Bob Watson was a first baseman and left fielder who played for the Houston Astros, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves from 1966 to 1984. In his playing career, Watson batted .295 with 184 home runs and 989 runs batted in and he was selected to two All-Star teams. He batted .371 in 17 post-season games while striking out just twice. Watson was thought to have scored the millionth run in baseball history, though this was later found to be incorrect.
Watson coached baseball after retiring as a player. After a return to the Yankees serving as general manager (GM), they won the World Series in 1996. He served as Major League Baseball’s (MLB) vice president in charge of discipline and vice president of rules and on-field operations until 2010.
Watson was a dependable hitter whose home run numbers were somewhat hurt by the fact that he played the majority of his career in the Astrodome.
Watson was credited with scoring the 1,000,000th run in major league history on May 4, 1975 at 12:32 in the afternoon. Watson scored from second base on a three-run homer by teammate Milt May at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. It was known that the 999,999th run had already scored, with sponsored updates being provided by and to every ballpark. Despite the lack of in-game urgency, Watson ran at full speed, reaching home plate approximately four seconds before Dave Concepción, who had just homered in Cincinnati and was also racing around the basepaths. “I never ran so fast in my entire life,” said Concepcion. But it was Watson who won $10,000 and one million Tootsie Rolls provided by the event’s sponsor. The 1,000,000th run total only included runs scored in the National and American Leagues (not “3rd” major leagues, such as the Federal League). Watson joked that in the aftermath of the event, his fan mail doubled—from 4 letters to 8. Later, more accurate recalculations of baseball’s record-keeping showed that neither Watson nor Concepcion scored baseball’s actual millionth run, and it is not known who did.
On June 13, 1979, Watson was traded to the Red Sox. His first season in Boston, he hit for the cycle on September 15. Having already hit for the cycle with the Astros in 1977, he became the first player to accomplish this feat in both the National League and American League.
Following the season, he signed as a free agent with the New York Yankees. With the Yankees, he reached the post-season for the first time in his career, losing to the Kansas City Royals in the 1980 American League Championship Series. A year later, Watson reached the World Series for the only time in his career. Watson hit two home runs and batted .319 with seven runs batted in, but the Yankees lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games.
On April 23, 1982, Watson was traded to the Atlanta Braves for a prospect named Scott Patterson, who later became an actor best known for Gilmore Girls. Watson helped propel the Braves to the 1982 National League West title. In 1983, he hit .309 mostly as a pinch hitter. He retired after the 1984 season. After retirement, Watson moved into coaching and was the hitting coach on the Oakland A’s 1988 pennant winning team.
At the end of the 1993 season, he was named general manager of the Houston Astros, becoming the second African American to serve as a GM in the major leagues. He served as GM for the New York Yankees from October 23, 1995 to February 2, 1998. The 1996 team won the World Series, the first Yankee team to do so since 1978. He became the first African American GM to win a World Series championship.
After the 1997 season, Watson retired from the Yankees. He served as Major League Baseball’s vice president in charge of discipline and vice president of rules and on-field operations. He was under consideration for the Astros general manager position, but the position was given to Ed Wade, the Philadelphia Phillies’ former GM.
Watson drew criticism late in the 2007 season. Under his watch, Major League Baseball mandated that managers could no longer wear a team issued pullover instead of a uniform jersey top.
“There’s going to be, for lack of a better term, a Francona Rule,” Watson said. “You can only wear your uniform top or jacket. You can’t wear your nightshirt, or whatever it is. You can wear it before games, or after games, but not during games. You have to have your uniform top at all times.”
This caused particular friction between MLB and Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who prefers to wear a pullover due to circulation problems. During game action of the second inning of a Red Sox-Yankees game on August 28, an MLB representative was sent to verify that Francona was wearing a uniform jersey. The Boston media saw this as frivolous, or even biased, due to the public’s indifference toward the issue, the specific use of Francona as an example, and the fact that the representative appeared during an important in-division matchup.
Watson retired from his position with Major League Baseball in 2010.
Smallthoughts: Old School Tuesday Salutes …Bob Watson
September 9, 1966 for the Houston Astros
Last MLB appearance
September 30, 1984 for the Atlanta Braves
Runs batted in
Houston Astros (1966–1979)
Boston Red Sox (1979)
New York Yankees (1980–1982)
Atlanta Braves (1982–1984)
Career highlights and awards
2× All-Star (1973, 1975)