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Original Issue

OSCAR GAMBLE 1949-2018


IT REMAINS the most famous hairdo in the history of baseball, if not sports: the glorious Afro that warmed the head of Indians outfielder Oscar Gamble in the mid-1970s. It made wearing a hat or a helmet such a chore that Gamble used a visor in spring training and would've done the same during the season if rules permitted.

But when Gamble, who died of cancer last week, was traded to the Yankees in 1975, manager Billy Martin refused to give him his uniform at spring training until he had the 'fro shorn. With his wife and Yankees coach Elston Howard along for support, Gamble went to a hotel barber. More than an hour—and $30, quite a sum for a haircut back then—later, the 'do was done. "I feel like I'm naked," Gamble said at the time. "You know, I had an offer from Afro Sheen to do some commercials this summer, but now I don't have no hair."

"If I see Oscar can't hit without his hair, we'll get it back," Martin joked. "I had it saved, just in case."

It turned out he could hit just fine. Gamble smacked 200 homers and slugged .454 in a 17-year career in which he rarely faced southpaws. The lefty batter crouched low to the ground so he could get a better look at incoming pitches. "He was a dead lowball hitter. If you pitched him down and in, it was not going to end up well for you," says Duane Kuiper, a teammate for two seasons in Cleveland. "He was a great dude. He was funny, he had a great laugh. I wish I could have played with him a lot longer."