Astros who made history: Bob Watson
Younger fans probably aren’t familiar with the storied career of Bob Watson. In 1965 the Houston Colt 45’s moved into the new Harris County Domed Stadium and changed their name to the Astros. That year they also signed Bob Watson, a 19 year-old free agent catcher from Los Angeles. Watson got a taste of the big leagues the following September, making one plate appearance as a pinch-hitter. After bouncing up and down between Houston and the minors for three more seasons Watson discarded the tools of ignorance and established himself as the Astros every day left-fielder. Watson was a cornerstone of the Astros lineup during the seventies, consistently ranking among the team’s leaders in most offensive categories. In the middle of the decade Watson was moved to first base, where he flourished.
In stark contrast to his quiet and unassuming demeanor Watson was affectionately known as “Bull.” Watson was a two time All Star with the Astros and also made some history along the way. On May 4, 1975 in San Francisco, Watson raced home on a Milt May homer to score the one millionth run in MLB history. At a time when million dollar contracts were inconceivable Watson earned a $10,000 bonus from MLB for crossing the plate in the timeliest of manners.
Watson was traded to the Red Sox during the 1979 season, having never enjoyed the experience of post-season play with the Astros. He left Houston with a career slash line of .297/.364/.444 and an OPS+ of 130. Those are excellent numbers even by today’s standards. Take into consideration the facts that the era was pitcher dominated and Watson played his home games at the Astrodome and his numbers are very impressive, in my opinion. Watson hit .337/.401/.548 in 84 games for Boston but the Sox failed to make the playoffs. On September 15, 1979 Watson hit for the cycle, duplicating a feat he had accomplished as an Astro and making him the first player to do so in both leagues.
Watson’s time in Boston was short-lived. He became a Free Agent after the ’79 season and signed with the Yankees. Watson finally realized his playoff dream in the Bronx. In the 1981 World Series he hit .318 with two homers and seven RBIs but the Yankees lost to the Dodgers in six games. Watson was traded to Atlanta during the ’82 season and finished his career in 1984 as a Brave.
In addition to being a standout performer on the diamond Watson was also a student of the game. “Bull” entered the coaching ranks after his playing days and was the hitting coach for the pennant winning 1988 Oakland A’s. After coaching, Watson moved into baseball operations. In 1994 the Astros hired Watson as their General Manager. Shortly after becoming the first African-American G.M. in big league history Watson was diagnosed with prostate cancer. “Bull” would win his battle with the disease and after two seasons with the Astros he would become the G.M. of the New York Yankees. In 1996 Watson’s Yankees won their first World Series since 1978. Watson would leave the Yankees after the ’97 season and his autobiography Survive to win was released that same year.
Watson had broken down barriers, overcome adversity, and reached the pinnacle of the sport, but he wasn’t done yet. After leaving the Yankees Watson went on to become the Chairman of U.S. Olympic Baseball and assembled the team and coaching staff that brought home the gold in 2000. Watson also served as the Executive Vice President of MLB in charge of discipline. He continues giving back to the game by speaking at cancer awareness seminars held for players and coaches. Watson still lives in the area and became a member of the Larry Dierker Chapter of SABR in 2011.