River Region RBI is proud to pay tribute to several of Alabama’s home grown talent who made their mark on the game in the Big Leagues. Our divisions are named after professional coaches and players that have not only paved the way, but have served as role models and inspirations to millions , while staying humble enough to lend a hand in getting our program off the ground.
Frank Evans (December 1, 1921 – August 3, 2012) was a professional baseball player in the Negro leagues.
He played for multiple Negro league teams in his career, which began in 1937. He played for the Memphis Red Sox, Kansas City Monarchs, Detroit Stars, Cleveland Buckeyes, Birmingham Black Barons and Philadelphia Stars. He manned multiple positions, including catcher, first base, outfield and occasionally pitcher.
Lou Thornton was born on Friday, April 26, 1963, in Montgomery, Alabama and is a graduate of Jeff Davis High School. Thornton was 21 years old when he broke into the big leagues on April 8, 1985, with the Toronto Blue Jays. He also spent time with the New York Mets. A staple in the local baseball community, Thornton is an instructor at the University of Auburn-Montgomery. He has also managed the independent club, the Montgomery Wings.
Ron "Papa Jack" Jackson (born May 9, 1953 in Birmingham, Alabama) is a coach and a former player in Major League Baseball. He was the hitting coach for the Boston Red Sox in 2004 when they won their first World Series in 86 seasons.
From 1975 through 1984, Jackson played first base and third base with the California Angels (1975–78, 1982–84), Minnesota Twins (1979–81), Detroit Tigers (1981) and Baltimore Orioles (1984). He batted and threw right-handed.
Jackson played for managers Gene Mauch, Sparky Anderson, Dick Williams and Jim Fregosi. With the Angels, he hit a career-high .297 in 1978, and in 1979 posted personal highs in hits (158), doubles (40), home runs (14), RBI (68), runs (85) and games (153) for Minnesota. In that season, his .9943 fielding percentage at first base broke Rod Carew’s Twins’ record.
Following his retirement as a player, Jackson coached for the Brewers, Dodgers and White Sox systems. The 2006 season marked his 18th year as a major league or minor league hitting coach, and his fourth with the Boston Red Sox. In his first two seasons with Boston, the Red Sox led the majors in runs, batting average, doubles, extra-base hits, total bases, on-base percentage and slugging average. In 2003 the Sox set ML records for extra-base hits, total bases and slugging, finishing one off the major league lead with 238 home runs. The Red Sox tied an ML record with 373 doubles in 2004.
Oscar Charles Gamble (born December 20, 1949) is a former outfielder and designated hitter in Major League Baseball. He played for 17 seasons, from 1969 to 1985, on seven different teams: the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees on two separate occasions, as well as the Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, Cleveland Indians, San Diego Padres, and Texas Rangers.
Born in Ramer, Alabama, Gamble was discovered playing baseball in a semi-professional league by legendary Negro League baseball player Buck O'Neil, who was working as a scout for the Chicago Cubs at the time. O'Neil convinced the Cubs to draft Gamble, which they did in the sixteenth round.
Nicknamed the Big O by Yankees announcer Phil Rizzuto, Gamble was a relatively small man, listed at 5 feet, 11 inches tall and 165 pounds. He still hit 200 career home runs in just over 9000 major league at bats. Oscar’s career peaked in 1977 with the White Sox, when he hit 31 home runs and tallied 83 RBI. After an ill-fated, injury-plagued year in San Diego, he returned to the American League in 1979 to hit a career-best .358 batting average, slamming 19 home runs with the Yankees and Rangers. (He did not have enough plate appearances to qualify for the American League batting title.)
Unlike some players who failed to cope with the New York media, Oscar thrived on it, and was always a favorite with sportswriters. Gamble, whose hitting prowess was overshadowed by his famously large Afro hairdo, has the distinction of logging the last hit and RBI at Philadelphia’s Connie Mack Stadium on October 1, 1970. His 10th-inning single scored Tim McCarver with the run that gave the Phillies the 2-1 win in the stadium’s final game. Coincidentally, that feat was also overshadowed as unruly fans stormed the field during and after the game to claim bases, infield dirt, seats, and other various stadium items.
In 1976, Gamble helped the Yankees return to prominence as the “Bronx Bombers” won their first American League pennant in 12 seasons, hitting 17 home runs and 57 RBI. His left-handed power stroke was ideal for the renowned short right field fence at Yankee Stadium. Returning to the Yankees in 1979, he would settle into a limited role with the team, aiding the Yankees once again to an AL East division title in 1980 and a World Series appearance in 1981.
Notably, Gamble also finished with more career walks (610) than strikeouts (546). He was considered a below-average fielder, and consequently played over a third of his games as a designated hitter, but he had a good arm.
The New York Mets drafted Long in the first round (20th pick) of the 1994 amateur draft. On July 23, 1999, the Mets traded him and minor leaguer Leo Vasquez to the Oakland Athletics for Kenny Rogers. On November 26, 2003, the Athletics traded him and Ramon Hernandez to the San Diego Padres for Mark Kotsay. On November 8, 2004, the Padres traded Long, Dennis Tankersley, and cash to the Kansas City Royals for Ryan Bukvich and Darrell May. In 2006, Long signed a minor league contract with the New York Yankees, who later called him to the major league level on May 21, 2006, to replace an injured Hideki Matsui.