Game to Remember: Bob Watson

Game to Remember: Bob Watson

As part of the Astros' 50th anniversary, the weekly "Game to Remember" series features a former Astros/Colt .45s great discussing his favorite game while playing for the Houston franchise. This week: Bob Watson.

HOUSTON -- Bob Watson was remembered for a lot of things during his stellar baseball career, but speed certainly wasn't one of them. The slugger known as "Bull" stole just 27 bases in his 19 years in the Major Leagues, and he was much more likely to trot around the bases following a home run than swipe second.

Yet it was Watson's legs -- and not his bat -- that propelled him into Major League history on May 4, 1975.

The Astros were playing a Sunday doubleheader at Candlestick Park in San Francisco after Saturday's game was rained out, which was a rarity. The first game of the twin bill started at 12:05 p.m., and was among a full schedule of games that afternoon.

Game to Remember
Slugger Bob Watson was never known for his speed, save for one historic afternoon.
Bob Watson Facts and Figures
  1. Full name: Robert Jose Watson.
  2. Game to Remember: May 4, 1975 (Giants 8, Astros 6)
  3. Nickname: Bull
  4. Jersey number: 27
  5. Primary Position: 1B
  6. Bats/Throws: Right/Right
  7. Born: April 10, 1946
  8. Birthplace: Los Angeles.
  9. Major League debut: Sept. 9, 1966.
  10. Years in Major Leagues: 19.
  11. Years with Astros: 14 (1966-79).
  12. Other teams: Red Sox (1979), Yankees (1980-82) and Braves (1982-84).
  13. Key stats with Houston: .297 batting average, 139 home runs, 782 RBIs, two-time All-Star.
  14. Claim to fame: Watson became the first African-American GM in baseball history when the Astros named him to the post in 1993, and three years later, he became the first black GM to win the World Series when the Yankees won the Fall Classic.
  15. Did you know? Watson hit a home run in his first World Series at-bat (1981 for the Yankees against the Dodgers)?
  16. What's he doing now? Watson hasn't worked full time in baseball since the end of the 2010 season, when he retired as Major League Baseball's vice president of rules and on-field operations. In all, he worked in baseball as a player, coach and executive for more than 45 years.
All eyes were on the out-of-town scoreboard, because history was going to be made. Baseball was going to celebrate its 1,000,000th run scored and entered the day about 10 runs shy of the mark. The chance to make history wasn't lost on the Astros.

"We knew there was going to have to be 10 runs scored [league-wide] or something, and by the time I came up in the second inning, it was down to three runs that needed to be scored," Watson said.

Watson, batting cleanup and playing first base, began the second by drawing a walk against Giants pitcher John Montefusco. Watson stole second -- which was also a rarity -- and Jose Cruz followed with a walk.

Milt May was next. He clubbed a three-run home run to right field, and Watson began to casually jog around the bases.

"I'm jogging to third like you would when somebody hits a home run, but the third-base area in those days was where the bullpen was, and our guys in the bullpen said, 'Run! Run! Run!'" Watson said. "So I take off on a sprint and I scored the run. Lo and behold, at the same, time Dave Concepcion of the Reds hits a home run and he's racing around the bases. If I hadn't have run and didn't listen to the guys in the bullpen, he would have scored the 1,000,000th run. I beat him by a second and a half."

A representative from the Baseball of Hall Fame took Watson's shoes and uniform, which meant Watson was going to have to break in a new pair of cleats for the second game of the doubleheader (he wound up not playing). May's bat was also headed to the Hall of Fame.

Watson went 0-for-3 with two runs scored in the 8-6 loss to the Giants in the first game of the doubleheader, but his place in history was secure. It was his sweet tooth he'd have to worry about.

The run was sponsored by Tootsie Roll, which awarded Watson with one million of its chewy candies. Watson gave half of the loot to the Boy Scouts of America and the other half to the Girl Scouts of America. The company also awarded him one million pennies ($10,000), which he donated to charity.

Watson was also presented with a platinum watch from Seiko, which he keeps inside a safety deposit box. He has never worn it.

"When I really think back, the one thing that stands out for me is Houston, except maybe for Cesar Cedeno, we were off the beaten track," Watson said. "I think my fan mail was something like four or five letters a week, or something like that. Scoring the 1,000,000th run, it increased to 50-100 per week. It got me on the map a little bit, and I ended up being the answer to a trivia question."

Brian McTaggart is reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.