HOUSTON -- The late Bob Watson was one of the most feared sluggers of his time. He bashed 184 home runs in his 19-year Major League career, 14 of which were spent wearing an Astros uniform. He was a two-time All-Star for the Astros who hit for the cycle and later walloped two home runs for the Yankees in the 1981 World Series.
Watson’s post-playing career was just as impressive. He became the first African-American general manager in Major League Baseball history when the Astros named him to the post in 1993, and three years later with the Yankees, he became the first Black GM to win a World Series. Then came a long stint in the MLB office.
One of the most notable moments in Watson’s playing career was a product of being at the right place at the right time. And when you add in a little hustle from the man they called “The Bull,” that was when luck met opportunity.
Watson, who was never known for his speed -- he stole 27 bases in his career and was caught stealing 28 times -- used his legs to score baseball’s 1,000,000th run on May 4, 1975.
With the Astros and Giants forced to play a Sunday doubleheader at Candlestick Park in San Francisco because of a rare rainout the day before, they hit the field for Game 1 a couple of hours earlier than they normally would have. There was a full slate of games across the league that day.
All eyes were on the out-of-town scoreboard because history was going to be made.
Baseball was about to celebrate its millionth run scored and entered the day about 10 runs shy of the mark. The chance to make history was something the Astros didn’t ignore.
“We knew there was going to have to be 10 runs scored [league-wide] or something,” Watson said. “And by the time I came up in the second inning, it was down to three runs that needed to be scored.”
Watson was batting cleanup and playing first base that day and led off the second inning with a walk. He stole second base and was followed by Jose Cruz, who drew a walk. Next up was Milt May, who launched a three-run homer to right field.
Watson was casually jogging toward third base when he heard some yelling from the bullpen down the left-field line. His teammates in the bullpen were telling him to “Run! Run! Run!”
“So I take off on a sprint, and I scored the run,” he said. “Lo and behold, at the same time, Dave Concepcion of the Reds hits a home run, and he’s racing around the bases.”
Watson’s teammates knew that if Watson touched home plate before Concepcion, he would score the millionth run and have a cool place in history.
“I beat him by a second and a half,” Watson said.
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. Fortunately for him, he didn’t play in the second game of the doubleheader. May’s bat also headed to the Hall of Fame.
The Astros lost the milestone game, 8–6, and Watson finished 0-for-3 with two runs scored. Still, the attention was just beginning for Watson.
The millionth run was sponsored by the candy Tootsie Roll, which awarded Watson with one million of its chewy treats. Watson donated half of the candy 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.
If people didn’t know who Watson was, that changed on May 4, 1975.
“My fan mail was something like four or five letters a week, or something like that,” said Watson, who died on May 14, 2020. “Scoring the millionth run, it increased to 50 to 100 per week. It got me on the map a little bit, and I ended up being the answer to a trivia question.”