Elementary for Watson

Former big leaguer blazed a trail as general manager

February 15, 2013
Bob Watson (NBHOF Library)

Throughout Black History Month in February, the Hall of Fame celebrates the lives of African Americans who made historic contributions to the National Pastime.

By Cassidy Lent 

Bob “Bull” Watson was a two-time National League All-Star at first base, but he may best be known for his work as a pioneering general manager. 

Watson came up in September of 1966 with the Astros and played 14 years with them, and he also spent time with the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and the Atlanta Braves. He retired in 1984 with a career .295 betting average and more than 1,800 hits. 

After retiring, Watson became a coach for the Oakland A’s for three years before rejoining the Astros organization as assistant general manager from 1989-1993. In 1994, the Astros hired him as their general manager, technically making him the first African-American general manager in baseball history (the late Bill Lucas served as the Atlanta Braves general manager in 1976 under the title of director of player personnel). 

Watson saw it as an honor, but also as a job, saying, “I don’t want to be categorized as a pioneer. I want to be categorized as a guy who was the right man for the job…and was qualified for the position.” 

Even though he was being considered as a possible candidate for the National League president position, Watson embraced the job as GM. As the Astros general manager from 1994-1995, the team went 142-117. He then went to the Yankees as general manager for 1996-1997, winning the World Series in 1996 and laying the groundwork for the Yankees’ three straight World Series titles from 1998-2000. 

In 2002, he became MLB’s vice president of rules and on-field discipline. He held this position until he retired in 2010, but continued to help with the Urban Youth Academy program. 

Looking over his accomplishments in baseball, Watson was proud but also wanted to keep it all in perspective. 

 “I’d like to see all those firsts turned into second, third, fourth, and fifth,” Watson said. “We need to cultivate managers, minor league directors and executives…to attract young African Americans and inspire them, they need to see people who look like them.”

Celebrate Black History Month with the Museum’s Pastime’s Pride features. Subjects include Buck O’NeilElston HowardRachel Robinsonthe Evolution of Night BaseballWelday WalkerHerb WashingtonConnie MorganBill White, Sam Lacy, Octavius Catto, Willie Horton, Bob Watson, Pumpsie Green, Charlie Grant, William Matthews, Don Newcombe, Vic Power, Emmett Ashford and Hank Thompson.

Cassidy Lent was a Library-Research intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development. For information on how to apply for the Class of 2014 Steele Internship Program, click here