47ºF

Former Astros All-Star Bob Watson honored during Black History Month

Watson made history as first African-American general manager

HOUSTON – In celebration of Black History Month, former Astros All-Star and first African-American general manager Bob Watson was honored Friday.

The Astros organization highlighted his achievements and the impact Watson has made.

WATCH: Former Astros All-Star, first African-American GM Bob Watson honored

"Bob's lifetime service and devotion to baseball is immeasurable," executive director of the Astros Foundation Twila Carter said. "We are proud to have him as a member of the Astros family."

Mayor Sylvester Turner, Sharon Robinson, MLB educational consultant and daughter of Jackie Robinson; senior VP of MLB youth programs Tony Reagins; Jim Crane, Astros owner and chairman; and Astros president of business operations Reid Ryan also honored Watson.

The Astros Foundation announced plans to build the Bob Watson Education Center at the Astros Youth Academy at Sylvester Turner Park in Houston. The learning center will measure 6,000 square-foot with classroom spaces to accommodate 75-100 students.

The announcement was made by Astros senior vice president of community relations and the executive director of the Astros Foundation Twila Carter.

“Today is an exciting day for the Astros Foundation, the Astros Youth Academy and the entire Astros organization,” Carter said. “The baseball and softball facilities at the Youth Academy are already top notch and we wanted to provide a classroom environment to match it. With the support from Jim Crane, we’ve taken a step toward that goal today.”

Not only was Watson the first African-American general manager for the Astros, he went to be a general manager for the Yankees leading the team to victory in the 1996 World Series. He then left to be an MLB executive, vice president in charge of discipline and vice president of rules and on-field operations.

"He's done it all in the game -- GM, assistant GM, player -- what more do you want,” said former Astros coach Art Howe.

The Astros Foundation’s released the following statement:

“The Astros chose Watson to be the namesake behind this design because of his long baseball career which took him from player to coach to the front office. He played for 19 seasons, including parts of 14 seasons with the Astros from 1966-79.

"After retiring as a player in 1984, Watson would become a hitting coach, most notably for the 1988 AL Champion Oakland A’s. Following the 1988 season, he was hired by the Astros as assistant general manager and later took over as the club’s general manager following the 1993 season, becoming just the second African-American to hold this position in MLB history.  

"Watson would later become the first African-American GM to win a World Series after helping to guide the New York Yankees to the title in 1996.”

"Baseball chose me. Baseball was my avenue out of poverty," said Watson. 

Growing up in south central Los Angeles, Watson broke ground, taking on the world of baseball at just 20 year old. He was an African-American with a steadfast determination to succeed. 

“I did all the things that I’ve done in these 50 something years of baseball not for [recognition] like this, but I am thoroughly honored and pleased to have my name (in) association with an educational center because education -- you can’t take it from you and education is our future especially for the youth,” Watson said.

Dozens of Harris Academy students, some who are participants of the Astros Youth Academy’s programs sat alongside MLB executives, Astros executives and former players to watch this morning’s announcement. 

"It's most important for them to see somebody that they can look up to -- seeing someone in them knowing that they can strive to that as well," said Marlena Robin, a teacher with Harris Academy.

Astros owner and chairman Jim Crane, Astros president of Business operations Reid Ryan, city of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, MLB educational consultant Sharon Robinson and MLB vice president of youth and facility development Darrell Miller were all there to support. Several former teammates of Watson also attended, including Jose Cruz, Art Howe, J.R. Richard, Scipio Spinks and Jimmy Wynn.

Wynn recalled one of his favorite moments with Watson -- the time Watson had made what was then considered the one millionth MLB homerun.

"When I was running, he kept screaming, ‘Run! Run! Run!’ because when he scored the run, the one millonth run, I was right in front of him," said Wynn.

Watson and his wife Carol Watson have been dedicated to inspiring youth to overcome challenges, despite where they grew up. 
 
"They have an opportunity to reach for their dreams -- reach for the stars -- and all they have to do is want it," Watson said.

Watson said he was lucky to be able to be in attendance. The baseball legend is fighting a battle with stage 4 liver failure. Despite his own battles, he and his wife continue to make time to inspire others.

“This has been a culmination of a life and time well spent,” Carol said. “And, to be documented like that is an honor.”

Construction will begin on the Education Center in May with its completion expected in December.