Thursday, August 25, 2005

TATB Hall of Fame inductee Oscar Gamble

We don't need Baseball Reference or Peter Gammons to tell us that Oscar Gamble was a dangerous lefthanded power hitter back in his day.

He walloped exactly 200 homers in 1,584 games over 17 big league seasons, homering once in fewer than every 20 at-bats during several years, particularly during a pair of productive part-time stints with the Yankees. Those of us who grew up playing Strat-O-Matic remember him as a board-game superstar, for he was the rare '70s-era slugger who walked more than he struck out. (We Strat geeks were the true trendsetters in being down with OBP, yo.)

And you know what? We here at TATB couldn't give a damn about any of those numbers today. Oh, his on-field accomplishments are fine, but Gamble could have spent his career flailing helplessly like Kevin Millar after a devouring a bucket of KFC and a fifth of Jack, and you'd better believe we'd still come here to honor him today.

Why do we admire him so? Start with the man's name. Oscar Gamble. It oozes cool.Oscar. Gamble. You do not mess with a man named Oscar Gamble. (Hey, didn't Jim Croce sing about him once?) And only a cat with a moniker so smooth could dare attempt The Ultimate 'Fro, let alone pull it off. Think about it. Did, say, Dick Pole have an Afro? No, he did not. He had straight, dorky hair, befitting a person named Dick Pole. Case rested.

The O.G.'s cool factor simply cannot be overstated. He was more suave than Starsky and Hutch put together. (Huggy Bear, also.) He made Shaft look as white as Barry Gibbs's chompers. Should you need a modern point of reference, kiddies, he makes Snoop look as square as that geezer he plays golf with in the car commercials. Ask your dad who the coot is.

Hell, Oscar even made the mid-'70s Chicago White Sox look good. He crunched 31 homers for Chicago in '77 - the year the White Sox, lacking good taste to great comedic effect, paid homage to the toe-tagged disco era by wearing polyester blue jerseys with huge butterfly collars. (Fortunately, they wore shorts only in '76.) Yet Oscar made the look work for him a whole lot better than did, say, Jim Spencer. Actually, if this wasn't the perfect convergence of man, place in time, and hair dryer, I don't know what is. (Okay, maybe this. Or this. But I don't know what else.)

And Oscar's noggin wasn't only fertile ground for hair, but for philosophical thought as well. Consider his well-known quote regarding racism in baseball: "People don't think it be like it is, but it do." Sure, the syntax might give a grammar teacher an aneurysm, but he point is clear and the sentiment sharp. And maybe his awkward words of wisdom would not have stuck with us for three decades had he chosen more conventional phrasing. Oscar said what he meant, and meant what he said, and for that - and a few other Super Fly reasons - we're proud to call him a TATB Hall of Famer.

Now if only he would give us his pick for the display case.