a sensational, whirlwind break-in to the league that after his rookie year he was immediately put on the banquet circuit, which I had a hard time adjusting to. Here I was, basically a little country girl and very naive. There's a jealousy factor, too. I don't mean jealousy about other women—football is the other woman—but jealousy that he is in the spotlight, and you feel like a puppy trailing along behind. We go somewhere and everybody just clambers over him. So who am I! I've learned to enjoy the times when I can be alone and private, but in the beginning I wouldn't let Gale walk from one room to another without following him, and asking him constantly, what's wrong? I was the typical fan asking, how are your knees? I don't think it's possible to be married to a man in the spotlight and not experience this jealousy. Even now sometimes, I get angry. I think he's worthy of the attention, but it makes me feel like a dwarf. I used to bug him. I used to say, 'Take the garbage out.' I thought he should take it out. Other husbands take the garbage out. What was so fancy about him? You can become bitchy without knowing it. You have to do a little soul-searching. All of a sudden I decided that's not the way a wife should be. You have to develop a life of your own.
"Oh, I got so tired of tiptoeing around the house on Sunday morning. During the football season we do not live a normal life. Gale is so moody that even the children are aware of it. People have no idea what professional sport does to a man—the pride factor, getting yourself up for a game, the letdown after a bad game. We've been on both ends of the pendulum. First, all that success, then two injuries and practically two seasons of not playing at all. You bleed for them, but you have to learn not to show it. If his leg doesn't heal, he will announce his retirement. If he retires, I am prepared for a couple of years of tremendous strain. He was the best pro runner in the history of the game, and all of a sudden it's taken away. Football is his love and he's not finished with it. This year we are living on hope. He has that brooding inside of him.
"The reason Gale loved Brian Piccolo so much was that Brian was competing for his job, and Gale had this ability to care for him which is really a rare thing. Brian's wife, Joy, is finally adjusting. Brian's was a typical Italian household, which means the man is dominant. Joy was just a mother and housewife. Then, after he died, she was on a whirlwind, with everyone pampering her, and she's actually a celebrity because of her husband's death, which is a little ironic. She realizes now that she's got to get off of this. Now, every time there's a function in Chicago, she's there as the poor widow of Brian Piccolo. He's been dead for two years now, and you know, she says that her grief is over. Now she wants to make a life of her own and they won't let her. Sometimes I look at the popularity of football as almost being barbaric—the exploitation of athletes, the money thrown around.
"Our worst year was probably 1969 when the Bears had a 1-13 record. The fans yelled terrible things at the players and even threw bottles. One of the players got hit on the head. I was sitting in front of his wife. She just sat there, her face sort of frozen. I went downstairs and started crying. Later, Gale said, 'Oh, you'd cry if Tom caught Jerry.'
"Sometimes I think I would like to be married to someone in a normal job. Sunday morning he puts on his game face. I can't wait for him to get out of the house. Oh, I'm so happy when he's gone I don't know what to do. Away games? I just love them. During off-season I yearn for him. That's our happy time. But during the season I just say, 'Goodby, husband.' He's not going to be the same man until January."
I think getting married has helped me. When I was single Id clean up my apartment and then do errands. By the time I got to the ball park I was tired. My diet's better. Lots of Italian cooking.
—SAL BANDO, 1969
"Oh, I was just furious when he made that statement," said Sandra Bando, 2hurling herself into a chair, still furious. "He will say things like that, even now. He said that after we had been married for five months, and I said to him, 'You make it sound as if all I ever do is cook veal parmigiana and lasagna every day, and there is Sandra down on her knees scrubbing your floor. I don't like the idea that you have molded me into a domesticated little thing.'
"The first year we were married, Sal simply couldn't understand that I had to have a life independent of him. The other baseball wives couldn't believe it. I had to be home by 10 o'clock at night. If he was on the road, he would call and I had to be here. Once I called him from the theater and said, 'I'm home.' Then I said to myself, this is ridiculous, I'm a grown woman. I did nothing but get up in the morning, prepare some food, go to the ball park and watch him play and come home. I said, is that all there is to me? He thought women who played golf were terrible. What kind of children were they raising? Why weren't they home where they belonged?
"Sal was raised in the old-fashioned Italian tradition. He saw his mother as a very hard-working, domesticated woman. The song 'I want a girl just like the girl that married dear old dad' was written for Sal. For the first few months he was trying to make me into something I wasn't. My own upbringing was more liberal, perhaps because my father was a physician. To Sal I felt I was a body without a mind. He wanted me to be just his reflection."
Sal Bando Jr., son of the A's third baseman, not yet two years old and spectacularly blond and blue-eyed, rushed around the living room of the Bando home in Oakland, Calif., a tiny whirlwind. Sandra Fortunato Bando, her own dark hair newly tinted blonde, scooped up her son and carried him off to his playpen. The Bandos had just returned from spring training in Arizona, their visit slightly prolonged because of the baseball strike.
"Sal has changed tremendously in the last year or so," Sandra said. "He's become more liberated. I've changed, too, and understand his way of thinking. Now he laughs about it. Do you know what he called me in spring training? Gloria Steinem. And when one of his teammates made a comment about my new hair color, he said, 'Blondes have more fun.' Last year during the playoffs, I was a nervous wreck and Sal wasn't. He was just coping with everything, all that tension. He told me if I pulled that again this year, if they make the playoffs, he is going to send me out to pasture for a couple of months. In the past year I've had to stop and say to myself, if I'm going to be a help to him I've got to be a more controlled-type person. My getting so emotional about the playoffs was, I think now, a question of personal immaturity. A lot of times I feel his life really isn't his own. One day I accept that, the next day I don't. I was wrong about a lot of things, too. I went into our marriage with the funny idea that my husband's profession really wasn't that hard. I thought, 'He's just going out to play baseball like a little boy.' Really! Listening to the other wives talk, I realized it was more complicated. I went on a couple of road trips with him, saw how they live out of suitcases, what they put up with.
"Sal is very blunt, very honest, completely lacking in tact. He wants to come off real, but he puts things differently to other people than he does to mc. He thinks I try to make him more complex than he really is, but that's because I don't think he takes time out to think about himself, about who he is. I once said to Sal, 'Don't ever pull this stuff on me, I'm the great Sal Bando.' I don't want success to go to his head. I've seen it happen to other athletes. They lose touch with their values, as Joe Namath did, as Vida Blue did recently. Sal just laughs. He realizes there is always someone in the wings coming along who may be just a little bit better, so I think his feet are on the ground. Last year he was second to Vida Blue as MVP.
"But to this day, if someone asks what he eats, he says spaghetti. What can I do? He is very proud of being Italian. I said, 'Why don't you tell them that you eat a lot of eggs and peanut butter, protein, fruit and vegetables? Why do you always say spaghetti?' He says, 'Because I'm Italian." Well, we all know he's Italian. I'm Italian, too. I'm very proud of my heritage, but there's more to being Italian than eating spaghetti.
"In Italian families, Christmas Eve is celebrated with a big fish feast. His family are not great fish eaters so they eat pizza and sausage. Thanksgiving, they cat chicken and spaghetti. Just to show how liberated Sal is, we now have turkey on Thanksgiving, just to please me. Christmas Eve he can have his pizza and sausage. As for my own liberation, I take golf lessons now. That may not make mc Mother of the Year, but it sure is fun!"