He’s old enough to have been discovered by Cubs’ scout and Negro League legend Buck O’Neil. Old enough to have gotten the last hit—a game winner—at Connie Mack Stadium. He’s young enough to have hit against Roger Clemens. In between, he made baseball card history. The 1976 Topps Traded Oscar Gamble is an all-time classic. The man with the Afro turns 64 years old today.
And he’s bald.
Yes, it’s been a while since that four-inch high ‘fro provided the perfect nest for a baseball cap. You don’t need disco records or wide-leg pants to teach you about the 1970’s. You just need a picture of Oscar Gamble. The card stands out—even among Hank Aaron and George Brett and Dennis Eckersley’s rookie.
He still gets them in the mail all the time. Collectors wanting him to autograph this card from another place and time. Ironically, the airbrushed cap says “NY” on it because Gamble had been traded from Cleveland to the Yankees in the off-season and before he could wear the pinstripes, owner George Steinbrenner made him cut that big head of hair as per team rules. He stayed a year; long enough to help the Yankees get back to the post-season.
He hung around for 17 seasons and lest you think his career was all about the Afro, let’s be real. You don’t play in the big leagues that long without some skill. Oscar debuted at age 19 in 1970 and played for a total of seven teams before he finally quit in 1985. The Afro returned in 1977 when he was traded to the White Sox and had his best year: 31 home runs, 83 RBI and a .297 batting average. He came back to the Yankees and in 1981, he played a big role in the Yankees’ playoff win over the Milwaukee Brewers with a couple of homers.
He finished his career with 1,195 hits, exactly 200 jacks and a .265 career average.
He missed out on the really big money but he did OK. He became a player agent later in life and still coaches at youth sports clinics.
His Afro remained a pop culture icon memorable enough to get a mention on a baseball-themed episode of The Simpsons.
Because of its uniqueness, that 1976 Topps Traded card is often missing from dealer’s show binders as collectors and fans who’ve heard of them snap them up. It’s not rare—just awesome. You can find them on eBay all the time.
So Happy Birthday, Oscar and thanks for one of the greatest modern era baseball cards we’ve ever laid eyes on.