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Friday, May 15, 2020

Remembering Bob Watson as an Astros legend

Former Astros great Bob Watson died Thursday at the age of 74 after a long battle with kidney disease.

Watson, who made his big league debut in Houston at 20 years old in 1966, played 14 of his 19 big league seasons with the Astros. His best seasons in Houston came in 1973 and 1975 when he hit .312 with 16 home runs and .324 with 18 home runs, respectively.

Watson, who was known as “Bull” for his 6-foot, 201-pound frame, went on to become the Astros general manager from 1993 to 1995 before leaving to take the same job with the New York Yankees where he became the first African-American general manager to win a World Series title.

Mayor Blomberg Posted: May 15, 2020 at 10:28 AM | 32 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: astros, obituary, yankees

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   1. Howie Menckel Posted: May 15, 2020 at 11:49 AM (#5950775)
Watson supposedly scored baseball's "Millionth Run."

I believe there have been numerous corrections to the record in subsequent years. did anyone ever try to update who "really" scored it?
   2. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: May 15, 2020 at 11:51 AM (#5950776)
Watson, who was known as “Bull” for his 6-foot, 201-pound frame
Wow, that was a different era.
   3. Astroenteritis Posted: May 15, 2020 at 12:02 PM (#5950779)
I have a lot of great memories of Watson's days with the Astros, even his brief, awkward attempts at being a catcher. He was a very good hitter, from 1972 to 1979 (almost all with Houston) he posted OPS+ of 141-137-124-149-147-138-133-124.

   4. SoSH U at work Posted: May 15, 2020 at 12:02 PM (#5950780)
Watson supposedly scored baseball's "Millionth Run."


Beating Davey Concepcion, who was racing around the bases after going deep at Riverfront Stadium

Watson was the answer to another trivia question: Who was the only (at the time) player to hit for the cycle in both leagues.

In honor of Bob, who is the fellow speedster to join him with cycles in both circuits?

   5. Itchy Row Posted: May 15, 2020 at 12:03 PM (#5950781)
A 6-foot, 201-pound frame is the same height and one pound heavier than Elvis "The Behemoth" Andrus.
   6. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: May 15, 2020 at 12:15 PM (#5950784)
In honor of Bob, who is the fellow speedster to join him with cycles in both circuits?

there are 2 others--Olerud and Michael Cuddyer
   7. SoSH U at work Posted: May 15, 2020 at 12:27 PM (#5950788)
I didn't realize Cuddyer had done it as well.

   8. Steve Balboni's Personal Trainer Posted: May 15, 2020 at 12:45 PM (#5950792)
If Watson gets established in the majors earlier (he could easily have been a regular in the bigs in 1968, rather than first getting 100 games in 1970), and if he doesn't play in the Astrodome until halfway through his age 33 season, is there any reasonable chance he ends up a good HOF candidate?

He ended up with 1826 hits despite the barriers descrbied above, and he was able to hit into his late 30s. If some team picks him up at age 22 or so and just sticks him at 1B for a decade, what does his career look like?
   9. The Yankee Clapper Posted: May 15, 2020 at 12:54 PM (#5950793)
If Watson gets established in the majors earlier (he could easily have been a regular in the bigs in 1968, rather than first getting 100 games in 1970), and if he doesn't play in the Astrodome until halfway through his age 33 season, is there any reasonable chance he ends up a good HOF candidate?
Only if he had stayed as GM for the entire 1996-2000 Yankee Renaissance.
   10. Rally Posted: May 15, 2020 at 01:27 PM (#5950810)
A fine hitter, much better than the Astrodome made him look. Basic numbers don't tell you that but the OPS is very good.

I only saw the end of his career, and the one memory of watching him play is drawing a walk off walk. Easy enough to find the date, 7-23-1983, against the Phillies and Al Holland.

My defensive numbers sure don't like him, but a breakdown shows that he was merely a bit below average at first. The majority of his negative fielding runs came as a left fielder, despite playing there about half as much as he did at first. Maybe slow first basemen shouldn't play left field.
   11. Hysterical & Useless Posted: May 15, 2020 at 01:35 PM (#5950812)
Watson, who was known as “Bull” for his 6-foot, 201-pound frame

Wow, that was a different era.

