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Former Tribe Slugger Gamble Passes Away at 68

Former Tribe Slugger Gamble Passes Away at 68

| On 01, Feb 2018

His incredible head of hair may have gotten the majority of attention, but underneath it, Oscar Gamble had himself a steady and lengthy career on the baseball diamond.

The longtime Major League slugger passed away on Wednesday at a hospital in Birmingham, Alabama, after battling ameloblastic carcinoma, a tumor that attacks the jaw. He was 68.

Gamble – 1975 Topps

Gamble spent 17 years on MLB fields, suiting up for seven different organizations along the way while bringing his unique batting stance with him to the plate. That playing career took him to Cleveland early on, where his trademark Afro earned him some well-deserved attention and made for some memorable pictures that led viewers to question how he could keep a hat or helmet on the top of head. As fans would come to learn, as Gamble flew about the bases or the outfield grass, his headwear was a frequent casualty.

His pro career began straight out of high school. He was scouted by famed Negro Leagues legend Buck O’Neil for the Chicago Cubs, who selected Gamble in the 16th round out of George Washington Carver High School in Montgomery, Alabama, in the 1968 draft. Just over a year later, the 19-year-old was suiting up for the Cubs, beginning his 17-year stretch in the Majors.

His stay in Chicago was short, as after the season, he was sent to Philadelphia in a four-player swap (the Cubs were believed to be concerned with his extracurricular activities and his tryout in center field brought on both defensive and offensive struggles). He spent the next three years moving back and forth between the Phillies and their Triple-A affiliate in Eugene, Oregon. In his three seasons in the City of Brotherly Love, he had batted .241 with eight homers and 55 RBI in 254 games and had trouble sticking there, just as in Chicago.

In November of 1972, he was acquired by the Indians with Roger Freed for Del Unser and minor leaguer Terry Wedgewood. When he showed up for spring training the following season, he sported his trademark Afro.

He got a chance to play more frequently with the Indians and took advantage of it. Still just 23 years old and beginning his fifth big league season, the left-handed hitting Gamble’s power surged. He hit .267 in 113 games, but hit 20 homers (more than doubling his entire career output to that point) and drove in 44. He followed it with 135 games of action in 1974, a .291 average, another 19 homers, and 59 RBI. He continued to man the corner outfield spots for the Tribe in 1975, hitting .261 with 15 homers and 45 RBI in 121 while stealing a career-high eleven bases.

While Gamble saw more action in Cleveland, it did not come without issues. Indians’ skippers Ken Aspromonte and Frank Robinson both left the lefty swinger on the bench against southpaws. Gamble did not approve, and his numbers reflected the attitude – he hit no lower than .278 against lefties during his three years in Cleveland, but just 218 of his 1,346 plate appearances with the club came against same side pitching.

Gamble – Associated Press/RHH

On November 22, 1975, he was dealt to the New York Yankees for pitcher Pat Dobson.

He spent a year in pinstripes (and had to trim his locks to accommodate George Steinbrenner’s expectations), but the big offseason signing of Reggie Jackson made Gamble an asset on the move for the Yankees. He was traded back to where his career started in the Windy City, this time landing on the south side with the White Sox in a four-player swap for young shortstop Bucky Dent.

In his return to Chicago, he brought the pop. He posted personal bests across the board, including 137 games played, 75 runs scored, 22 doubles, 31 homers, 83 RBI, 54 walks, a .297 average, a .386 on-base percentage, and a .588 slugging mark. The majority of those marks would be his career-bests when he hung up the cleats for good.

Gamble cashed in on his career-year with a sizable free agent agreement with the San Diego Padres. He signed a six-year, $2.85 million deal to head to the west coast, but his numbers did not translate in his return to the National League. He spent just one year there, hitting seven homers and driving in 47 in 126 games and was dealt to the Texas Rangers after the season (as part of the trade that sent Mike Hargrove to the Padres just ahead of his trip to Cleveland). Gamble split 1979 with the Rangers and the Yankees, where he would log his longest stay in his return to the Bronx. He was more of a part-time player at this point of his career, but he did contribute with a big postseason effort in 1981, when he hit a pair of homers and batted .556 in the American League Division Series against the Milwaukee Brewers.

After six seasons back with the Yankees, Gamble returned to his old home one last time when he signed with the White Sox in 1985 in what would be his last season (he would be cut by Chicago before the season let out). He later worked as a coach and an agent and was recognized for his playing career by the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 2016.

Gamble is survived by his wife, Lovell Woods Gamble; three daughters; two sons; and four grandchildren. One of those sons, Sean Gamble, was drafted by the Phillies after playing at Auburn – he spent three years in Philadelphia’s farm system and two more years in independent leagues.

Photo: United Press International

Comments

  1. Randall

    Some of Oscar’s MLB stats compare favorably with two-time MVP Roger Maris. Oscar had a lifetime batting average of .265 with an OPS+ of 127. Maris also had a 127 OPS+ and a .260 BA.

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