A Baseball Moment
Bob Watson Scores the Millionth Run
On a warm spring day in May of 1975 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, a 29 year-old man named Bob “Bull” Watson scored the 1,000,000th run in Major League Baseball history. In a much publicized and watched, pre-Internet spectacle, he was rewarded with a $1,000 watch, $10,000 in the form of a million pennies, a $1,000,000 donation in his name and one million Tootsie Rolls. That moment should not define that excellent ballplayer but it was a shining moment of Americana.
A Solid Ball Player
For those unfamiliar with the facts, Mr. Watson’s very creditable playing career spanned 19 years, with a lifetime .295 batting average, 184 home runs and 999 RBI’s. Mr. Watson is also the only MLB player to hit for the “cycle” in both the American and National Leagues. Despite his own efforts - .319, 2 HRs, 7 RBIs – his only trip to the World Series ended in failure as his team, the NY Yankees, lost to the LA Dodgers in 1981.
* As a very minor aside for those of you born after 1975; at the very end of his playing career, Mr. Watson was traded from the Yankees to the Braves for a minor league player named Scott Peterson. You may ecognize him as the same who played Luke Danes in the Gilmour Girls. Mr. Peterson may have been a "decent" actir but he never made it to “the Show.”
An Excellent GM and Administrator
After retirement in 1984, the “Bull” decided to still employ his considerable talents on the field and became a hitting coach. Eventually he rose to the position of General Manager, first with Houston Astros and then with the New York Yankees where he finally got his first World Series ring in 1996. These days, Mr. Watson is still active in baseball and currently serves as the MLB Vice President of Rules and On-Field Operations.
The Backdrop to the One Millionth Run
At the end of the 1974 season, baseball statisticians had determined that the American League had scored a total of 426,964 in its history and the older National League had scored 570,819 for a grand total of 997,513. Bear in mind that computerization had still not come to professional sports in any great degree. Still, it was apparent that the millionth run would be scored sometime in 1975.
The situation was just too great an advertising opportunity to be missed and both Tootsie Roll Industries in the United States and the Seiko Company of Japan sponsored contests for the baseball fans in their respective countries. To spur interest in the upcoming event, each company would reward a fan that most closely identified the scoring player and the date on which the one millionth run was scored.
The Set-Up for the Moment
To monitor the coming event, Major League Baseball set up a centralized processing center that received semi-hourly updates from every major league ballpark in the country with an active game in progress. As the countdown drew closer to the millionth run, updates were increased to mere minutes.
The players and fans themselves were not oblivious to the situation. They were kept abreast of the situation by scoreboards in every stadium. As the countdown progressed, the fans became more agitated. Everyone wanted to be there when the 1,000,000th run was scored. The players were not immune to the hyperbole and the excitement.
The Tootsie Roll Incident
Bob Watson stood at second base after drawing a walk and heading to second on a force play. His teammate, Jose Cruz, stood on first after also getting a base on balls. Milt May came into the batter’s box and on an 0-2 count blasted one into the stands. Watson ran as hard and as fast as he could.
The final decision as to who scored the millionth run did not come for a little while. Cincinnati Red’s shortstop, Dave Concepción, had just sent another ball into the bleachers and was hell bent for leather winding his way around the bases. As Mr. Concepción noted himself, “I never ran so fast in my entire life.” Still, he was four seconds too late. Similarly, John Lownestein of the Cleveland Indians scuffed the base path at third looking for an opportunity to steal home and score the millionth run himself but it was not to be.
Instead, Bob Watson was recognized as scoring the 1,000,000th run. When the official word came down, officials from “Cooperstown,” the Baseball Hall of Fame asked for Bob’s shoes ( he didn’t want to give them up as he had just broken them in), took Mr. Mays’ bat and dug up home plate.
Most amazingly, in this naïve era, they convinced the fan who caught the ball to give it up for nothing more than a handshake and a thank you. Whoever denigrates the Spirit of the Seventies is an ignorant fool.
Where'd All that Candy Go?
A single Tootsie Roll weighs just under seven grams, That means that 8 of them weigh a single pound. One million of them end up at almost eight tons. Ironically, Mr. Watson’s children were allergic to chocolate – Tootsie Rolls only came in one flavor at the time – so he donated them as well as the one million pennies to the Girl Scouts of America.
Remarkably, over 50 fans made Bob Watson and May 4th as their choice in the Tootsie Roll Million Run Sweepstakes. A random drawing awarded $10,000 to a lucky kid who loved Tootsie Rolls and baseball.
Some Final Notes on the Millionth Run
Computers and technology have now been applied to the statistics of Major League Baseball. No statistic, no matter how revered, goes unchallenged. It has been determined categorically that not Bob Watson, Dave Concepción nor John Lownestein could have scored the one millionth run in MLB history.
Perhaps some things are better left undiscovered or, at the very least, unsaid. In any event, those early Spring days of 1975 were magical for those present. We reveled in the ephemeral millionth run as surely as those Girls Scouts did in the very real, one million Tootsie Rolls.