BRONX, N.Y. — Bob Watson, who served as New York Yankees General Manager from 1996 to 1997, has died at the age of 74. Watson’s son Keith confirmed on Twitter that his father had passed away following a long battle with kidney disease.
Born on April 10, 1946, in Los Angeles, Calif., Watson’s career as a player and executive spanned six decades. As a player, Watson broke into the bigs at age 20 with the Houston Astros in 1966. Playing outfield and first base the better part of 14 seasons with the Houston Astros, Watson was a two-time National League All-Star.
After a trade to the Boston Red Sox in 1979, Watson signed with the Yankees in 1980. Watson was a solid contributor during his time in the Bronx. In the 1980 ALCS, Watson hit .500 against the Kansas City Royals. In 1981, Watson helped the pinstripes win the pennant, batting .438 against the Milwaukee Brewers in the ALDS, .250 against the Oakland Athletics in the ALCS and .318 against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.
The Yankees traded Watson to the Atlanta Braves in 1982, where he would first link up with Joe Torre when Torre skippered the Bravos.
Watson’s 19-year playing career winded down in 1984. A distinguished career which included 1,826 hits. Watson was also the first player in history to hit for the cycle in both leagues.
During his post-playing career, Watson was the hitting coach for the 1988 AL pennant-winning Oakland Athletics. In 1993, the Astros made Watson the second African American general manager in MLB history, a role he held until 1995.
From there, Watson was hired as Yankee general manager on Oct. 23, 1995, taking over for Gene “Stick” Michael and held that position until Feb. 2, 1998. Watson’s maneuvering in 1996 helped the Yankees win their first World Series title since 1978. In doing so, Watson became the first African American general manager to accomplish the feat.
Some of the moves Watson made in assembling the 1996 squad included acquiring Joe Girardi, Tino Martinez, Jeff Nelson, Jim Mecir, Tim Raines, Mike Aldrete, Cecil Fielder, David Weathers, Luis Sojo, Graeme Lloyd, and Charlie Hayes. In 1997, Watson added players who would factor into future titles, such as David Wells, Mike Stanton, and Chad Curtis. Watson, like Michael, was also a calming voice in not making rash trades with homegrown prospects.
Yes, George Steinbrenner loomed large as a hands-on owner, “Stick” was the architect, Brian Cashman is a ninja who kept the dynasty rolling and is still going. Buck Showalter was a builder like “Stick” and Torre managed all of the players, personalities, and egos to multiple titles. However, in the middle of it all, Watson played a pivotal role in shaping the team and deserves a ton of credit in building, shaping, and producing a winner in 1996.