Bob Watson (by Ububba)

On April 23, 1982, the Yankees traded Bob Watson to the Braves for minor-league pitcher Scott Patterson.*

By then, the Bravos had already made some NL noise with a 13-game winning streak to start the season. But acquiring Watson to fortify the bench appeared to be a helluva get. As it turned out, in ’82 and, especially, ’83—two seasons that saw Atlanta go down to the NL-West wire with L.A.—Watson would get some big and memorable hits.

Watson, who had just turned 36, was finishing up an impressive career as one of baseball’s more underrated hitters. A powerfully built right-handed, line-drive machine, Watson played the majority of his career in the Houston Astrodome (aka MLB’s Grand Canyon), a notoriously difficult park for power hitters. Nonetheless—even after 3 mostly successful years in Boston and The Bronx—any fan of any NL West club knew how dangerous Watson was. Indeed, by the time he hung up the cleats after 19 seasons, Watson went .295/.364./.447 with a 129 OPS+.

Playing for the Astros between 1966-79, Watson only made two NL All-Star teams—but, as a 1B/OF, those were tough squads to crack. Coming up as an OF**, there was Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Pete Rose, Billy Williams, etc. Then transitioning to 1B fulltime in ’75, there was Willie Stargell, Tony Perez, Steve Garvey, etc. Quite a logjam.

With the Braves: For that crazy-to-the-end ’82 campaign, Watson hit .246/.323./.421 for the Braves. In 130 PA, he was used mostly as a PH and occasional platoon for Chris Chambliss, whom he’d ironically replaced in New York two years prior. In ’83, his numbers were even better – .309/.376./.490 in 170 PA. True to form, he pretty much pulverized LHP – .849 OPS in ’82 (106 PA), then a gaudy 1.074 OPS in ’83 (114 PA).

Against the main-rival Dodgers in ’82—a team with formidable LHP—he was .308/.367/.577 with 2 HR & 6 RBI in 30 PA. In ’83 against L.A., he went .333/.415/.458 with 1 HR & 7 RBI in 29 PA. And maybe it was no surprise that, as a longtime NL West player, he was a lifetime Dodger-killer. In 684 PA vs. L.A., he was .307/.380/.448 and, as a Yankee in the 1981 World Series, he mauled the Dodgers to the tune of .318/.385/.636 with 2 HR & 7 RBI in the 6-game loss.

For his career, Watson only saw post-season action in 1980 & ’81, but boy, did he make the most of his time on the bigger stages. In 4 series & 67 PA, he went .371/.403/.565. And no, he didn’t take an AB in the 1982 NLCS vs. St. Louis.

Additionally, he had a couple other notable career accomplishments. He was the first modern player to hit for the cycle in both leagues (Houston in 1977 and Boston in 1979). In 1975, Watson was credited with scoring baseball’s millionth run. For his career, he hit 117 homers on the road and 117 homers vs. RHP; he hit 67 homers at home and 67 homers vs. LHP. Kinda weird.

In 1993, he joined Houston’s front office, becoming MLB’s first black GM. In 1996 as the Yanks’ GM, he became MLB’s first black GM to win a World Series. But we’ll try not to dwell on that one, other than to say that he found working for George Steinbrenner less than fulfilling. (Of course, it wasn’t the first time he had a hand in upsetting Steinbrenner.) Watson’s quote about The Boss: “If things go right, they’re his team. If things go wrong, they’re your team. His favorite line is, ‘I will never have a heart attack—I give them.’” Charming, huh?

If you ask Atlanta fans of a certain age about Bob Watson’s stint with the Braves, they’ll all mention one glorious moment. On August 13, 1983, with the Braves in another late-season deathbattle with the Dodgers, Watson capped one of those crazy back-and-forth pennant-race games with a walk-off, 2-run homer off Steve Howe before a packed Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. (To see Watson’s HR & highlights of the 8-7 win, go to 1:00:20.)

