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Former MLB All-Star, GM and executive Bob Watson dies at 74

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HOUSTON — Bob Watson, a two-time All-Star as a player who later became the first black general manager to win a World Series with the New York Yankees in 1996, has died. He was 74.

The Houston Astros, for whom Watson played his first 14 major league seasons, announced the death Thursday night. The team didn’t provide details.

Watson, who was nicknamed “The Bull,” made the All-Star team in 1973 and ’75, hit over .300 four times and drove in at least 100 runs twice while hitting in the middle of the Astros’ lineup. He also holds the distinction of scoring the 1 millionth run in major league history, accomplishing the feat on May 4, 1975, against the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park.

He also played for Boston (1979), the Yankees (1980-82) and Atlanta Braves (1982-84), finishing with a .295 career batting average with 184 home runs, 989 RBIs and 1,826 runs scored while primarily playing first base and left field. Watson also hit .371 in 17 career postseason games.

After retiring from playing, Watson began coaching and helped the 1988 Oakland Athletics win the American League pennant as the hitting coach for the likes of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire.

He became the second black general manager in major league history when he was hired by the Astros in 1993. Watson was hired by the Yankees in 1995, and helped put together the World Series-winning squad in 1996. He retired from the Yankees after the 1997 season and later served as Major League Baseball’s vice president in charge of discipline and vice president of rules and on-field operations.

Rob Manfred released the following statement:

“Bob Watson was a highly accomplished figure in our National Pastime and a deeply respected colleague for those of us at Major League Baseball.  He was an All-Star during his 19-year Major League career and a groundbreaking executive in the front office.  Bob rose up to become general manager of the Astros in 1993 and made history as the first African American GM of a World Series Champion with the 1996 Yankees.  He then oversaw all On-Field Operations for the Commissioner’s Office and played a pivotal role in USA Baseball’s success internationally, including its Olympic Gold Medal in the 2000 Sydney Games.

“Bob was known for some of the unique moments of his generation, including scoring the millionth run in Baseball history and a memorable role in The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training.  But I will always remember the outstanding example that Bob set for others, his years of model service to the Baseball Assistance Team and the courage with which he met his health challenges in recent years.  On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to his wife Carol, their children and his many friends and admirers across our game.”

As unrest continues, Major League Baseball and its clubs have been mostly silent

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The police killing of George Floyd on May 25 has sparked outrage against police brutality both across the country and around the world. Protests which began in Minneapolis spread to multiple cities over this past weekend. In the saddest of ironies, these protests against the unlawful and excessive use of force has led to police employing even more unlawful and excessive use of force against protesters, most of whom have engaged in peaceful, constitutionally-protected activities. This has all lead to additional deaths, countless injuries, thousands of arrests, and the targeting of journalists by police and government authorities. As of this very moment, that unrest continues.

As Bill noted yesterday, a great many of ballplayers and managers have spoken out against police brutality and in support of those rallying against it. We have heard almost nothing, however, from Major League Baseball and its clubs.

Major League Baseball has issued no official statement in response to the unrest. Only four teams — the Twins, Athletics, Giants, and Blue Jays — have issued statements of their own. The Miami Marlins released a statement from CEO Derek Jeter, but as you can see below, they make a point to say that it’s Jeter’s sentiment, not that of the club. The Dodgers, well, scroll down and we’ll see what they’ve done. It’s kinda awkward.

The Twins’ statement on Friday was in specific reference to George Floyd’s killing:

The Blue Jays’ statement is the most recent:

The Giants released this yesterday:

As we noted yesterday, the Oakland A’s paired their statement with the announcement of a charitable donation:

Here’s Derek Jeter, tweeted out by the Marlins, who have made no statement on behalf of the club:

Finally the Dodgers:

That’s obviously not about Floyd’s killing or any of the unrest, but I take that as a tacit acknowledgment of it all and the judgment that maybe today is not a good day for a Zoom party. Which, hey, is better than the 24 other teams whose Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, and websites would have you believe that nothing has happened in the country in the past week.

Contrast that with the NBA which, as of late this morning anyway, has seen 23 of its 30 franchises release a statement on their Twitter feed related to George Floyd’s killing

Not that the five baseball teams who have said something are deserving of full laurels here. Notable in their statements — even in the Twins’ statement which specifically references Floyd — is the complete absence of any reference to law enforcement or police brutality. For that matter, only five of the NBA teams who spoke out specifically mentioned that. One of them is the Washington Wizards. Here’s how easy it is to say such a thing:

 

Given that the very impetus of the events upon which the teams and leagues are attempting to speak out is the behavior of law enforcement and police brutality, its rather amazing that so few mention it. Indeed, it’s impossible to see these statements as anything other than organizations trying extraordinarily hard not to mention that.

Many of you are probably asking right now (a) why it should matter if professional sports teams or leagues speak out; and (b) if they do, why it should matter if they specifically mention police brutality. Let’s talk about that, shall we?

A broad answer to that is that sports teams and leagues are citizens like the rest of us and are comprised of citizens like the rest of us. They’re important members of the communities in which they play and their leadership and example are important to a great many people. They routinely release statements about things such as natural disasters, global pandemics, notable deaths, and any manner of other of non-sports event which impacts their communities. How massive public uprisings that are clearly affecting many of their own players is mostly given a miss is beyond me.

A more specific answer: the leagues and teams are never hesitant, for one moment, to comment on social progress, including racial progress, when it occurs and when they are a part of it. They are likewise quick to embrace and promote law enforcement when it suits their interests and puts law enforcement in a good light. Most teams host law enforcement appreciation nights, for example. Is it not fair to ask a baseball team that appreciates law enforcement for the good things it does to at least comment on the bad things it does? Is it not fair to ask why they are being so silent in this regard when the behavior of law enforcement is not anything to be appreciated?

One hopes that Major League Baseball’s silence on this matter is one of simple but understandable timidity to weigh in on a matter of such gravity. That the league and its teams are taking their time to craft just the right statements and that, when they got them down perfectly, they’ll be released.

One hopes, in contrast, that their failure to do so as of yet is not a function of their belief that these matters do not affect them, their players, their employees, their fans, and the communities which support them.