Gamble made his major league debut with the Chicago Cubs in 1969. He was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies after that season and spent three years with that club before being traded to the Indians following the 1972 season. I was 16 years old when he became an Indian in 1973, old enough to no longer depend upon my parents to take me to Municipal Stadium to catch Tribe games, so I got to see Gamble play frequently.
Managed by the nondescript Ken Aspromonte, the Indians weren’t a very good team during the Gamble years, finishing sixth twice and fourth once in the six-team AL East. But they did have some decent hitters in that era, and Gamble was one of them. In 1973, his first year with the Tribe, he led the team in slugging, OPS, and OPS+. He did that again in 1974, but also led the team that year in runs scored, batting average, and on-base percentage. By 1975, the Indians added Rico Carty and Boog Powell to the roster, each of whom had a great year at the plate. But Gamble was right there behind them, finishing the 1975 campaign with a very respectable OPS+ of 131.
Gamble was traded to the New York Yankees for pitcher Pat Dobson after the 1975 season. It would seem that the Yankees got the better deal in that trade, as Gamble would go on to play ten more seasons in the MLB. Dobson pitched well for the Tribe in 1976, but pitched poorly for them in 1977, and was released by the club in April of 1978 without appearing in a single game that season, thus ending his playing career.
In 1990, Gamble played for the St. Lucie (Florida) Legends of the short-lived Senior Professional Baseball Association, batting .273.
Gamble is best known today, as he was during his playing days, for his magnificent Afro hairstyle. Although it was not uncommon to see young African-American men of that era rocking the ‘fro, it was decidedly rare to see a major league baseball player with one. Gamble couldn’t even begin to contain his hair underneath his cap and helmet, and he would frequently lose his cap while rounding the bases, or while trying to track down a fly ball in the outfield. This habit, combined with his hitting ability and affable personality, made Gamble a fan favorite during his three seasons with the Tribe.
Gamble was never an All-Star, and was usually not one of the two or three best players on his team in a given year, with the exception of his time with the Indians. But he was always one of my favorite players, and I am saddened to learn of his death. Long before anyone ever heard of Ice-T, he was Cleveland’s “O.G.” May he rest in peace.