He scored the 1,000,000th, and now he has scored a first.
Back in 1975, when he was a first baseman for the Houston Astros, Bob Watson scored the 1,000,000th run in major league history. Last week Watson, 47, became the first black person in major league history to bear the title general manager. (Bill Lucas performed many of the duties of a general manager for the Atlanta Braves in the late '70s, but he never held the title.) On Oct. 5 Astro owner Drayton McLane Jr. promoted Watson from assistant general manager to replace Bill Wood, whom McLane had just fired along with manager Art Howe.
McLane, who signed Watson to a three-year contract, made it clear that the promotion was based solely on talent, but Watson was not blind to the significance of his new position. "I would have to say it's a very important step for baseball, a very important step for the Houston Astros and a very important step for Bob Watson," said Watson.
Raised in South Central Los Angeles by his grandparents, Watson was originally signed by Houston in 1965 as an 18-year-old catcher. He played 14 seasons for the Astros and was twice named to the All-Star team before being traded to the Boston Red Sox in June 1979. Three months later he became the first player to have hit for the cycle in each league. He went on to play for the New York Yankees, earning a World Series ring in 1981, and ended his playing career with the Braves in 1984 with a lifetime batting average of .295.
After four years as a hitting instructor and coach for the Oakland A's, with whom he earned another World Series ring, Watson returned to Houston as assistant G.M. in November 1988. "This is my team," said Watson last week. "I signed with this club back in 1965, and I went away. I came back as the prodigal son, with two rings on my fingers. That's my goal: to have a ring with a star on it representing the Houston Astros."
Around baseball Watson is known for his intelligence, integrity and diligence. Even Wood, the departing G.M., said, "Bob is an outstanding individual and baseball man. I believe strongly in Bob and his abilities."
Called Bull in his playing days, Watson is no-bull now. As assistant G.M. he was willing and eager to work at the lowest levels of the Astros' minor league system. He helped pull off the theft of the decade, Houston's August 1990 trade of pitcher Larry Andersen to Boston for first baseman Jeff Bagwell. Watson had been mentioned as a possible successor to Bill White as National League president, but what he really longed to do was run a ball club. While his name often surfaced when baseball paid lip service to minority hiring, he was never interviewed for any other general manager opening. Now, as Houston's G.M., his first task is to replace Howe, but he also wants to give the Astros a new image. "It's time for us to decide on an identity," Watson says. "For years we were known for pitching, defense and speed, but what have we been known for lately? People around the country don't know about the Astros. People pick up on a team when it wins. That's what I plan to do here in Houston." So Bob Watson intends to score another first: the Astros' first world championship.
Baseball's first black G.M. plans to pursue another first for the Astros.