Though the Dodgers had won 7 of 10 games vs. the Braves at that point, Atlanta took a 7-game lead on L.A. that Saturday night. Unfortunately, Watson’s exhilarating HR provided that season’s high-water mark. The ride from the 13-game winning streak to NL West title to seeing another division flag on the horizon derailed almost immediately afterward.

Two days later, Bob Horner broke his wrist and was replaced at 3B by someone named Randy Johnson. Atlanta finished the season by winning only 17 of the next 45 games. The talented Dodgers, just 2 years past a World Series title, crept past them for the division title, then promptly lost the NLCS to the “Wheeze Kids” Phillies***, a club they’d beaten 11 of 12 games during the regular season.

The Braves wouldn’t finish over .500, or even play a meaningful August game, until that magical year of 1991. We didn’t know it at the time, but Watson’s HR was as it good as it was going to get for quite a while.

*Curiously, Patterson went onto a successful acting career, starring in three entries to the “Saw” torture-porn franchise—plus seven seasons as a regular on the “Gilmore Girls” TV series.

**That ’72 Houston outfield was pretty outrageous with Watson (OPS+ 141), Jimmy Wynn (OPS+ 146; they called him “The Toy Cannon” for good reason) & a young César Cedeño (OPS+ 162) skipping liners through the Dome’s prodigious power alleys.

***1983 was a pretty good year for Philly sports. Not only did the Phils win the NL title, the 76ers won the NBA championship. The NHL Flyers won the Patrick Division title, but were upset in the playoffs. Local Big East school Villanova went 24-8 and made the NCAA’s Final 8, ultimately bowing to Phi Slama Jama. Only the Eagles, who went 5-11 in an NFL strike season, were bottom-feeders.

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131 thoughts on “Bob Watson (by Ububba)”

  1. Excellent writeup on Watson. I know he had slowed down when he got to the Braves, but I always felt he was an underutilized asset. Guys like Watson and Chambliss were definitely easy to pull for.

  2. Wasn’t Bill Lucas of the Braves the first black GM in the early 1980s? Or did he have a different front office title/role?

  3. Bowman is already on the Freddie Freeman wrist-watch.

  4. One of my favorite short tenured Braves.

    I remember seeing him for the Astros in the Astrodome in 1972. I really was not familiar with him before that, but when they flashed those big stats on that big board, I never failed to remember him thereafter.

  5. It’s really frustrating when your organization only produces one notable player in 5 years and then his body starts acting up.

  6. @5 Yeah, the idea that Freeman’s wrist is a single swing away from re-exploding and ruining the Braves’ rebuild momentum is a scary one. Freeman’s 2015 was really frustrating – it seems like he should’ve been shut down much earlier to allow the wrist a better chance to heal, but I’m sure Freddie is a gamer and wanted to contribute.

    Also – Simba, Kimbrel and Teheran all debuted in 2010 or later (Freeman’s first MLB action was 2010) – they’re notable too, I’d say.

  7. @5, come now–we produced several notable players whose bodies acted up (or at least would have been notable had their bodies not acted up)

  8. Y’all I was joking.

    I just wanted to remind everybody that the organization has elected to build an entire organization around the 7th-to-10th best first baseman in the game.

  9. @9 Have they? He’s a nice piece, to be sure, but it seems to me they’re building around a bounty of young pitching, some of which they hope will turn into solid major leaguers and some of which they hope to flip for offense.

    I’d say the idea that the Braves are building around Freeman is more of a PR “Face of the Franchise” statement than a reality.

  10. Don’t sell Freddie short. His career slash line and OPS+ are virtually identical to those of the legendary Bob Watson!

  11. Well of the choices the Braves had to build around, he was probably the best bet. He was 24 and had just played 162 games. He had proven to be the best and most consistent player on the team. A guy like Freeman is only going to get better (unless he is hurt)

    Heyward wasn’t going to re-sign and test was going to test the FA waters. He isn’t worth what the Cubs paid for him and I am glad we didn’t get locked into that deal. I look forward to the Cubs Michael Tucker experiment.

    Simmons would have been nice to build around, but he clearly doesn’t have the bat.

    Heyward and Simmons are not going to become better defenders. They have probably peeked in that department.

