Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Legend of Oscar Gamble

While there are many baseball cards that will forever remain etched in my memory, most of them are because the player pictured was a star. Sometimes cards were memorable because he played for my favorite team (go Reds!). And occasionally, they were memorable because they were especially difficult to find.

1975 Topps
There are some cards, however, that stand out because of the picture itself. Nearly any kid who grew up collecting baseball cards in the 1970s knows who Oscar Gamble was, though few will tell you that he was an outfielder who played for the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees (and a whole host of other clubs). No, most people who remember him will say, "he's the one with really BIG afro, right?"

Defining Gamble's afro as "big" really doesn't do it justice. The sheer magnitude of Gamble's 'fro was purely epic. His afro was so magnificent, so voluminous that he seriously couldn't run to first base or chase a fly ball without his hat flying off his head. It was as if his hat was wedged down upon his head so tightly that it would just squirt off with the slightest of provocation.

While Gamble was a decent player, his play never earned the fame enjoyed by the hair. To this day, Gamble still receives multiple autograph requests - almost always on cards showing him with his famous hair.

1976 Topps Traded
Iconic Yankees owner George Steinbrenner made Gamble shear his righteous 'do in 1976 when the Tribe dealt him to the Bombers (the Yankees have long had strict guidelines regarding the hair length and facial hair of its players). Gamble was only pictured with his afro and in a Yankees uniform on one baseball card - the 1976 Topps Traded card. Notably, however, the Yankees' hat and uni shown in the photo were airbrushed (and badly) when the Traded set was issued in 1976 after the trade. 

Gamble reportedly was told by Steinbrenner that he'd get his Yanks uni when he cut his hair. Teammate Elston Howard took Gamble for his famous haircut. 

“At times, you might try to sneak it and grow it a little longer than you should," Gamble said, "but, you got to do something about your hair if you want to wear those pinstripes. They want you to look neat in them.”

Legend has it that cutting his locks cost Gamble an endorsement deal with Afro Sheen, but that Steinbrenner paid Gamble what he would've earned for the endorsement deal.

Gamble retired after the 1985 season, having played his last game with the Chicago White Sox. He never made an all-star team or led the league in any statistical category, though I would bet that many people remember him more than they remember some of the other players who made multiple all-star teams. Cecil Cooper anyone?