Bob Watson, arguably one of the greatest players to take the field for the Houston Astros and the first African American general manager in Major league Baseball to win the World Series Championship, died on May 14, 2020. He was 74.
The news was announced by Watson’s son Keith on Twitter. “Tonight my dad and hero Bob Watson has passed away after a long fight with kidney disease.” In 2018, Watson told the New York Daily News: “Both my kids offered to donate kidneys to me and I told them both the same thing: ‘I’ve had a good life and I don’t want to take a kidney from young people who really need them and still have their whole lives ahead of them.’ That would be very selfish on my part. I’ve lived a real good life and I’m ready for whatever happens now.”
The former first baseman is survived by his wife of 51 years, Carol Watson, and their two children, Keith and Kelley.
Here’s what you need to know about Bob Watson:
1. Watson was Nicknamed ‘The Bull’
Nicknamed “The Bull” for his large stature, Watson stood 6-foot-1 and weighed 210 pounds in his heyday. He played with the Houston Astros for 14 seasons with a batting average of .297 and 139 home runs. The first baseman was named MVP in 1975, and in 1977 set a record for the franchise’s most RBIs, 110, which he held for 17 years. Watson was traded to the Boston Red Sox in 1979 and was later signed as a free agent with the New York Yankees.
In 1980, Watson played in his first World Series with the Yankees, but the team lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games. In 1982, Watson was traded to the Atlanta Braves where he played before retiring after the 1984 season. Throughout his career, he averaged .295 with an OPS of .811 before turning his talents to the coaching side.
2. Watson Became General Manager of the Astros In 1993
Watson started as the Oakland A’s hitting coach in 1988 before the Astros named him general manager in 1993. He became the second African American to serve as a general manager in the MLB. In 1995, he took over as general manager for the Yankees. In 1996, the pinstripes won their first World Series since 1978 with Watson at the helm, making him the first African American general manager with a World Series ring.
3. Watson Helped Manage The U.S. Olympics’ Baseball Team
In 1997, Watson retired as general manager and served as the MLB’s vice president in charge of on-field operations and vice president of discipline. Before retiring in 2010, he was the U.S. Baseball Federation’s selection committee chairman, helping to staff the Olympic baseball teams.
4. The Houston Astros Youth Academy Dedicated the New Bob Watson Education Building to Him In March
Weeks before he died, Watson was celebrated with a huge honor from his former franchise. On March 5, Watson attended the official opening of the new Bob Watson Education Building at the Astros Youth Academy in Northwest Houston. He was honored by Astros owner Jim Crane and a slew of players including Larry Dierker and Jose Cruz.
Twyla Carter, executive director of the Astros Foundation, told Houstonia Mag, “When I learned about Bob Watson, I thought, ‘We need to build more Bob Watsons in this world.’ That is what this academy is about.”
The Astros Youth Academy, which opened in 2012, offers free baseball lessons and sports education to local area kids. Former Yankees manager Joe Torre said, “[Bob] wanted nothing more than to help you. There is so much more to him than baseball.”
His wife Carol said at the ceremony, “I always wanted to be able to say job well done, Bob Watson. A life well lived and time well spent.”
The Houston Astros put out the following statement on Twitter: “This is a very sad day for the Astros and for all of baseball. Bob Watson enjoyed a unique and remarkable career in Major League Baseball that spanned six decades, reaching success at many different levels, including as a player, coach, general manager and MLB executive.”
5. Tributes to Watson & His Storied MLB Career Were Shared On Twitter
Watson’s son Keith said, “We just talked about him wanting to make sure that I looked after my mom and my sister and I did the best that I could to honor and manage what he has left here for us and just really giving me his blessing to move forward and doing things in his name.”
Speaking on his father’s greatest achievements, Keith added, ” Honestly, I think his longevity from player to coach to executive is what meant the most to him because he saw a lot of people come and go, a lot of great people come and go and he managed to have a career in professional baseball that spanned 50-plus years and that’s what he was proud of.”
MLB commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. issued a statement about Watson’s death Friday morning:
Bob Watson was a highly accomplished figure in our National Pastime and a deeply respected colleague for those of us at Major League Baseball. He was an All-Star during his 19-year Major League career and a groundbreaking executive in the front office. Bob rose up to become general manager of the Astros in 1993 and made history as the first African American GM of a World Series Champion with the 1996 Yankees. He then oversaw all On-Field Operations for the Commissioner’s Office and played a pivotal role in USA Baseball’s success internationally, including its Olympic Gold Medal in the 2000 Sydney Games.
Bob was known for some of the unique moments of his generation, including scoring the millionth run in Baseball history and a memorable role in The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training. But I will always remember the outstanding example that Bob set for others, his years of model service to the Baseball Assistance Team and the courage with which he met his health challenges in recent years. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to his wife Carol, their children and his many friends and admirers across our game.