    When Freeman is healthy, he is probably a top five first baseman. I would only for sure take Goldschmidt, Cabrera and Votto over him. I might be persuaded to take Rizzo as well.

  12. @13, To skirt our (plenty discussed) differences of opinion in Heyward-Simmons-Freeman talent evaluation, I don’t think any one of them is good enough to build the team around. But we had all three, and a nice bundle of other good players on top of them. We needed to build around the group, picking a couple to deal in pursuit of a smart re-load, not blow it all to hell and keep one of them around as a sad kiss-off to what might have been.

  13. Largest contract in team history is more of a reflection that we’ve been a mid-market team who has let several potentially more deserving players leave than how good Freeman is. We also agreed to the largest contract in team history because of the quantity of years vs. age, and he was willing to sign an arb-buyout deal and Heyward wouldn’t.

    I think we have chosen to build around 5 SPs who will cost a total of about $25M, but that’s too wordy for a PR picture.

  14. On the one hand, the rebuild was totally necessary; on the other, it was totally unnecessary.

    I hope this succinct summary can avert a broader orgy upon this poor, dead horse carcass…this first spring game can’t come soon enough

  15. I prefer the Upton Bros. Band in the genre, though. The untimely demise of the elder brother not withstanding.

    Also, I tried and failed to come up with a ‘Can’t You See’ joke relating to Tucker’s contact lens issues.

  16. Freddie might throw a BABIP-fueled big year in there somewhere, but he’s not someone I think of as having an ascendant arc to his career. He’s a prototypical old-player skills guy, and he’d have to retool his swing to add the one factor that’s available to him to improve (HR rate, which his slashing style puts a ceiling to).

  17. I think it’s very possible that we shopped Freeman and there weren’t any offers worth considering.

    If he’s your best player then things aren’t looking all that good. It’s very similar to the Hawks and Al Horford.

  18. So Francoeur is going to take PAs from Olivera and block Mallex Smith by being on the roster. You know he will make the team. LOL.

  19. http://m.braves.mlb.com/news/article/165148538/gordon-beckham-aims-to-start-at-3rd-for-braves

    I can’t even. I just can’t even. I. Literally. Can’t. A world where Gordon Beckham is our starting third baseman is a world I refuse to live in. I better find another oxygen source in the galaxy.

    Frenchy was not a completely useless player last year. He was more valuable than Swisher and Bourn if KJ and Bonifacio make the roster. I could get behind giving Markakis some days off against lefties with Frenchy in the lineup.

    I’ve said this before: can we raise the floor of the team to get decent? There are just some players that have no business being on any major league team, the Braves collected them in 2015, and they are clearly creating enough depth to avoid that this year. There is NO excuse for Eric Stults, Jake Brigham, Ross Detwiler, Trevor Cahill, Sugar Ray Marimon, and Nick Masset to be on MLB rosters. Did you know they accounted for 14% of our innings pitched? If you add in Cody Martin, Mike Foltyniewicz, David Aardsma, and Matt Marksberry, guys who deserve a little bit of a leash but shouldn’t get nearly as long of one that they did, and you’re talking about more than 1/5 of our innings going to guys that should never be on the mound if you have decent depth.

    Same thing on the offensive side. Eric Young Jr, Christian Bethancourt, Alberto Callaspo, Todd Cunningham, Michael Bourn, Chris Johnson, Pedro Ciriaco, Joey Terds and Eury Perez got 18% of our team’s ABs. Then add the half of Peterson’s ABs that he won’t get if he continues to suck.

    Raise the floor of the team, put some actual major league baseball players on the roster, and we’re going to be much better next year.

  20. Edvard Munch
    we should have signed on a hunch
    those who quit dreaming
    would then have an outlet for systemic screaming.

  21. Our New Coach

    Chipper Jones
    has purchased a number of drones
    they will accompany the batted ball
    giving a general indication as to where it might fall.

  22. the French Lieutenant’s wimmen
    on this news their eyes with tears are swimmen
    a return to the Tedi
    the prodigal who will make both them and Fred cry.

