Friday, October 21, 2011

#19 Oscar Gamble

Card: This is Gamble's 14th Topps card.  Gamble would appear in the Topps set from 1970 - 1985

Pic: The left handed Gamble appears to be making his way out of the batter's box and heading down the line.  Although he isn't sporting his well known afro I can't let the opportunity pass without discussing it. The best look at his 'fro can be seen in his '76 Topps traded card.  Looking at shots from his '73 to '82 cards we see the evolution of his iconic hair do:
As you can see in his '77 card (5th from left), Steinbrenner made him trim his hair. Obviously he got away with a bigger 'fro the second around with the Yanks.  But by the '82 season things were changing, and so was Gamble's hair.

Player: Gamble was a left handed hitting, right handed throwing corner outfielder and DH.  He was drafted by the Cubs in the 16th round of the '68 draft, having been discovered playing semi-pro ball by Negro League legend Buck O'Neill. At only 19, Gamble made his MLB debut joining the Cubs in late August of '69 and batted .225 in 71 at bats. Prior to the '70 season, the Cubs sent Gamble to the Phillies for Johnny Callison. 
The next three seasons Gamble would split time between AAA Eugene and the Phillies.  Not hitting for much power or average, Gamble struggled to find his niche. Gamble was again traded, this time to the Indians in a four player deal.
With the Indians Gamble found his groove in '73.  Employed as a platoon DH and occasional left fielder Gamble saw his power increase, knocking 20, 19, and 15 homers.  From '73-'75 Gamble's average was .267, .291, and .261 and he proved he was a solid contact hitter by walking more than he struck out.
After the '75 campaign Gamble was dealt to the Yankees for Pat Dobson.  Gamble slugged 17 dingers but saw his average drop to .232.  Gamble reached the postseason for the first time in his career but struggled and the Reds defeated the Yankees in the '76 World Series.  On the verge of the '77 season Gamble was traded for the fourth time in his career, this time to the White Sox in the Bucky Dent deal.
Once again slotted as a DH against right handed pitching, Gamble had a breakout year for the White Sox with 31 home runs and 83 RBI, both career highs.  Gamble batted .293, had a .386 OBP and slugged .588.  With free agency looming Gamble was looking to cash in on his big year and made it known that he wanted top dollar, which quickly turned off the White Sox.
The Padres signed Gamble to a six-year deal paying him $475,000 per year. As with many high dollar free agent signings, Gamble failed to live up to expectations.  Unable to DH in the National League, Gamble showed a strong arm, splitting time between left and right field but his range was inadequate.  Gamble batted .275 but could only manage seven homers for his new team.  Almost as soon as the season ended Gamble was traded to the Rangers in a five player deal.
Gamble started off well in Texas in '79, and despite missing 26 games in May to injury he was batting .335 at the end of July.  Perhaps looking to trade their new acquisition while he was hot, the Rangers traded Gamble to the Yankees in an eight player deal that sent Mickey Rivers to the Rangers. 
With the Yankees, Gamble got even hotter and batted .389 the rest of the way. Gamble was able to make roots in New York but injuries robbed him of some playing time in the following seasons.  Gamble contributed with decent power and good on base numbers over the next three years. Gamble was re-signed for year at $700,00 but struggled in 1984 batting .184 although he did hit 10 long balls in 125 at bats.
After his poor year the Yankees let Gamble walk and he signed with the White Sox.  Batting only .204 with four homers, Gamble was released in August and thus Gamble's career had reached it's end at the age of 35.

Flipside: It's weird to see a card back with that many seasons without at least one with 500 at bats.

Oddball: One of my favorite quotes was uttered by Gamble in response to perceived racism in baseball: "They don't think it be like it is, but it do"

History: Gamble has gotten a lot of notoriety for his Afro hairstyle and cool vibe.  Gamble was an effective power hitting left handed weapon that his managers enjoyed plugging in against right handed pitching.  Gamble missed out on a championship during his career but will be remembered for someone who thrived in the spotlight in New York.
Today Gamble takes part in Yankee fantasy camps and old timer games.

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