Sunday, May 20, 2012

#370 - Bob Watson

Back at Shea we get a - I dunno, moribund?; tense?; beatific? - Bob Watson wearing an oversized shirt that makes him look small, which at 200+ pounds he certainly wasn't. Bob should certainly be a lot happier than he appears. Apparently in the midst of his second straight season of hitting .312 he was named in '73 to his first All-Star team and was quietly becoming one of the best hitters in the NL. He also grabbed an emergency start behind the plate when the Astros ran out of catchers and responded by hitting a homer. At least Topps recognizes him by giving him a "ten" card. It does appear to be a nice day but maybe those guys in suits in the background indicate something portentous is about to unfold. Or maybe Bob just had to go to the bathroom.

Bob Watson was a product of Los Angeles and Fremont High School. Like just about every other black guy in this set from LA he played for Chet Brewer's team helping to raise his profile a bit. A Dodger fan while growing up, Bob met with the team through local scout Tommy Lasorda when he graduated high school  but the team suggested he go to college before shooting for an MLB career. He followed their advice and attended Los Angeles Harbor College for a year where he played ball. In '65 he signed with the Astros as a free agent and then got things rolling with two seasons of Single A ball in which he hit .285 and .302 with some decent power. Both seasons he played behind the plate, his main position until then. He got an at bat in Houston late the second year, grounding out against Claude Osteen of his favorite Dodgers. He spent most of '67 split between Double A - where he was an all-star - and Triple A, batting a combined .275 with 19 homers and 75 RBI's. That year he began playing other positions, primarily first and the outfield. He also got a few more at bats up top. In '68 a hot start in Triple A - .395 with five homers and 16 RBI's in 20 games - moved him upstairs for his rookie season where he got some decent outfield time before breaking his ankle. That meant a '69 of rehab back in the minors - and at catcher - where after some pedestrian numbers in Double A he hit over .400 at Triple A with 48 RBI's in 223 at bats to earn a permanent MLB residence..

When Watson finally came up for good in '70 both the outfield and first base were pretty full. Since Cesar Cedeno took over as the new guy in the former spot, Bob initially vied with John Mayberry for back-up time at first behind Joe Pepitone. But in mid-season Watson went on a pretty good tear, Pepitone got sent to the Cubs, and Bob took over first base. He finished with some pretty good numbers. In '71 the Astros got a new shortstop in rookie Roger Metzger so incumbent Denis Menke got moved to the corners and Bob spent a bunch of time in the outfield where he would stay most of his time the next three seasons as in '72 Houston picked up Lee May in its big trade with the Reds. Bob ramped up his stats significantly in '72 and then in '73 added a .402 OBA to his posted numbers. In '74 some nagging hamstring issues pulled his power numbers down a bit. He bounced pretty well in '75  by hitting .324 with 85 RBI's and also made the record books as the scorer of baseball's millionth run (although that was later disputed). He also made his second All-Star team and moved back to first bas as the regular guy following May's trade to Baltimore. In '76 and '77 Bob knocked in over 100 runners each season, peaking power-wise the latter year when he hit 22 homers with 110 RBI's while hitting .289. In '78 he put up the same average but like in '74 his power contracted due to nagging injuries. After kicking off '79 with a slow start, Cedeno took over first and Bob was swapped to Boston for pitchers Bobby Sprowl and Pete Ladd.

The Red Sox made out pretty huge in the deal to bring Watson north as he raised his average 100 points to .337 with a .401 OBA the rest of the way. He then turned free agent and signed with the Yankees for the '80 season. It was a good one for Bob as he split time with Jim Spencer at first and DH'd a bit, hitting .307 with 68 RBI's in 469 at bats. He also got his first post-season action, hitting .500 as NY went down to the Royals. Then in the first game of the '81 season he injured a groin muscle and tried to play through it but by the time of the strike was hitting only .190 with seven RBI's. During the strike he did some rehab work and also worked at an investment bank. After some DL time following the strike he returned to pull his average up a bit. The whole team was in a sort of funk the second half and finished with a losing record. But then they amped everything up in the playoffs, including Bob who hit .438 in a first-round upset of Milwaukee. Then in the Series he tagged the Dodgers with a .318 average, a couple homers, and seven RBI's in six games. Early in the '82 season he was traded to Atlanta for Scott Patterson, a pitcher who would go on to have far more success as an actor. It was an ironic move in that the guy who replaced him in NY was John Mayberry and the one Bob would back up in Atlanta was Chris Chambliss, the same player he replaced on the Yankees. Bob would spend his last three seasons in that role, peaking in '83 when he hit .309 with 37 RBI's in only 149 at bats. He would retire after the '84 season and finish with a .295 average with 184 homers, 989 RBI's, and a .364 OBA. In the post-season he hit .371 with a .403 OBA, two homers, and nine RBI's in 17 games.

Despite his early success in banking Watson stayed in baseball thereafter. In '85 he became the Oakland batting coach, helping the team reach the Series in '88. In '89 he left to become assistant GM of Houston. In '94 he became the first minority GM when he took over the top spot for the Astros. In '96 he moved to the same position in NY for two years. Then in '98 he moved to MLB as its head of on-field discipline, a position he retained until retiring after the 2010 season. He continues to do some ad hoc community work for MLB.

Topps seems to be reaching with Bob's star bullets, especially those last two which are right on the card. That's pretty weird considering his years of success in the minors and sandlot ball. Those homers sort of were the catalyst that got his stats rolling in '72.

So contrary to '73, a bunch of stuff happened in music the first half of May '74. On the fourth new hits took over the top spot on both sides of the pond. In the States Grand Funk Railroad scored with its version of Little Eva's "Do the Locomotion." In the UK ABBA hit the top with "Waterloo." On the eighth, British keyboardist Graham Bond, a big blues guy in the Sixties, killed himself by jumping in front of a subway train. He was 36. On the ninth in Boston guitarist Bonnie Raitt has a new opening act. Bruce Springsteen debuts his newly-penned song "Born to Run" which prompts critic Jon Landau to write his famous "I have seen the future of rock-and-roll ..." line thereby helping send Bruce to new heights. The 18th is a big day with two Number One's. In the US the timely novelty song "The Streak" by Ray Williams began a three-week run. In the UK "Sugar Baby Love" by the Rubettes topped Ray by reigning for four weeks. The song is a sort of doo-woppy disco number sung by a group wearing outfits halfway between John Travolta's "Saturday Night Fever" suit and The Guardian Angels' outfits. A video of the song is on YouTube and for anyone wishing a three minute dive smack into 1974, this is it.

So like the last pair Bob and Paul really never hooked up during their careers. We remedy that here:

1. Watson and Lee May '72 to '74 Astros;
2. May and Mike Torrez '75 Orioles;
3. Torrez and Paul Lindblad '76 A's.

I also could have used Dave Duncan but that would take just as many steps.


  1. That was a major "oops" trade on Houston's part. They really could have used his bat in the 1980 and 1981 playoffs.

  2. Watson was also in "Bad New Bears" sequel, I think, in the dugout. He was among those chanting "let them play!"at the Astrodome. He really was solid for the BoSox when he came over in 1980---too bad the team as a whole couldn't put it together that year.