Sunday, January 31, 2010

17 Days Until Spring Training: Oscar Gamble

In the history of the franchise, number seventeen has been worn by 52 different Yankees, making it the 7th most commonly adorned combination of numerals to be sewn on Pinstripes. Gene Michael's forty years of service to the Yankees sort of necessitated that we give him the nod today, but it easily could have gone to others.
  • Vic Raschi was a top starter on six championship teams in the late forties and early fifties.
  • Enos Slaughter, a Hall of Famer for his exploits with the Cardinals, served as a valuable reserve outfielder and pinch hitting specialist who won three pennants and two championships in two stints with the club in the fifties.
  • Mickey Rivers played center fielder and hit lead off on three pennant winners and two championship teams in the seventies.
  • Well known Yankees Tommy Henrich, Bobby Richardson, and Bobby Murcer all wore 17 at some point in their Yankee careers as well, but all had their best years with other numbers on their backs.
But, there's one other Yankee who spent several years wearing number seventeen who I just can't pass up, because it gives me an excuse to post this:
Oscar Gamble, like Slaughter, served two stints as a Yankee. As this poorly doctored 1976 Topps Traded baseball card indicates, he was initially acquired on November 22, 1975. The Yankees shipped pitcher Pat Dobson to Cleveland in exchange for Gamble. The Yankees had just completed a two year exile in Shea Stadium while Yankee Stadium was remodeled. The remodeled Stadium didn't have quite the inviting right field porch that the original had, but it was still just 310 feet down the right field line. It was tailor made for a power hitting lefty like Gamble.

Unfortunately, the Yankees grooming policy forced Gamble to trim his afro. While he still kept the style, it never appeared in pinstripes in its full glory as above. During that first stint with the Yankees, Gamble wore #23. He split time between DH and right field and despite a poor .232 batting average, he posted an OBP just shy of league average, and used 31 extra base hits to post a slugging percentage 65 points better than league average. As expected, he thrived in Yankee Stadium, posting a .992 OPS in the Bronx and hitting 15 of his 17 home runs in the home whites as the Yankees won their first pennant in twelve years.

The following spring, in need of shortstop, the Yankees sent Gamble to the White Sox just prior to Opening Day, getting Bucky Dent in return. Despite a career year for the Pale Hose, Gamble bounced around again, to San Diego in 1978, then to Texas in '79.

On August 1, 1979, the Yankees sent the disgruntled, aforementioned Rivers to Texas, receiving Gamble in return. This time he donned number seventeen. He would remain with the Yankees through the 1984 season as a pinch hitter, reserve outfielder, and DH, batting out of his trademarked deep crouch as taking advantage of the park to hit another seventy home runs. For his career in the House That Ruth Built he posted a .969 OPS and hit 60 of his 200 career home runs.

Gamble was a fan and media favorite throughout his time in the Bronx, despite often being unhappy with his lack of a starting role. His 1984 Topps card to the right is one of the first Yankee cards I pulled from a pack as a kid. Gamble's a regular at Old Timers Day, and despite being bald these days, his introduction is always accompanied with that 1976 Topps Traded card being displayed on the DiamondVision. It's still a crowd pleaser.

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