Tears For Oscar Gamble

By Ray Negron

When I first started with the Yankees as a batboy in 1973 Ron Blomberg used to tease me about my Afro hairdo. He and Bobby Murcer called me the “Oscar Gamble of batboys.”

George Steinbrenner used to get on my case about getting a haircut and I always said that I would but I never did. One day the Yankees were playing the Cleveland Indians and Oscar Gamble hit a double. The next hitter was Walt “No Neck” Williams who got a base hit to center field. Bobby Murcer fielded the ball and threw a bullet to catcher Thurman Munson who collided with and in one motion tagged Oscar Gamble out. The first thing that the fans noticed was that with all the dust coming up all you could see was Oscars giant afro. I think the fans appreciated his hair-raising Afro as much as they loved Bobby Murcer’s great throw.

Oscar Gamble: his trade to the Yankees before the 1976 season brought about the demise of his large afro hairstyle. [Pintrest — MLB.com]

In the spring of 1976, Gamble joined the Yankees along with Mickey Rivers, Dock Ellis and Willie Randolph. The first thing that the players on the team noticed was how quickly Gamble cut his hair. A lot of the guys didn’t think he would cut it because his hair was his trade mark, also like Samson in the Bible, that’s where he got his home run power from. Also you know how superstitious baseball players are. Not Oscar though. He wanted to be a Yankee at all costs and that first year he would Always say, ” I’m just happy to be here.”

Mr Steinbrenner really got to know the real Oscar Gamble for the first time at a team function that spring. The Boss had a lot of his old college buddies there along with the head of U.S.Steel and other major corporations. As the Boss was talking at the podium about the importance of that season for New York, Oscar screamed out that it was also important for the new Mercedes that he wanted to buy.

The Boss and all the players broke out in crazy laughter. Oscar also said, “Excuse me, Mr Steinbrenner, I heard that Lou Piniella is a neighbor of yours in Tampa and in the winter in order to make extra income he is your landscaper.” “Well, I can detail your cars if you’d like.” That night, Oscar was as funny as Richard Pryor could ever be and the Boss loved it.

On the drive back to the hotel I will never forget Mr Steinbrenner say that Gamble would be great for the clubhouse because his humor would keep everyone loose.

In the Spring of 1977, the Boss knew that he had to upgrade the short stop position and the thought of getting Bucky Dent was something that he could not pass up on. The only way this deal was going to get done was Oscar Gamble. As much as the Boss did not want to trade Gamble, the betterment of the team always came first, however  I always knew that the first chance that the Boss got to get Gamble back, he would jump at it.

That opportunity came in July of 1979. He got Oscar back from the Texas Rangers for one of his all time favorite players Mickey Rivers. The reason for this trade is too personal and complex to explain but when you find out why, you would understand the true human and loving side of George Steinbrenner through both of these players.

When Thurman Munson died, Oscar and Rivers held hands like the brothers that they were and along with the Boss and the rest of the team, cried uncontrollably and unashamed. Thurman loved and respected Oscar so much that it made you proud. Oscar loved playing cards with Thurman and picked up many tricks that Thurman had learned from Gene Michael. In those days, we only had one bus on the road so we were always together. The players were closer than they are today. When we got on the bus after games everyone had their set seats.

I think what bothered me the most was that Oscar felt more badly for me than I for him. He was one of my heroes and he knew that. He also felt that he let me down but in reality I let him down because I knew that he wasn’t one hundred percent. My trainer, Steve Davis, told me that he wasn’t ready but I let Oscar charm me with one of his classic lines, “GAMBLE WITH GAMBLE!” It was a line that he used with the Yankees often before hitting big home runs. So, I hoped that history would repeat itself. In Oscar’s case, this time it didn’t.

As years passed, I would see Oscar at Old Timers Day and Yankees fantasy camp and was always so happy to see him and all the players from that era.

I received a call from Doc Gooden earlier this week telling me that Oscar had died.

Oscar had been suffering from mouth cancer, even though he never chewed tobacco and didn’t smoke. He suffered from this painful disease for several years and fought it like a champion because he loved life so much. The last time we talked he said, “When you write about me, don’t write about the baseball player, write about the guy that loved being with his teammates and family.”

When it came to Oscar Gamble, Reggie Jackson said it best” “Oscar was a sweet, decent man without a single ounce of malice in his heart. He was a cool breeze out of Alabama.”

Oscar wanted people to know that he was a good person that loved his family and friends very much and loved and appreciated the fans of this great game. To the end I can honestly say that Oscar was always grateful to the Yankees because he was always able to put on the pinstripes at old timers day and fantasy camp.

Rest In Peace, my friend.

Ray Negron has been associated with the NY Yankees for 40 years. He was a batboy and stayed with the organization and currently is a community consultant with the team and organized the Hanks Yanks youth baseball program with co-owner Hank Steinbrenner. Listen to Ray weekends n00n-2pm ESPN 1050AM  Impact

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