Houston Astros fans, Bob Watson might have played before your time, but he definitely belongs in the team Hall of Fame. Read on to learn why.
You might already know that Bob Watson was one of the most accomplished Houston Astros, one of the first African-American general managers in the majors, the first African-American general manager of a World Series championship team, and the first player to hit for the cycle in both the American and National Leagues.
Bull—as Watson was often called on the field due to his build—spent the bulk of his career with the Houston Astros from his debut in 1966 to his departure in 1979. Following his time in Houston, he went on to play for the Red Sox, Yankees, and Braves before retiring in 1984.
A decade later, the Los Angeles native took the helm of the Houston Astros as the team’s general manager in 1993, before moving on to lead the Yankees to a World Series title in 1996 in the same capacity. Moreover, Watson had a special talent for assembling the pieces of championship teams—not only did he earn a World Series ring as a general manager in the Bronx, he was also tasked with choosing the athletes who represented the gold medal-winning Team USA baseball roster in the 2000 Olympics.
However, many Houston Astros fans born during—or even after—Bob Watson’s career ended might not know how formidable of a ballplayer the right-handed hitter was. Baseball-Reference ranks Watson as the 17th best Astro in franchise history. In fact, due to his on-field productivity, the Houston Astros announced in January that they intend to induct Watson into the team’s second Hall of Fame class during the upcoming 2020 season.
Watson’s contributions speak for themselves. Nevertheless, please allow me, an individual unfortunately born a little too late to see Watson play in person, the opportunity to lay out the following case proving why Watson is most worthy of induction into the Houston Astros’ Hall of Fame.
First, concerning fielding, Watson featured the type of versatility managers love when filling out lineup cards, very similar to Craig Biggio’s defensive skill set. Watson, a two-time MLB All-Star, was a standout catcher in high school and wound up receiving pitches behind the dish for parts of three separate seasons with the Astros.
Like Biggio, in addition to catching, he also spent time in the outfield. Of course, when in the infield, Biggio played second base, whereas Watson played first. Additionally, both former Astros also made starts as designated hitters for their managers throughout their careers—Biggio during Interleague play, and Watson while an American League player for both the Red Sox and Yankees.
At the end of Watson’s career as a fielder, he finished with a respectable .990 fielding percentage. Particularly noteworthy, Watson spent parts of the 1982 season with both the Yankees and Braves and did not make a single error despite playing multiple positions for each club.
Over nearly 14 seasons of action in Houston, Watson featured 4,883 at-bats, the eighth-most of any Astro, ever. In that large sample size, Watson achieved one of the highest batting averages in franchise history—tied for third place with Jeff Bagwell at .297.
If you think José Altuve is good at getting on base, consider this—Watson featured nearly 40 more plate appearances as an Astro than Altuve, rendering their amount of opportunities to come up to bat as Astros nearly identical. And guess what—Watson holds his own in a virtual tie with Altuve by means of a .364 on-base percentage as an Astro, good for ninth place in franchise history.
As a matter of fact, Watson was so good at getting on, only six Astros in the franchise’s 59 seasons reached first base more times than he did. Moreover, Watson featured exceptional plate discipline as a batter and earned the ninth highest total of walks of any Astro to date.
Watson accumulated 1,448 hits as an Astro, earning him seventh place in team history. This is
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especially impressive because in his first four seasons, he only received 195 total at-bats, meaning starting in his fifth season, he played at an extremely high clip over nearly a decade for Houston before being dealt to the Red Sox.
Let this sink in—Watson accomplished most of his offensive feats in his last nine years as an Astro after his first four seasons of extremely limited playing time, and only four players in the franchise’s history notched more hits for Houston in a briefer amount of time as an Astro than Watson. It really implores the question: how much better could Watson’s totals as an Astro be if the organization had the foresight to play him every day during his first four seasons in the majors?
Nevertheless, in that roughly decade-long span of high-caliber production following his first four seasons of limited action, Watson imposed his will into the Houston Astros’ record books. He finished in ninth place in franchise history with 640 runs scored, eighth place with 2,166 total bases, seventh place with 241 doubles, fifth place with 782 runs batted in, as well as fifth place in sacrifice flies.
Watson was a class-act involved in the community, and even selflessly refused the offer of receiving a kidney transfer from his family members, citing the potential need of their own organs in the future. Perhaps though, Watson’s son, Keith, let you know who his father was much more impressively than any baseball statistic ever could when he recently shared, “Tonight my dad and hero Bob Watson has passed away after a long fight with kidney disease.”
Bob Watson—what a great example of character and charity you can’t help but be proud of. Perhaps it is only fitting that both the Astrodome and Minute Maid Park are currently filled with silence.