Thursday, February 1, 2018

RIP Oscar Gamble

Oscar Gamble and his magnificent Afro in 1974. Also
evidence that the Cleveland team didn't always use Chief Wahoo.
Oscar Gamble played for a lot of teams, but Minnesota wasn't one of them. He was a poor defensive outfielder, and he spent most of his career as a platoon player. But if you were a baseball fan in the 1970s, you knew about this guy.

There was, for one thing, the hair. Gamble sported, as teams permitted, perhaps the most spectacular Afros ever to grace a major league field. (A reasonable rival belonged to Jose Cardenal, another outfielder of the same period.)

There was the card. When Gamble was traded to the Yankees for the 1976 season, Topps, as was its custom, airbrushed a Yankees logo onto his cap and pinstrips on his Indians jersey. As as frequently the case with Topps' photo alterations in that pre-Photoshop era, the results were amusingly awful. And the Mickey Mouse effect of the Afro made it all the cheesier.

And there was his perfectly ungrammatical description of  the Yankees clubhouse during one of his two tenures in the Bronx, a description useful for other scenes of chaos and dysfunction: "They don't believe it be like it is, but it do."

But most of all, there was the bat. Gamble was a dangerous hitter against right-handers. He bopped 200 homers in his 17-year career, which is a lot for a platoon guy. He drew more walks than strikeouts over his career. The totals were seldom all that impressive, although he did hit 30 homers for the 1977 White Sox "South Side Hitmen", but his at-bats were usually limited.

I highly recommend this Joe Posnanski piece on Oscar Gamble and Buck O'Neil, who found and signed the teen-aged Gamble for the Cubs in the 1960s. If nothing else, it stands as a depiction of the romance of scouting.

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