Of course, the listed weight is only for his frame, doesn't include the neck, head, arms, legs, etc.

IOW, add 30 pounds and maybe you're close.
   12. stanmvp48 Posted: May 15, 2020 at 01:37 PM (#5950813)
I saw a lot of Watson's career. My memory is of line drive after line drive and a really smooth swing. However, let me point out, at the risk of seeming pedantic, he did not have a 201 pound frame
   13. asinwreck Posted: May 15, 2020 at 01:50 PM (#5950820)
Good guy with the patience of a saint. Condolences to Carol and the kids.
   14. Jay Z Posted: May 15, 2020 at 02:08 PM (#5950829)
I remember the millionth run contest, you had to pick who would do it. I probably picked Hank Aaron. It was an All Star type ballot. Would have been interesting if a non-balloted player had done it, but I'm sure people picked Watson.

Wonder how they let the sites know how close they were. Probably teletyped it out from a central site. Concepcion said he thought he had done it but found out it was Watson. So they probably had a bit of delay in reporting.

As a player, Cecil Cooper was a shade better than Watson. Watson wasn't helped by having to play LF, but I still think Cooper was a shade better at most everything. No HOF for Watson.
   15. Adam Starblind Posted: May 15, 2020 at 02:17 PM (#5950832)
I saw a lot of Watson's career. My memory is of line drive after line drive and a really smooth swing. However, let me point out, at the risk of seeming pedantic, he did not have a 201 pound frame


Those weights are always amusing. Everyone was 20 years old at some point.

I recently saw a picture of my 26-year-old self that I'd never seen before, and boy was it upsetting to see myself that thin and think of my degeneration into middle age. I don't think anyone thinks of me as heavy today, but that guy was 35-40 pounds lighter. In conclusion, I guess I am fat.
   16. winnipegwhip Posted: May 15, 2020 at 02:17 PM (#5950833)
Watson supposedly scored baseball's "Millionth Run."


Beating Davey Concepcion, who was racing around the bases after going deep at Riverfront Stadium


It happened in 1975. I believe baseball's 2 millionth run was supposed to occur this summer. It would be a great event to be promoted with all the media availability and live streaming of 2020. It would certainly liven up an evening of baseball if there was about 100 runs to go and a full slate of games.
   17. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: May 15, 2020 at 03:34 PM (#5950883)
Watson, who was known as “Bull” for his 6-foot, 201-pound frame

Wow, that was a different era.

On Football-Reference I once looked at guys about my H/W throughout NFL history.
Basically, in the league's early days, they were all linemen with nicknames like "Moose," "Cop" (?), and, yes, "Bull."
Nowadays, I think the same H/W guys are all defensive backs & running backs, very obviously smaller-framed than the other players.
   18. Rally Posted: May 15, 2020 at 05:56 PM (#5950965)
I don’t think they were counting 1871-1875 when they first figured out the million run.

Looking at what BBref counts now as MLB, the millionth run scored some time late in 1968.That season ended with a million plus 764.
   19. Rally Posted: May 15, 2020 at 06:07 PM (#5950976)
I think it was the 25th run scored on 9-15-68. 59 runs scored that day. Don’t think it will be easy to get more precise using bbref. Might try later.
   20. Howie Menckel Posted: May 15, 2020 at 07:42 PM (#5951027)
I recently saw a picture of my 26-year-old self that I'd never seen before, and boy was it upsetting to see myself that thin and think of my degeneration into middle age. I don't think anyone thinks of me as heavy today, but that guy was 35-40 pounds lighter. In conclusion, I guess I am fat.

that is me, for better and for worse. Just last weekend I got a fleeting glimpse of my 36-year-old self on "The Last Dance," and it made me shake my head.

have not gone any further in the wrong direction during lockdown - which is mild consolation, I guess, given that I am fortunate enough to be very busy working albeit at home. but still not fun to be only 20 miles or so from the "belly of the beast" circle of COVID deaths - and this thing keeps offering aftershocks well beyond that core.

