One of these days, I will write a roster of former Yankee players who had terrible luck. These would be the Don Mattinglys, Bobby Murcers, Mike Mussinas and Mike Stanleys of the world. They are all players who had long careers in the Bronx and yet somehow never got a ring as a player because they happened to play in the years where they did NOT win.
Oscar Gamble would be on that squad.
I associate Gamble most closely with the Yankees and he did indeed play 6 1/2 seasons as a Yankee. But 1977 and 1978 were not seasons he played with them, ergo he didn’t get the ring.
Maybe it is appropriate that this poorly airbrushed photo has him in Yankee Stadium but wearing the hat of another team.
Gamble was a highly praised prospect in the Cubs organization. He was discovered by the legendary Buck O’Neill and he shot through the Chicago farm system.
In 1969, as the Cubs were trying to prevent a freefall in the divisional race with the Mets, Gamble was pressed into duty as the starting centerfielder. The Cubs failing to make the playoffs wasn’t his fault, but he did not exactly light the world on fire in his 24 games in Wrigleyville. Granted he was only 19 years old, but he didn’t get a chance in Chicago in his 20’s.
By 1970, he was with the Phillies, but there he struggled to get playing time and stay in the starting lineup. In 1973, he had already logged 4 seasons in the bigs but was only 23 years old. He was sent by the Phillies to the Indians in a deal involving Del Unser and his career took off.
Gamble launched 20 homers in 432 plate appearances for Cleveland in 1973 and in 1974, his average went up and his power numbers stayed steady. He was purely a platoon player, getting his at bats against right handers. But he made the most of it.
He also made the most of his afro, which grew to outrageous proportions. Gamble’s hat and helmet would fly off his head when he ran, exposing his enormous head of hair. Some fans called him Bozo based on how it stuck out from the sides of his cap.
Gamble wore flashy outfits befitting the 1970’s to and from the stadium and was a reliable quote for the Cleveland sports writers. Shortly before he was to sign an endorsement deal with an afro hair care product, he was traded to the Yankees.
His first year in the Bronx was 1976, the opening of the remodeled Yankee Stadium. Owner George Steinbrenner had strict grooming rules for his players and the Gamble fro did not cut mustard. He was required to shave it down, much to the dismay of Gamble’s wife. It also ended any hope of his endorsement deal, but Steinbrenner reimbursed him for what he would made from the ad.
In 1976, Billy Martin used Gamble as a platoon outfielder and he responded with 17 homers and the Yankees went on to win the pennant. They were clobbered by the Reds in the World Series but the foundation was in the Bronx for a solid team.
They were left handed heavy with their power. Nettles, Chambliss and Gamble all aimed for the right field porch. They needed more balance in their lineup. So naturally Steinbrenner signed Reggie Jackson, another left handed slugger.
With Roy White, Mickey Rivers, Lou Piniella, Paul Blair and Reggie Jackson all on the team, there was no room for Gamble. He was sent packing to the White Sox for shortstop Bucky Dent.
In Chicago as one of the South Side Hitmen, Gamble had his career year. He slugged 31 homers and drove in 83 and posted an OPS of ,974 over 470 plate appearances. The White Sox contended but faded out while the Yankees, without Gamble, won the World Series.
He cashed in after the 1977 season and signed with the Padres. San Diego was a good fit monetarily but not for his swing. He hit only 7 homers and the OPS fell by over 200 points. The Padres went nowhere in 1978. The Yankees won the World Series again.
He found himself in Texas in 1979 and his swing returned. Showing his value as a platoon hitter, he batted .335 and had an OPS of .979 in 201 trips to the plate in Arlington. Then a mid season deal involving Mickey Rivers had him back in New York for the end of 1979.
Between 1979 and 1984, Gamble was, for the most part, a solid platoon performer. He would frequently crush double digits in homers despite usually playing in fewer than 90 games a year.
The Yankees went to the post season in 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980 and 1981. Gamble was on all of those teams EXCEPT 1977 and 1978, the two years they won it all.
He finished his career with the 1985 White Sox. Gamble remains a fan favorite in New York and is frequently asked about his super human afro.
But man, his luck could not have been worse for winning a ring.
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