September 22, 2017

Tom Gamboa: A Baseball Life

November 15, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

In baseball, players typically receive all the glory when it comes to contributions to the game. After all, it’s a lot easier to recognize someone who has accumulated statistics or made a spectacular play that is captured on film. However, there are many other to be celebrated—those identify and help the players reach their fullest potential. One of the best in recent years is Tom Gamboa, who has handled numerous roles as scout, coach and manager, and is still building his résumé.

A college player in the 1960s, Gamboa was a good player but quickly realized that if he were to stay in the game he would need to do so in a different capacity. He initially found work as a scout and parlayed that into a career now in its fifth decade of various roles in baseball. He has managed 11 years in the minors, to the tune of a .532 winning percentage—including managing the Brooklyn Cyclones (the Single-A team of the New York Mets) for the past two years. He has also served as coach for a variety of minor league and major league teams.

Despite all of the great work he has done, his biggest moment in the baseball spotlight came in extremely unfortunate circumstances. In 2002, while coaching first base for the Kansas City Royals in Chicago’s Comiskey Park, he was the victim of an unprovoked attack by two fans who rushed him during the game while his back was turned. Fortunately, Gamboa was able to persevere and continue his career.

At the age of 67, Gamboa is still going strong with his baseball career. Although he is dedicated to the game, he is an even more dedicated father. Who knows when he will decide to call it a career and move on to something different. Honestly, that will probably never happen to this baseball lifer, who remains a behind-the-scene jewel of the game.

Tom Gamboa Interview

You had a great playing career with UC Santa Barbara; what position did you play and how long did you pursue a professional playing career?: I played mostly center field but also a little bit of first base. After college I played two years in Canada and was a player/manager and a two-year All Star, but I quickly realized there were a lot better players than me and my future would be in coaching.

How did you land your first job with a major league team (scout for the Baltimore Orioles in 1973)?: While in college I played four years of summer ball in the California Collegiate League with a team of the Baltimore Orioles and my manager became a top scout with Baltimore. With his influence I was hired as a scout in 1974, which started my 10-year scouting career.

Who is the best player you ever scouted in person?: Best players I scouted would be Ozzie Smith, Shawn Dunston, Gary Sheffield and Barry Bonds. Best players I was involved with signing would be Dale Sveum and Dion James.

Out of scouting, coaching or managing, which is the toughest, and which do you enjoy the most?: Scouting would be the toughest for me. Very difficult to project what type of player a high school youngster will be in five years. A lot of projection is involved and the competition gets so much better from high school to college to minor leagues to the major leagues!

What is the most talented team you have ever coached or managed?: My most talented team would be in Puerto Rico in the winter of 1988-89; the Mayaguez Indios. More than 20 players on that team went on to have extensive major league careers. The most notable would be third baseman Ken Caminiti, center fielder Steve Finley, right-handed pitcher Roberto Hernandez and right-handed pitcher Jeff Brantley. We won the Puerto Rican League Championship and finished second in the Caribbean World Series.

You were a 20-year-old John Smoltz’s manager for the 1987 Glens Falls Tigers. What kind of pitcher was he back then, and what kind of future did you think he had at that time?: Yes, in 1987 John Smoltz was only 20-years old and was already in Double-A. He had a high ERA and poor win/loss record due to lack of control, as he averaged over five walks per nine innings, yet he was voted best pitching prospect in the league as he had the best fastball and slider of any pitcher in the league. He was a can’t-miss prospect by everyone. He simply needed more innings to refine his control, and he also needed more confidence in himself, which he obviously found very quickly as his rise to stardom in Atlanta came very quickly!

When your baseball career is finally over, what would you most like to be remembered for?: Unfortunately, I will always be remembered as the coach that was attacked in Chicago during a major league game as a coach with the Kansas City Royals, but I would like to be remembered as a baseball lifer that had an incredible passion for the game of baseball, and a fundamental teacher of the game who got the most out of his teams and players and also made them better people for having played for me!

Andrew Martin is the founder of “The Baseball Historian” blog where he posts his thoughts about baseball on a regular basis. You can also reach him on Twitter at @historianandrew or on Facebook.

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