Houston Astros: Remembering the epic legacy of Bob Watson

Bob Watson of the Houston Astros (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Watson of the Houston Astros (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

The Houston Astros lost one of their greatest sons in the larger than life Bob Watson. Let’s take a look back at his epic legacy that is revered by many.

The year 2020 has definitely not been a great one for the Houston Astros. But then again, we could say the same thing for just about everyone. With all sports put on a hiatus in the midst of COVID-19, everyone is definitely feeling the sadness of a year that hasn’t been planned out well. But for the Houston Astros, it feels like they’re taking the brunt of the hits. Along with 29 other MLB teams, the quest for a championship has been on hold to at least the start of June or July.

A championship this year or the next would surely put to bed the talks of a “tainted” title away even though I, along with most everyone would disagree with it. Yet, for what took place, you have to take the hits and the criticisms. It definitely sucks now, but in the long haul, with hopefully more titles in store in the near future, the memories of this nightmare will be behind us for sure.

But while the team and we are sitting and waiting for the season to start, the franchise has been hit by tragedy behind the scenes. Earlier this year, the team’s first big superstar in Jimmy “The Toy Cannon” Wynn passed away. It was a tremendous loss for a player that was the shining star for a franchise building up an early resume.

Yesterday, the franchise was given some sad news. First, former manager Art Howe was diagnosed with COVID-19 and we continue to offer our support and prayers for him and hope for his recovery. Then, last night, Bob Watson, the former Astros great passed away.

Watson spent 14 seasons in the Houston Astros rainbow jersey from 1966-79. In that span, he would make two all-star games, batted .297 with 139 homers and driving in 781 RBI. Watson would then sign a deal to join the Yankees in 1980 and a year later, got to play in the World Series.

After retiring, Watson would become the general manager for the Astros, becoming the second African American GM ever in any of the major leagues. He then was hired by the Yankees to be their GM in 1995 and year later, they made it back to the World Series where this time, they took home the flag.

Watson’s career may be best remembered for scoring the one-millionth run in history. On May 4th, 1975, Watson was on second base when teammate Milt May crushed a three-run homer against the Giants. Around the same time, Dave Concepcion of the Cincinnati Reds had also homered. Perhaps Watson had a hunch that someone was closing in on the record that he sprinted from second to score. It wound up being a four-second difference as Watson defeated Concepcion, who was also running hard for the record. Watson’s reward for the milestone: $10,000 and a million Tootsie Rolls.

But Watson was also instrumental in his work off the field. When former Astro pitcher J.R. Richard was living on the streets after struggles with losses of money and a pair of divorces, it was Watson, along with Wynn that helped Richard get back on his feet with the help of the Baseball Assistance Team. Watson’s dedication to helping people was rewarded when in March, the Houston Astros Foundation honored him by dedicating a building in his name, which will become the Bob Watson Education Center. This building would house both tutoring and lifestyle programs for youth ages 7-17 that also use baseball and the softball complex each year.

When I think of Bob Watson, two memories come to mind. The first one, which I discovered recently while writing this was when he was traded to the Atlanta Braves in 1982 for a young prospect named Scott Patterson. Today, Patterson is best remembered for his role as a pitcher in the baseball movie Little Big League and for his iconic role as Luke Danes in the TV series the Gilmore Girls. Hey, Luke and Lorelai forever, okay?

But, the other memory I’ll have of Bob Watson is for a cameo appearance in the second

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installment of the Bad News Bears trilogy. After the 1976 film The Bad News Bears starring Walter Matthau and Tatum O’Neal was a hit, they released the second movie a year later titled The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training. Personally, this one was my favorite of the three films for obvious reasons.

The Astrodome was often used as a great site to film movies during the 70’s. The second film pitted the Bears against a local Houston baseball team that took place inside the Astrodome. It was to take place in the middle of a doubleheader and whoever won the four-inning game got to play a team from Japan. I never like rooting against Houston teams. But, that was one of the times I cheered for a California team even if it was fictional.

In the middle of the game, someone tells the umpire that the game is called due to time constraints and it appears the dream of the Bears to go to Japan is about to end. Well, who just happens to make a cameo. Bob Watson and a few other Astros themselves. What follows is one of the most iconic scenes in the movie.

I’m not going to tell you how the movie ends because you need to watch for yourselves. But for Watson, keying the chant of Let Them Play tells you what you need to know. Baseball is a kid’s game. Even played by adults, there’s always a kid inside.

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We are saddened by Watson’s passing and we will miss him. But while we look back at his career highlights and what he did for the game itself, I will look back on this film and his epic line.

Maybe, just maybe somewhere above, he’s telling the coronavirus the fabled line.

Let the kids play!