  23. Jeff Francoeur, his contact rate poor,
    On the Occasion of his Return aroused a cri de Coeur.

    “Andruw! No, Deion!” some demanded in his stead;
    Rob Cope left the planet–he’d rather be dead.

  24. This group has a chance to be historically bad. Maybe win-less-than-60-games bad. It’s going to be fun to watch.

  25. I gave some dyspeptic answers in an interview about the 2016 Braves:

    http://www.cardsconclave.com/2016/02/23/playing-pepper-2016-atlanta-braves/

    Q: Which team in the division do you most enjoy beating and how do you think you’ll fare against them in 2016?

    A: The Nationals, without question. Before you get to tell other people that you’re the presumptive champion, you have to actually win something. Watching Washington flail under the weight of their own unearned expectations is the closest I come to enjoying baseball these days. It may be churlish, but if it weren’t for schadenfreude, I wouldn’t have any freude at all.

  26. Just looking over Frenchy’s stats. I thought he was effective against LHP, but looking back, he’s been equally putrid against left and right since 2011. So much for a platoon option.

  27. Yes ..can already see writing on the wall — Freeman will play maybe 100 games .. he is damaged goods now … the way he starts his swing and stops abrupty is very hard on wrist and thus a matter of time when healthy that he reinjures the wrist …. so prepare for that …. cant trade him .. contract to high ..so we are stuck with him .. hopefully we can garner some power somewhere in lineup .. maybe spend some free agent money in 2017 for a legit power guy at 3B or OF … thoughts ??? Very hard to see all off season that its good its good its good .. no issues .no issues .. then good days and bad days and now day to day .. etc …. when does his contract expire ???

  28. Frenchy hit 13 homeruns in about 350 at bats for the Phillies last year. This would have been second on the team with Atlanta. He is obviously being brought in to be our “big bopper” when Freeman goes down. :-(

  29. Gotta love this quote on Freeman

    “Freeman has been routinely hitting balls off a tee, and others that have been flipped to him since the middle of January. Though he has occasionally encountered some relatively pain-free sessions, he still has not yet taken regular batting practice or swung more than two consecutive days.”

    Ocassionally he has swung off a tee or hit pepper with just a little bit of pain but he’s never hit for more than two days in a row? Could you assume a lot of pain the other times? That is not very encouraging to say the least.

  30. @55 — You said that this time last year, and they weren’t. They were normal bad, and they’ll be normal bad again this year. They’re not even the worst team in the division. People always underestimate how bad you have to be in order to be historically bad.

  31. “[Francoeur] brings the good energy and he’s a great teammate,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “We always talk about how if we’re going to bring some of those guys in, those are some of the characteristics you want them to have. Who knows? We’ve talked a lot about him making the team. He had a great year last year.”

    I just love Fredi.

  32. If Frenchy is the fifth outfielder, and the 23rd-25th guy on the roster, I really don’t care. Anything is better than Eury Perez.

    Seriously, what’s the position player roster at this point? AJP, Flowers, Freeman, Johnson, Peterson, Aybar, Beckham, Garcia, Olivera, Francoeur, Inciarte, Bourn, Markakis? That’s 13, and there’s no Nick Swisher, Bonifacio, or Castro.

    I bet everyone could give their 12 projected pitchers and no one will get it right. I’d bet no one would even get 11.

  33. If Frenchy makes the roster, he will be gone by the end of May. I don’t think he makes it unless we move Swisher or Bourn

  34. Jeff Francoeur
    there must be absolutely no rancoeur
    we can pretend to be deaf
    no one falls for that quite like Jeff.

  35. Our MVP…never let us forget what he did for us last year, pure class…the rose in a garden of thorns.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/23/sports/baseball/a-j-pierzynski-atlanta-braves-catcher-hate.html?&moduleDetail=section-news-2&action=click&contentCollection=Baseball&region=Footer&module=MoreInSection&version=WhatsNext&contentID=WhatsNext&pgtype=article

    AJ Pierzynski
    away from the influence of Meyer Lynsky
    hit 300 last year
    about the same number of hits as Lynsky we fear.

