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Card-by-Yankees Card: The 1977 Topps Set, Cards #505, Oscar Gamble (Article 98)

by Paul Semendinger

(Continuing a series…)

***



All they every write about is his hair. I’m sick of reading only about his hair. Oscar Gamble was more than just a player with big hair.

Oscar Gamble was a whole lot more than that.

Of all the Yankees, of all-time, Oscar Gamble was always one of my favorites – and it had nothing to do with his hair.

***

I loved Oscar Gamble’s batting stance. A lefty, he got down into a low crouch and exploded into the pitched ball. When he crushed a pitch, it was a sight to see.

Man, I loved watching Oscar Gamble hit!

***

I was at Game 5 of the 1981 American League Division Playoffs when the Yankees dispatched the Milwaukee Brewers to advance to the Championship Series.

Reggie homered that game, but so did Oscar Gamble.

As I recall, Gamble’s home run went right over the 417 foot marker. I loved that. #17 hit it right over 417.

***

There was once a baseball team you never heard of. The New York Redbirds. I still know all the players and their batting stances and all their histories.

Those players were a part of me… because they were me.

The Redbirds were my Wiffle Ball team made up of the imaginary players I created. Some of those players came from the baseball books I read at the time, like Matt Christopher’s The Kid Who Only Hit Homers. The team in that book was the Redbirds. That’s where my team’s name came from.

My Redbirds took on the kids in the neighborhood. We had epic games. We kept stats. It was great.

The center fielder on the Redbirds was Joe Glass who was a lefty batter. When I was Joe Glass, I batted like Oscar Gamble. And, for whatever reason, when I batted in that crouch, I also crushed the Wiffle Ball.

***

Oscar Gamble was a Yankee two different times. Gamble’s first Yankees tenure came just before the 1977 and 1978 World Championship teams and then he arrived again just after the Championships were over.

Oscar Gamble first came to the Yankees for the 1976 season. The Yankees traded Pat Dobson to get him.

Gamble hit .232 with 17 homers in 100 games in 1976. His batting average was lower than his career average to that point (.261), but the 17 homers were probably exactly what the Yankees were expecting. The Yankees probably envisioned Gamble as part of the 1977 team as well, but they also needed a shortstop to make good on their championship run…

On the eve of that 1977 season, April 5, Oscar Gamble was traded (with a few others including future Cy Young Award winner LaMarr Hoyt) to the Chicago White Sox for Russell Earl Dent. It was a trade that, absolutely, helped the Yankees. Russell Dent, better known as Bucky, would play excellent shortstop for the Yankees and forge his name into the history books over the coming seasons.

In Chicago, Oscar Gamble had a monster year for the South Side Sluggers in 1977 batting .297/31/87 in 131 games.

The next year, he found himself in San Diego, after signing a free agent contract.

For whatever reason, San Diego wasn’t the place for Oscar Gamble. After a season in which he hit only seven homers, Gamble was traded to the Texas Rangers for the 1979 season. It seems that Texas WAS the place. In 64 games as a Ranger, Gamble was hitting .335 with 8 homers…

And then on July 30, along with a bunch of minor leaguers, Oscar Gamble was traded back to the Yankees in exchange for Mickey Rivers. The Yankees even gave Gamble Rivers’ uniform #17. Things were moving quickly.

I always wondered what it was like to be Oscar Gamble coming to the Yankees on July 30, 1979. Two days after he arrived, the great Thurman Munson died in then plane crash. The whole experience must have been surreal.

But, maybe, by then, Gamble was just used to moving around. He certainly didn’t stay in one place very long:

1969 – Chicago Cubs

1970-72 – Philadelphia Phillies

1973-75 – Cleveland Indians

1976 – New York Yankees

1977 – Chicago White Sox

1978 – San Diego Padres

1979 – Texas Rangers

1979 – New York Yankees

But life is like that. Just when it seemed he’d never settle down, that was when Oscar Gamble finally found a home. He’d remain with the Bombers through the 1984 season.

In his time with the Yankees, Gamble put up some nice seasons, but none like the rest of 1979 when he batted .389 with 11 more home runs.

In 1980, in 78 games, he hit .278 with 14 homers.

In 1982, in 108 games, he hit .272 with 18 home runs.

Yeah, Oscar Gamble could hit.

But, by 1984, it seemed to be over. In 54 games that year, Gamble batted just .184. He still showed some power blasting ten home runs, but he wasn’t the player he had been.

In 1985, Oscar Gamble found himself on the move again. He landed with the White Sox to finish his career. In 70 games, he hit just .203. And that was that.

***

Oscar Gamble’s last Yankees home run came on September 18, 1984 in New York in a game the Yankees won 10-2 over the Orioles. He hit his blast off Dennis Martinez.

Gamble’s last career homer was also hit at Yankee Stadium. The date was August 3, 1985. Gamble hit that homer off Ed Whitson. I wish I could call up old footage of that game. I would like to see Gamble’s last trip around the bases.

Just nine days later, Oscar Gamble was released.

***

He wasn’t great, but he was fun to root for.

Oscar Gamble was one of my favorites ever.

In college. my roommate had a unique style of drawing. He made a terrific picture of Yankee Stadium for me, with my favorite players at each position. Graig Nettles is at third base. Reggie is out in right field. Mattingly is at first base. Thurman is catching. Ron Guidry is on the mound…

And Oscar Gamble is up at bat – the place I’ll always remember him being..



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