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White Sox

Former White Sox slugger and Cubs draft pick Oscar Gamble dies at 68

FILE - In this April 11, 1977, file photo, Chicago White Sox baseball player Oscar Gamble poses.  Gamble, an outfielder who hit 200 home runs over 17 major league seasons, died Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018, of a rare tumor of the jaw. He was 68. (AP Photo/CEK, File)
FILE - In this April 11, 1977, file photo, Chicago White Sox baseball player Oscar Gamble poses. Gamble, an outfielder who hit 200 home runs over 17 major league seasons, died Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018, of a rare tumor of the jaw. He was 68. (AP Photo/CEK, File)

The 1977 White Sox were a fundamentally flawed team. That is, they were flawed in executing some of the fundamentals of baseball.

But boy, were they fun to watch.

One of the players who made them so much fun was Oscar Gamble, who died Wednesday. He was 68.

Gamble made up the left-handed half of a power-hitting duo with the right-handed Richie Zisk, leading a ’77 team dubbed the South Side Hitmen.

Playing in pitcher-friendly Comiskey Park, the 1977 Sox went on to an improbable record of 90-72 and set a then home-attendance record of 1,657,135 fans after a woeful 1976 team drew only 914,945.

Gamble put up a line of .297/.386/.588 with 31 home runs and 83 RBIs, the best year of his career. Zisk went .290/.355/.514 with 30 homers and 101 RBIs.

Along with the power of Eric Soderholm (25 homers), Chet Lemon (19), Lamar Johnson (18) and Jim Spencer (18), the South Side Hitmen led the American League West for 52 days, with their biggest lead coming July 31, when 50,412 shoehorned into Comiskey Park for a doubleheader split with the Kansas City Royals.

But alas, the lead would not last, and the Sox wound up third, behind the division-winning Royals and the Texas Rangers.

The team would not stay together either, as cash-strapped owner Bill Veeck – in his second go-round on the South Side – allowed Zisk to walk away to the Rangers and Gamble to the Padres via free agency after the 1977 season.

Gamble played for both the Cubs and the White Sox. A native of Ramer, Alabama, he was the 16th-round draft choice of the Cubs in 1968.

While trying in vain to hold on to their lead in the NL East, the Cubs called up the 19-year-old Gamble in August 1969. He wound up playing in 24 games and hitting one homer for a team that famously collapsed down the stretch, losing to the Miracle New York Mets.
After the 1969 season, Gamble was involved in the first of two interesting trades involving Chicago’s baseball teams.

On Nov. 17, 1969, the Cubs dealt Gamble and pitcher Dick Selma to the Phillies for veteran hitter Johnny Callison. There were whispers that the Cubs did not like Gamble’s night-life habits.

The Phillies traded Gamble to the Cleveland Indians in November 1972, and Gamble gained a measure of fame while with the Indians for his large afro, a hairdo that made it difficult for him to put on his batting helmet.

The Indians traded Gamble to the Yankees for the 1976 season. Gamble came to the White Sox at the end of spring training in 1977. The Sox had a budding young star in shortstop Bucky Dent, but he and his agent, former NFL star Nick Buoniconti, became embroiled in a contract dispute with the Sox.

Veeck and Sox general manager Roland Hemond dealt Dent to New York for Gamble and a pair of pitchers, one of whom was future Cy Young winner LaMarr Hoyt.

Gamble made it clear he wouldn’t re-sign with the Sox unless they came up with big money. Veeck didn’t have it, and the South Side Hitmen forever will be remembered as one-hit wonders. That Sox team hit 192 homers, second best to the Red Sox. They also scored 844 runs, third in the AL. However, the pitchers’ ERA of 4.25 was 10th in the league, and Sox fielders committed 159 errors and turned the fewest double plays in the AL.

Gamble hit only seven homers for the Padres in 1978, and after the season, San Diego traded him to Texas. Gamble ended up back with the Yankees in the middle of the 1979 season. He played for the Yankees through 1984 before finishing his career with the White Sox in 1985, playing in 70 games.

For his career, which spanned parts of 17 seasons, Gamble put up a line of .265/.356/.454 with an OPS of .811. He hit 200 home runs and drove in 666 runs.

Fans on both sides of Chicago can only wonder what might have been if Gamble had stuck around town a little longer.

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