  36. There once was a Frenchman named Jeff
    Who infused the Baby Braves with heft
    While it used to be so
    He effected a basso
    He now only sings alto clef

  37. @80 – in the comments section to that article, somebody linked a story I hadn’t heard before, from the SF Gate:

    “One of those now-it-can-be-told stories the White Sox, A.J. Pierzynski’s new employer, surely haven’t heard: During a Giants exhibition game last spring, Pierzynski took a shot to his, shall we say, private parts. Trainer Stan Conte rushed to the scene, placed his hands on Pierzynski’s shoulders in a reassuring way, and asked how it felt. “Like this,” said Pierzynski, viciously delivering a knee to Conte’s groin. It was a real test of professionalism for the enraged Conte, who vowed to ignore Pierzynski for the rest of the season until Conte realized how that would look. The incident went unreported because all of the beat writers happened to be doing in-game interviews in the clubhouse, but it was corroborated by a half-dozen eyewitnesses who could hardly believe their eyes. Said one source, as reliable as they come: “There is absolutely no doubt that it happened.””

    (http://www.sfgate.com/sports/jenkins/article/Ballplayers-still-getting-their-edge-3313461.php)

  38. Joel,
    I don’t know if anyone else will answer – if someone else has more info, listen to them :-)

    I’m down the road in Greenville SC, so I don’t know a ton about Asheville but have been there a few times. Honestly, I don’t know a ton about things to do, usually we go through there more than anything…having said that, they have the pinball museum that is supposed to be pretty cool. $13 gets you in and gets you unlimited play on 30 machines.

    ashevillepinball.com

    Biltmore is there as well if you’re into that kind of thing. Stu can probably tell you the whole family connection w/ Vanderbilt.

    They do have some good spots for lunch. I went to Another Broken Egg Cafe w/ my wife a few months back and that was really good. We have also been to the Tupelo Honey Cafe, and Farm Burger as well. As I’m reading this list, you’d think I’m some kind of hippie, what’s wrong with me? I guess, when I think about it, just about every time I have been there, I have been with my wife and that’s where it comes from…you’d think at least once though, I’d have eaten at “Guy’s BBQ” or something like that.

    Anyway, hope you have fun. If it were 2 months later you could catch a game w/ the Asheville Tourists (Rockies affiliate)…

  39. #81
    If she likes BBQ, 12 Bones Smokehouse in Asheville (5 Riverside Dr.) is one of the very best. (When I’m in town, it’s always the 1st place I visit.) BTW, it’s only open for lunch and only on weekdays.

    There’s also all kinds of farm-fresh brunch places downtown. Asheville’s got good eats.

  40. @81, Salsas. Definitely Salsas. It’s right downtown.

    Malaprops is a pretty good bookstore. If she likes to hike, there’s a very nice walk on the campus of Warren Wilson about 20 minutes from downtown in Swannanoa just off tunnel road. It’s for use by the public.

    Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway for a spell; the Biltmore’s a great trip (but a pretty big one).

    And if you can get there early enough, grab a beer at Green Man–their IPA fresh and from the cask engine is one of the better beers I’ve had in my life.

  41. Thanks guys! I’ll pass these suggestions along to her. I’ve never been to Asheville but figured there were lots of good options if you know where to go!

  42. @83, I don’t think there’s any doubt that he might be the douchiest of all the douches ever to wear the Braves uniform.

  43. Schuerholz and Andruw are going into the team HOF this year.

    The thing that always bothered me about Francoeur was the reputation he got as a good teammate and leader. This is the same guy who complained to the press every time the Braves treated him like anything less than a star, even long after it was clear he wasn’t one and never would be. He was a guy I hated watching, and unlike guys like Melvin Upton or Dan Uggla or Nate McLouth didn’t even get the sense that he was trying to improve, or even thought he needed to improve. Maybe he’s matured after years of wandering in the wilderness, but…

    My favorite Francoeur memory occurred the year after he was traded. He had a hot April for the Mets, and there were articles in the NY press saying stuff to the effect of “Sit down, David Wright, this is Jeff Francoeur’s team now.” Yeah, not so much.