as for Watson, he had a 129 OPS+ in 6962 PA.

the 129 club also features HOFers Eddie Murray, Zack Wheat, Mickey Cochrane, and Buck Ewing - as well as HOMers Joe Torre and Jim Wynn, and also Fred Lynn, Josh Hamilton, David Justice, John Olerud, Sid Gordon, and a couple of early-days guys.

the whole lot of them did some raking.
   21. Walt Davis Posted: May 15, 2020 at 08:38 PM (#5951045)
I don't mean for this to detract in any way from discussion of a fine man's life and career ... but since we've meandered off into millionth runs, body size, etc. I figure I'm OK ...

On alternative reality Watson ... I don't see much reason to think his career would have been dramatically different. Could he have come up earlier? I'll get to that in a second but from ages 23-25 in the majors he only put up a 111 OPS+. Even assuming he could have started doing that full-time at 22, giving him another 1500 PA of that will be enough to push him over 2000 hits and 200 HRs but that's nothing close to the HoF.

As is for his career, he was under 7,000 PA and just a 129 OPS+. While that's at least superficially comparable to somebody like Joe Medwick or Chuck Klein, in the modern era you don't find sluggers with that sort of OPS+ in the HoF until they get around 10,000+ PA. You need to imagine Watson adding 5-6 full seasons at the beginning/end of his career with no drop-off from what he did in his prime. In the real world he was a solid but unspectacular bench bat by age 35.

It's hard to argue he would have been up substantially sooner. He didn't play at 18, had about half a season at 19, played just 105 games at 20 and he's still at A ball. Age 21 (1967) he was mostly at AA (good not great numbers), some at AAA (not so good) and got a cup of coffee. I think every team starts him at AAA the next year where he absolutely destroyed the ball for 20 games (395/465/737) and got called up in May. The Astros could have been more aggressive getting him into the lineup (just 13 starts in his first 31 games on the roster) but he became the full-timer on June 19 and started the next 16 games. Looks like he got hurt because he doesn't appear for the next 16 games. He starts the next 9 games through the end of July then i assume was hurt as he doesn't appear after that (and left that last game in the first inning).

1969 was the funny year. He opens the year starting in the bigs and has a horrible slump (136/240/182) through April 27 but in a measly 25 PA. The Astros clearly should have had more faith. (Maybe he was hurt again?) We don't have minor-league game logs back that far but it looks like they sent him down to AA where he didn't actually do too well. Then a couple games back in the bigs then to AAA -- you'd think it wouldn't take the Astros 60 games of 408/462/601 to bring him back up. He got a few Sept starts in the bigs.

That gets us to 1970 when he was in the bigs for the full season but didn't become a regular until mid-June. He started 47 of 48 games then but seems to have gotten hurt again and missed a few weeks. He came back to start 27 of 29 games.

So I don't see how his career would have played out differently. I think every teams puts him at AAA to start 1968 and even if not, that's just 30 games. Every team calls him up when he rakes like that and the Astros put him in the starting lineup when he was available so 68 looks pretty much the same no matter the organization. The Astros should have been more patient in 69 so I can see an extra 500-600 PA there. And if 1969 goes well then presumably he gets a full 1970 rather than a half-season. So max that's an extra 1.5 seasons which is not going to change his line substantially.

(Given the era it's quite possible that some/all of these absences were National Guard duty to keep him out of the draft/Vietnam but whether injury or NG duty, we assume that would have happened no matter what team he was on.)

The Dome obviously didn't help. His HR rate there was just 1 per 54 PA although the 288 BA was solid enough. On the road in those years it was about 1 in 31. That's still just 20 HRs a year so he was never gonna have an impressive HR total (unless maybe he played in Wrigley or Fenway). He was a 300+ hitter outside the Dome so if you could get him to 9000 AB (10,000+ PA) without any drop-off then you're talking 2700 hits and he gets some attention.

