Former MLB All-Star Bob Watson Dies at 74; 1st Black GM to Win World Series

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorMay 15, 2020

Former major league player Bob Watson talks about the selections made to the baseball Hall of Fame by the pre-integration era committee at the baseball winter meetings on Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, in Nashville, Tenn. Former New York Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert, longtime umpire Hank O'Day and barehanded catcher Deacon White have been elected to the baseball Hall of Fame by the committee. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

Bob Watson, who became the first black general manager to win a World Series after the 1996 New York Yankees' Fall Classic win, died Thursday at the age of 74.  

The Houston Astros, whom Watson played for from 1966 to 1978, issued a statement following the former outfielder and executive's death from kidney disease:

"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.

"He was an All-Star on the field and a true pioneer off of it, admired and respected by everyone he played with or worked alongside. Bob will be missed, but not forgotten.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred also released a statement on Watson's death:

MLB Communications @MLB_PR

Commissioner Manfred issued the following statement today regarding the passing of longtime Major League player, general manager and MLB executive Bob Watson, who was 74: https://t.co/ETdxMERDcG

Watson is survived by his wife, Carol, and two children, Kelley and Keith.

The two-time All-Star played from 1966 to 1984, hitting .295 with 184 home runs and 989 RBI. He hit over .300 seven times and surpassed 100 RBI twice. Watson also finished in the top 20 of the National League MVP voting twice.

After his playing days ended, Watson joined the coaching ranks and served as the 1988 Oakland Athletics' hitting coach. That team went 104-58 and finished second in runs and home runs during its American League-pennant winning season.

Watson later became the Astros' general manager in 1993 before moving onto the Yankees, whom he played with from 1980 to 1982, as their GM late in 1995. Watson also became just the second black GM in MLB history upon his Astros hire.

The Yanks had gone 79-65 and made the postseason as a wild card team in 1995. They had a promising core of veteran talent to build on, despite first baseman Don Mattingly's retirement following the 1995 season. Furthermore, they had rising stars either with the big club or ready to move up from the minors, including shortstop Derek Jeter, relief pitcher Mariano Rivera and starting pitcher Andy Pettitte.

But the Yankees still needed to make some moves to traverse through a tough American League that included the powerful Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers, all of whom could hit for tremendous power.

In turn, Watson expertly guided the Yanks through the 1995-96 offseason, setting the team up for its four-championship dynasty.

His most important move was the hiring of manager Joe Torre, who won four World Series titles from 1996 to 2000 and AL pennants in 2001 and 2003.

He also traded for or signed key members of the 1996 title team, such as first baseman Tino Martinez, catcher Joe Girardi and outfielder Tim Raines. 

The trade for Martinez proved to be vital, as the Yankees needed someone to fill the shoes of the beloved fan favorite in Mattingly. Martinez did just that with 175 home runs and a .837 OPS from 1996 to 2001, helping the Yanks win four World Series titles and five AL pennants.

Watson's midseason acquisitions were arguably his best work, though, as he rounded out the Yankees bullpen with David Weathers and Graeme Lloyd to help form a near-unbeatable back end alongside Rivera and closer John Wetteland. He also added some pop to the lineup with Cecil Fielder and Charlie Hayes, the latter of whom caught the last out of the 1996 World Series.

In the following offseason, Watson added left-handed starter David Wells, who ended up throwing a perfect game in 1998 en route to going 18-4 for the 114-win World Series champions. He also picked up more crucial additions to the Yankees dynasty before his retirement from the position in February 1998, including 1998 World Series MVP Scott Brosius and power-hitting outfielder Chili Davis.

Watson then left the Yanks for a position as Major League Baseball's vice president in charge of discipline and vice president of rules and on-field operations. He served in that role through 2010, when he retired from professional baseball.