On the day that Oscar Gamble died, I saw one of his cards for the first time.
It's not as dramatic as it seems. I had not sorted through all of the early '80s cards that Adam sent me a couple of weeks ago. But upon hearing the news of Gamble's passing, I searched through them in a desperate effort to find a new attachment to the recently departed baseball card superstar.
This loss hits me hard.
I pulled Oscar Gamble's card out of one of the few packs of baseball cards I bought that first year I truly collected in 1975.
It was in July. The AM station played Paul McCartney and Wings' "Listen to What the Man Said," The Captain and Tennille's "Love Will Keep Us Together" and 10CC's "I'm Not In Love". Burning lower on the charts was War's "Why Can't We Be Friends," and the already pervasive "Rhinestone Cowboy" by Glenn Campbell.
My parents had taken my brothers and I to a lakeside community in southwestern New York for a week. Friends of my parents and their two daughters went, too. I remember the week being particularly hot. My youngest brother, who was 5 at the time, got sick, and we were all afraid we'd catch it, too.
My greatest want in the world that summer was baseball cards. I had just discovered them the year before, but hadn't purchased my first packs until that spring. Opening those bright red-and-yellow wax wrappers became my only objective.
But money was tight for a 9 year old. I received an allowance, 3 bucks a week. Cards were cheaper then, but $3 still didn't go far. And I couldn't go anywhere without my parents transporting me, so I resorted to incessant begging.
Finally, on at least three occasions that year that I can remember, my brother and I were allowed to walk to the store by ourselves to find baseball cards.
One of those times was while we were on vacation in Cassadaga, N.Y. My brother and one of the girls and I walked together to a drug store in town. It was a rural community -- something I wasn't used to -- and I remember dirt roads and railroad tracks being unusual to me.
I don't remember buying the cards. What I do remember is opening the pack on my bed in the hotel room that I shared with my brother.
I still remember some of the cards that came out the pack (I might've actually bought two of them). Garry Maddox, Clarence Gaston, Dan Spillner, Tito Fuentes, and ...
That is what remains of the original card I pulled out of that pack in July 1975. (I still have the Fuentes, Spillner, Gaston and Maddox, too).
At age 9, I wasn't able to process thoughts as well as I can now. I do remember the card being one of the stars of the pack and liking it. But why? I couldn't tell you that then and I hesitate to decipher it now, 43 years later. My guess is the hair combined with the hot pink-and-yellow border left an impression.
In the years that followed, Gamble was a regular, notable pull as I continued to collect. His career matched up with my first collecting period, what I consider to be the Golden Era of collecting for me.
I do not collect Oscar Gamble cards, I am not that kind of collector. But because I was a steady Topps collector in my formative years, I've managed to accumulate all of Gamble's Topps flagship cards.
I pulled the majority of those cards out of packs while growing up, and later filled in the blanks (the cards from before I started collecting, a couple of elusive ones, like that dastardly '78 card that taunted me from my brother's collection).
Here are a few mostly non-Topps items of Gamble that I also have:
It's not much, but I don't really collect his cards, per se, I collect the era.
This Gamble card is particularly important to collectors, whether they grew up in that era or not.
For me and those who grew up in the '70s, this is our cardboard avatar. Others older than me go with the '52 Mantle. Those younger than me go with the '89 Griffey Jr. But Gamble's outstanding 'fro overshadowing the delightfully dated airbrushed hat and uniform gives my era its voice.
Still Gamble's cards to me are so much more than just this particular card, iconic as it is.
Here are some of the things that I learned about Gamble and baseball from the back of his baseball cards:
-- Oscar Gamble got the last RBI at Connie Mack Stadium.
-- Ron Hunt (whoever he was) held the record for being hit by pitches (as of 1975)
-- The first president to attend an Opening Day was William Howard Taft in 1909.
-- Oscar became the first lefthanded batter in White Sox history to wallop over 30 Homers when he turned trick in 1977.
-- The Dodgers' Hi Myers was caught stealing three times in a game on August 25, 1917
-- (Gamble) Was bothered by a sore toe for most of the 1980 season.
-- Oscar led the Texas League with 52 doubles in San Antonio in 1964 (this was mentioned on 2 different cards).
-- Oscar's wife, Juanita, sang the National Anthem prior to an ALCS game in 1976.
-- Played only basketball at George Washington Carver HS in Montgomery, Ala.
That's a lot of knowledge contributed by Oscar Gamble's cardboard.
Anyway, I actually discovered two new-to-me Gamble cards today.
This was another of the cards in Adam's stash that I've yet to sort through.
The back of that card says that he owns his own disco in Montgomery, Ala.
I knew that fact already, but it took me many, many years to find out because I didn't know I had the 1982 Donruss Oscar Gamble card until today.
Today is also the day that 2018 Topps is supposed to hit the streets. I always try to look for some new cards that day, but after hearing the news, I didn't feel like it. I'd rather just remember opening that '75 pack and seeing that Gamble card for the first time without any other pack-opening cluttering my memories.
RIP, Oscar. You may not be here anymore, but you'll always be a part of my collection, and part of that first collecting year.