Yet let’s be honest. Nobody’s going to remember Oscar Gamble for any of that.
WHEN IT COMES to Gamble, a hard-hitting outfielder of the 1970s who died Wednesday at age 68, he’s known for the ‘fro – as in the incredibly huge afro hairstyle he wore back in the days when such hair was stylish.
In Gamble’s case, he wore his afro huge. Various reports indicate his hair stuck about eight inches out from his head. It gave the impression of an incredibly huge head – almost as though Gamble were a real-life, African-American version of those bobblehead dolls that are popular with many baseball fans.
Which is kind of ironic that Gamble wound up playing two stints with the New York Yankees – a team notorious for their restrictions on ballplayers and their hairstyles. They made him cut it.
Which means during that one year Gamble was with the White Sox, we got to see a version of the ‘fro that was trying to re-grow itself.
|Afro untethered by ball cap|
WE CERTAINLY NEVER got to see anything close to what was depicted on that 1976 baseball card showing Gamble traded from the Cleveland Indians (where his hair grew free and wild) to Yankees pinstripes.
For what it’s worth, Gamble was part of Yankees teams that won American League championships in 1976 and 1981. He was that guy who rotated between playing outfield and designated hitter, which allowed the Yankees to fit more ballplayers into the lineup than usual.
Following that first stint, Gamble was traded to the White Sox (along with assorted minor league ballplayers including future Cy Young Award winner LaMarr Hoyt) in exchange for shortstop Bucky Dent – who helped the Yankees win a pair of World Series titles and created his own baseball iconic moment that causes his name to be taken in vain in Boston.
|Afro trying to restore itself|
Dent wanted big money contracts, more than then-owner Bill Veeck was willing to pay. Of course, Gamble also wanted a big money contract, and Veeck couldn’t afford that either. Which caused him to label Gamble and outfielder Richie Zisk as the original “rent-a-players.”
IN GAMBLE’S CASE, it worked for the White Sox. His .297 batting average, with 31 home runs and 83 runs batted in were a key part of that ’77 White Sox team that stayed in first place through mid-August.
He then went to the San Diego Padres because then-owner Ray Kroc gave him the big money contract that he played under for the rest of his ballplaying career.
|Oscar, in the beginning|
Which began in 1969 when he played part of the season with the Cubs (one of many ballplayers signed by scout Buck O’Neil whom the Cubs foolishly let get away) and ended in 1985 when he returned to the White Sox for one final season.
I remember Gamble for his ability to mash the ball. Not exactly a guy who you’d put in the field for stellar defense. But someone who could put runs on the scoreboard with his 200 career home runs and 666 runs batted in, along with 610 bases on balls.
BUT THERE ALSO was the hair. The afro that causes his memory to live on whenever people discuss what became of professional baseball during the 1970s and the game, in many ways, finally started catching up to trends of society at-large.
|Gamble, at the end|
I’m sure the reaction to the sight of Gamble’s hair back in those days said more about you as an individual rather than anything about Oscar himself.
Which is why it was always humorous to see photographs of Gamble in more recent years. He went bald.
But the memory of the ‘fro will linger on in the minds of those of us to whom the Bicentennial was a reality of life – and not just something we learned about while skimming a history book.