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Gamble, known for big hair, lefty power, dies

Popular slugger played 7 seasons with Yankees, hit 31 homers for White Sox in '77
MLB.com @BryanHoch

NEW YORK -- Oscar Gamble, a personable lefty-swinging hitter who cracked 200 homers in 17 big league seasons and was popularly known for the large Afro hairstyle he sported in the 1970s, died Wednesday at age 68.

Gamble's death was confirmed by Andrew Levy, his agent. His wife, Lovell Woods Gamble, told The Associated Press that Gamble died in Birmingham, Ala., nine days after checking into a hospital seeking treatment for a rare tumor of the jaw.

NEW YORK -- Oscar Gamble, a personable lefty-swinging hitter who cracked 200 homers in 17 big league seasons and was popularly known for the large Afro hairstyle he sported in the 1970s, died Wednesday at age 68.

Gamble's death was confirmed by Andrew Levy, his agent. His wife, Lovell Woods Gamble, told The Associated Press that Gamble died in Birmingham, Ala., nine days after checking into a hospital seeking treatment for a rare tumor of the jaw.

"It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of former Yankee Oscar Gamble," the Yankees said in a statement. "His prodigious power, unique style and joy in wearing pinstripes made him a favorite of fans and of the Steinbrenner family."

Tweet from @ALevyNYC: He was the player on the Yankees known for big hair. But those who knew him best will remember his big heart. R.I.P. Oscar Gamble. @Yankees @MLB pic.twitter.com/QMYVDLob2i

Gamble played seven of his 17 Major League seasons with the Yankees, who employed him as a pull hitter who could platoon or come off the bench and take aim at the short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium, in 1976 and again from 1979-84.

Gamble made legendary O'Neil proud

Gamble played seven of his 17 Major League seasons with the Yankees, who employed him as a pull hitter who could platoon or come off the bench and take aim at the short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium, in 1976 and again from 1979-84.

An outfielder and designated hitter, Gamble hit a career-high 31 home runs for the "South Side Hitmen" White Sox in 1977 and also spent time with the Cubs, Phillies, Indians, Rangers and Padres, batting .265/.356/.454 with 666 RBIs in 5,197 plate appearances.

"He's just one of the funniest guys that I've even been around, even professional comedians," Hall of Fame right-hander Rich "Goose" Gossage told the AP. "We all knew he was going through some tough times, and it's kind of frustrating just to have to sit back and watch one of your close friends go through what he went through."

Gamble was most famous for his hair, the mass of which could barely be contained by a batting helmet, which would invariably come off his head when he ran the bases. Images of him and his large hair are still shown among highlights from the era on television and in ballparks, and his 1976 Topps baseball card, featuring an airbrushed Yankees cap over his Afro, remains among the most memorable and recognizable.

Gamble had to cut his hair shorter, though, after the Yanks acquired him from the Indians in a trade during the 1975-76 offseason, and again after the Yankees reacquired him from the Rangers in '79.

Video: 1981 ALDS Gm5: Gamble's homer gives Yanks lead

Scouted by the legendary Buck O'Neil, Gamble was drafted in 1968 by the Cubs, for whom he debuted in 1969. He appeared in 1,584 big league games from 1969-85 and twice ranked in the top 10 in slugging in the American League: in '74 for the Indians and '77 for the White Sox.

Gamble was part of the April 1977 trade in which the Yankees sent him and right-hander LaMarr Hoyt to the White Sox in exchange for shortstop Bucky Dent. Gamble rejoined the Yanks in a trade that sent center fielder Mickey Rivers to Texas, and in '81 he followed Reggie Jackson's homer with one of his own, which gave the Yankees the lead in an eventual 7-3 win in the decisive Game 5 of the AL Division Series against the Brewers. Gamble went 5-for-9 in that series, hitting a double and two homers.

Gamble's wife said he was diagnosed with ameloblastoma about nine years ago, according to the AP. It became ameloblastic carcinoma in 2016 and he underwent several surgeries. She said he never chewed tobacco.

"In recent years, his appearances at Old-Timers' Day and work at our Fantasy Camp in Florida delighted those who got to reconnect with his personality and love of the game," the Yankees said. "Oscar was a treasured member of the Yankees family and will be deeply missed by our entire organization. We offer our deepest condolences to his family, friends and all who knew him."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook. Bob Dittmeier, an editor for MLB.com, contributed to this story.

Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians