Sunday, May 1, 2011

#152 - Oscar Gamble

Well, this is getting repetitious: just about every Indian in the '74 set is photographed at Yankee Stadium like the Big O here, and each one either did or would play for the Yankees. Oscar is coming off his first season in Cleveland and here comes the afro. That thing just kept growing until it peaked on his '76 Traded card. Here it's mildly tame but you can sense the coming breakout. Speaking of breakout, in many ways '73 was that type of season for Mr. Gamble. Finally given a regular spot - sort of - in a line-up he responded with a homer total that exceeded his career total prior to that year and until then career bests in average and RBI's. And while his card lists his spot as Outfield, the defensively-challenged Oscar spent way more time in both '73 and '74 as a DH.

Oscar Gamble is from down south, Alabama way. He was signed by Buck O'Neal for the Cubs in '68. After a year of Rookie ball, he was promoted to Double A in '69 where he hit nearly .300 and then put in a month-plus for the Cubbies. Leo Durocher, then the Cubs' manager, remarked that Oscar reminded him of a young John Callison, which was an interesting comparison because a few months later, Oscar and Dick Selma were traded to Philadelphia for the real thing. The next three seasons O shuttled back and forth between the majors and Triple A. He hit in the low .230's for the big guys but above .290 for Eugene. He didn't really distinguish himself otherwise those years and after the '72 season he was traded to Cleveland with Roger Freed, another Philly outfielder, for Del Unser.

Once he got to the Tribe, Gamble ran into two guys who would help his career get rolling. Larry Doby taught him to be patient at the plate and Wally Moses taught him how to pull the ball, which Oscar partly effected by adopting his hunched over stance that allowed him to use his legs more when hitting the ball. Thus, in his three years for the Indians, while Oscar would get up roughly twice as much as he did in Philly his homer totals would grow from eight to 54, his RBI and run totals would nearly triple, and his average popped about 30 points. He was also beginning to demonstrate better success against lefties than righties so his destiny as a platoon player was being set. In '76 he went to the Yankees for Pat Dobson and although his average fell, he hit 17 homers and had 57 RBIs in roughly a half season for the pennant winners. He had an OK playoff against KC then only hit .125 against the Reds. That winter George Steinbrenner, desperate for an all All-Star infield, sent Oscar and LaMarr Hoyt to the White Sox for Bucky Dent. Oscar would then have a big season as a Southside Hit Man in '77 as he tapped 31 homers and 83 RBI's, both personal bests. It was a short honeymoon though, as he then became a free agent and moved to San Diego.

For the Padres, Gamble had a tough time and is widely recognized as being one of the all-time worst free agent signings. Between being hurt and experiencing a much deeper right field porch than in his recent past, his power totals slumped to seven homers and 47 RBIs. San Diego gave up fast and after the season Oscar and Dave Roberts went to Texas for Mike Hargrove, Kurt Bevacqua, and Bill Fahey. Back in the AL, Oscar had a monster season, hitting .358 with 19 homers and 64 RBIs with a .456 OBA in only 274 at bats. He did this for two teams since mid-year he returned to the Yankees in a big trade that moved Mickey Rivers to the Rangers. The next five seasons Oscar would do his platoon thing pretty effectively, racking up full-seaon numbers that equated to 29 homers and 94 RBIs with about a .360 OBA. He had an excellent post-season in '81, killing Milwaukee in the divisional series and putting up an overall OBA above .500. After the '84 season, Oscar signed with the White Sox as a free agent but another '77 was not to be in his last season. He hit .265 for his career with 200 homers and 666 (ouch!) RBI's and had a .356 OBA. In the post-season he hit .286 with a couple homers, seven RBI's, and a .406 OBA in 18 games.

After playing Oscar went back to Alabama where he did some sports agent business, some investing business, and spent a bunch of time working with local youth sports teams. His son would later play in the Phillies system.

Oscar was a pretty little guy at only 160 pounds. Instructional Loop (should "Loop" be capitalized?) stats are post-season and don't make baseball-reference so these are hard to authenticate, but those were short seasons, so those numbers are pretty nice. The second star bullet was a bit daunting for Oscar as he had to fight his way off a field overrun with fans tearing down parts of the stadium.

Oscar was quite a personality when he played. Let's use another one here:

1. Gamble and Luis Tiant '79 to '80 Yankees;
2. Tiant and Diego Segui '74 to '75 Red Sox.

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