Anyway, take the real Bob Watson and put him on the 50s Dodgers and he might have been Gil Hodges. Make him healthier when young, have him age better and put him on the Reds and he could have been Tony Perez (11,000 PA, 2700 hits, 1600 RBI) ... or put him in Wrigley or Fenway and maybe he has a couple of Billy Williams, Jim Rice seasons where he gets himself into MVP conversations and maybe even wins one. But that is just saying take the actual Bob Watson, multiply his career by 1.5 (i.e. no drop-off) and you have a guy who might get voted in by the writers after several tries. But there are a lot of MLBers you could say that about. And adding 3000-3500 PAs to a player's career takes a lot more than "what if he had come up at 22 instead of 24."

IMO, this sort of speculation works better for somebody like Aaron Judge. It's still not clear whether he should have been up sooner and there was the injury but, when he got a real chance in the majors, he crushed it so it's at least reasonable to suspect that a guy who put up a 171 OPS+ at 25 ... and stayed quite good at 26-27 -- probably could have hit at least well enough to start at 22-24. Or Rico Carty who debuted at 24 with a 161 OPS+, missed one full season to injury, one full season plus to illness (putting up 163 and 171 OPS+ in the two seasons between those), faded all the way to the Mexican League only to bounce back with a 137 OPS+ from 34-38. Those are guys who inspire what-if's.

Bob Watson was a guy with a 108 OPS+, just 1.1 WAR, -2.7 WAA in 1100 PA through age 25. He did then blossom into a very good hitter for 9 years but those were good not great seasons. We might partly blame it on the Dome and team quality, but no black ink, no top-10 MVP finishes, two AS games (0-1) so as peaks go, not that flash. He had a very nice career but it's still only about 2/3 of a HoVG/borderline HoF career.

Carty-Watson is an interesting comp. Watson had 600 more PA, Carty is a bit ahead of him on most of the stats we care about. The main difference is that Carty's "mystery time" is in the middle, between two quite successful chunks of hitting. From 24-30, he put up a 147 OPS+ (which includes the first full missed season); from 35-38 he put up that 137. Probably more things were going wrong in the interim than just his health but it's quite easy to look at 147 -- gap -- 137 and figure there's a universe where that 5-season gap is about 2500+ PA of 142 OPS+. Give that guy credit for his other missed season, maybe start him a little earlier and he has 10,000 PA, possibly a career 300 BA, a 140 OPS+ and looks a good bit like Ortiz or even Edgar.
   22. Rally Posted: May 15, 2020 at 09:26 PM (#5951063)
So here's what I guess happened on 9-15-68. Coming into the day, MLB was 25 runs shy of 1 million. That is counting every run from 1871 on, including the Federal League, Union Association, PLayer's league.

10 games were played that Sunday. All were day games, but I don't have their start time on BBref. 2 games were on the west coast so the run probably did not score in those games. All games played in under 3 hours, most closer to 2.

If the East coast games were all 1 PM games, 18 runs scored in the first 4 innings - likely before the 2 central time zone games were underway. Counting the first inning of those 2 games and the 5th inning of the East coast games, another 6 runs scored to make in 999,999.

This is a big leap here, but assuming the innings were played at about the same pace, only one game saw runs in the 6th inning of the East games or 2nd of the central - this was a Detroit rout of Oakland. Four runs scored in the 6th, and the first of these may have been #1 million - a homer by Jim Northrup.

That game lasted 2:39, with most of the runs scoring early so maybe other teams scored their 7th inning runs before that.

Next best candidates - In Boston Reggie Smith scored ahead of Jerry Moses on a homer. In Cleveland, Max Alvis hit a homer against the Orioles. In the 3rd inning in Houston, Roger Maris homered, with Curt Flood ahead of him on base.

