Welcome back to the One Year Wonder series, where we take a look at some of the best seasons from players who spent one year or less with the Red Sox. After kicking things off with an examination of Don Aase’s brief time in Boston, we will take a look at the one great season from Bob Watson in a Red Sox uniform.
How He Came to Boston
Originally hailing from Los Angeles, Watson got the start to his largely successful MLB career with the Houston Astros, who signed him as an amateur free agent in 1965. The right-handed hitting first baseman/outfielder got to the bigs quickly, making his first appearance in 1966 as he pinch-hit for pitcher Carroll Sembera in the top of the eighth inning of a 7-0 loss to the Dodgers. He did not really become a fixture for the Astros until 1970, during his age 24 season, when he played in 97 games and had 362 plate appearances. For the next nine years he was a potent batter who had pop and average at his disposal. He made the All-Star Game twice and slashed .299/.366/.448 while launching 136 home runs.
Now we’ve reached the knowledge-that-could-be-useful-on-Jeopardy portion of this piece. Watson scored the one millionth run in MLB history, doing so on May 4, 1975 on a three-run home run from Milt May. As part of a promotional stunt attached the milestone, Watson won $10,000 and one million Tootsie Rolls for his trouble.
He would bring all those Tootsie Rolls to Boston in 1979 when he was traded to the Red Sox for Pete Ladd, a player to be named and cash in June. Bobby Sprowl, who had pitched in three games with a 6.79 ERA the year before with Boston, was the player that was named later, while Ladd had never made an appearance for the Sox.
What He Did in Boston
Watson went 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored in his first game for the Red Sox, who were 37-22 and a game back of the first place Orioles in the AL East Division at the time of the trade. Watson helped the pennant push quite a bit. Finally free of the cavernous Astrodome, his power jumped, as he mashed 13 home runs in 347 plate appearances while posting a slugging percentage of .548, which was much higher than the .444 mark he had in 13 plus years with Houston. His 2.6 WAR with the Red Sox trailed only five players for the entire campaign.
He hit in a lineup that featured Jim Rice, Dwight Evans and Fred Lynn in the prime of their careers, as well a 39-year-old Carl Yastrzemski. Boston ended up going 91-69 overall in 1979 with Watson’s help, but it wasn’t enough to get the Red Sox to the postseason, as they finished in third place in the AL East.
Why He Left Boston
When Boston’s season went up in smoke, so did Watson’s contract, as he was granted free agency that winter. Unfortunately, he did the worst possible thing he could do in , and signed with the New York Yankees, for whom he would play parts of three more seasons before being traded to Atlanta to play parts of three more.
What He Did After Boston
In his first year in pinstripes, Watson did well, hitting .307/.368/.456 with 13 home runs and 68 RBI for an OPS+ of 127. However, he posted a WAR of 2.4 in a full season with the Bombers, which was below what had been advertised when he set Fenway ablaze with the bat the previous summer. Still, it was a good first year, especially considering he got to the playoffs for the first time in his career despite being 34. Unfortunately for him (not for us) the Yankees were swept in the ALCS by the Royals. They would return to the postseason the following year, losing in the World Series to the Dodgers, but Watson was not as big a part of that team during the regular season, as he slashed .212/.317/.385 across only 180 plate appearances. However, he made the most of his first and only World Series appearance, hitting two home runs and batting .319.
Watson began the 1982 season with New York as well, but he was traded in late April to the Braves for a diner owner from Stars Hollow, I mean Scott Patterson. He would only play 171 games over the next three or so years with Atlanta, hitting .264/.338/.428 along the way before retiring in 1984.
He remained in the game of baseball after that, working as a coach before being named the general manager of the Astros and later the Yankees. With New York he became the first African American GM to win a World Series. He would later serve as the MLB vice president of rules and on-field operations from 1997 to 2010.