   23. Cblau Posted: May 15, 2020 at 09:41 PM (#5951066)
He gets a couple of mentions in Ball Four. Watson was a September call-up as a catcher, and he told Bouton he was anxious to learn to catch the knuckleball, which of course warmed the cockles of Bouton's heart. Then Watson injured a finger catching Bouton and missed what would have been his first ML game.
   24. depletion Posted: May 16, 2020 at 01:08 AM (#5951112)
I remember Watson's playing career, but my lasting memory of him is in the clubhouse of the Yankees first WS win since the '70's. He was on the verge of tears, being so happy to show that an african american could get to the top as an executive, not just as an athlete. I'm not sure why they dropped him, I guess for Cashman (?), so quickly. I mean they won the freaking WS with him.
   25. Ron J Posted: May 16, 2020 at 06:34 AM (#5951122)
#15 "Cecil Fielder acknowledges a weight of 261 leaving unanswered the question of what he might weigh if he put his other foot on the scale.” -- Bill James
   26. The Mighty Quintana Posted: May 16, 2020 at 11:27 AM (#5951168)
A rich, varied career, no doubt, but all I can think about is "Let the kids play!"
   27. Tony S Posted: May 16, 2020 at 06:59 PM (#5951273)
I only saw the end of his career, and the one memory of watching him play is drawing a walk off walk. Easy enough to find the date, 7-23-1983, against the Phillies and Al Holland.


I was at that game!

My grandfather was a big Braves fan -- the TBS games were the highlight of his day in his later years. I grew up in Puerto Rico, and the superstation had this 2-for-1 promotion going -- airfare, hotel, and game tickets for out of town fans. So my grandpa went and took me along. We caught the Friday night game, which the Braves also won, and then this one. A fun Saturday afternoon at the ballpark. Flew back home the next day.

The headline in the AJC the next day was "It's elementary, Watson".
   28. The Yankee Clapper Posted: May 16, 2020 at 07:25 PM (#5951278)
I'm not sure why they dropped him, I guess for Cashman (?), so quickly. I mean they won the freaking WS with him.
My memory is a bit fuzzy, but I thought it was Watson who decided to “retire” after 1997 to take a job as MLB VP, possibly because the Steinbrenner experience was a bit too intense for Watson’s taste.
   29. winnipegwhip Posted: May 16, 2020 at 10:23 PM (#5951344)
I remember meeting him outside the ballpark in Winnipeg in 1999 when he was GM of the USA team in the Pan Am Games.
   30. SoSH U at work Posted: May 16, 2020 at 10:28 PM (#5951346)
Reading all of this just highlights what a great baseball life he had.

RIP Bob.
   31. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: May 17, 2020 at 08:52 AM (#5951399)
I remember the millionth run contest, you had to pick who would do it. I probably picked Hank Aaron. It was an All Star type ballot. Would have been interesting if a non-balloted player had done it, but I'm sure people picked Watson.


Back in 2008, six or seven of of my friends were speculating about the not terribly interesting question of which Yankee would hit the last home run ever in (the less old) old Yankee Stadium. Jeter! A-Rod! Jeter! A-Rod! To get a laugh, I say with assertive confidence, "Jose Molina!" Jump ahead to The Final Game, and guess what...?
   32. DanG Posted: May 17, 2020 at 09:21 AM (#5951405)
1B and corner-OF similar in WAR, PA and hitting to Watson

Player         WAROPSRfield   PA From   To
Rico Carty     32.6  132   
-1.0 6318 1963 1979
Bobby Murcer   32.1  124  
-97.9 7718 1965 1983
Ted Kluszewski 31.4  123  
-16.0 6470 1947 1961
Rudy York      31.3  123   18.0 6723 1934 1948
Carlos Santana 30.5  121  
-20.0 6147 2010 2019
Mike Hargrove  30.4  121   
-5.7 6694 1974 1985
'Bob Watson    28.3  129  -66.9 6962 1966 1984'
Mo Vaughn      27.1  132  -43.7 6410 1991 2003
Ryan Klesko    27.0  128  
-63.4 6523 1992 2007
Vic Wertz      26.9  121   
-7.5 7028 1947 1963
Greg Luzinski  26.3  130  
-89.6 7518 1970 1984
Roy Sievers    25.5  124  
-80.1 7349 1949 1965
John Mayberry  25.0  123  
-22.6 6447 1968 1982
Andre Thornton 24.2  123  
-11.9 6295 1973 1987
Prince Fielder 23.8  134 
-100.0 6853 2005 2016 

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