  44. I will always remember Francoeur for having about the worst 100 RBI season ever (2006). He hit 29 HR, had 103 RBI, but he was replacement level offensively.

  45. Seconding 12 Bones, Broken Egg, and Tupelo. Also the pinball joint, which has a 1980s era Spiderman machine that is the pinnacle of pinball achievement.

    Yeah, the notion of Pierzynski’s classiness doesn’t bear much scrutiny. Any, really.

  46. #92
    For ’06 & ’07, Francoeur was like a poor man’s Joe Carter. The homers & the RBI certainly counted, but the guy just never walked.

  47. Those cases are pretty different. For Carter, his atrocious outfield defense cancelled out much of his very good offense. Francoeur was a pretty good right field defender but his putrid OBP cancelled out his slugging. For 06-07, Frenchy was a 100 RBI defensive specialist.

    *specifically, fangraphs says he was 13 runs above average defensively for those 2 years and 18 runs below average offensively.

  48. Sources: Braves have agreed to $990K deal with Cuban reliever Carlos Manuel Portuondo, 28. (Photo/@socceryordi)

  49. If he makes the team, Fredi will trot him out there everyday. He will say, “Frenchy had some great hacks last night (0-4 3 Ks.) Let’s if he can get hot. If he is hot, he can carry a team for weeks. You all have seen that.”

    Chip: I agree with Fredi. Frecnhy’s mere presence in a lineup forces pitchers to be careful.

    Joe: Me too. This guys just plays the right way. He goes hard every night and tries to hit the ball hard. It’s just nice to see guys like him instead of (references Justin Upton indirectly)guys who are up and down. You always know what you are going to get with Frenchy.

  50. @93…
    senile too, would you say?

    Manuel Portuondo
    has housing needs, he’s sought your condo
    relieve him of that stress
    Havana timeshares have put him in this mess.

  51. 990K
    Liberty had called to say
    no more million dollar deals
    please confine yourselves to unknown Cuban steals.

  52. #107
    Apparently, you aren’t the only one entertaining that idea.

    When those over/unders came out, one casino took so much over-action on the Cubs that they’re now sitting at 93.

    At the moment, the Cubs (at 4-1) are the shortest odds to win the WS. It opened at 10-1.

  53. The Portuondo signing makes absolutely no sense on the surface. However, the Braves track record in turning guys like this into useful pieces is pretty good. Maybe he will be the next Peter Moylan or Kerry Ligtenberg.

  54. I love the story on Heyward and Ross too. This is taking nothing away from Heyward’s generosity, but him paying for a suite all year for Ross would be equivalent of me buying lunch for Smitty for about 3 days given our respective salaries. Why couldn’t I have made it big in baseball! There are only 3 things that kept me from greatness: Strength, speed, and talent! :-)

  55. Wander Javier
    ‘s wanderful to note he has no heir
    ‘s awful nice
    you don’t have to put up with this level of defense twice.

  56. Freeman has had 5 months off to rest wrist and they are already talking about him starting the season on the DL. Does not sound good to me.

  57. Definitely very concerned about Freeman’s wrist. It just seems crazy that this has been an almost 12 month process of getting him healthy.

  58. I don’t know why it would be all that surprising. Wrist injuries don’t just fix themselves by rubbing ice on it.

  59. I guess that’s why Coppy came out so publicly about not trading Freeman. Knew he couldn’t cause the wrist is not something that just heals so may as well make some bold declarations about chopping his arm off or whatever.

  60. Three teams in the NL East aren’t really even trying to win. I think that’s why the Nats coming in second is oh-so-enjoyable.

  61. braves 14,

    I think the better question is the wrist ONLY repairable by surgery and if so, why didn’t somebody start that last August?

    My feeling is a strained or stressed ligament / tendon that usually would not be something you want to operate on, and should have (or will be) cured with rest, but hasn’t yet.

  62. The fake Fredi and Chip quotes blended with real Fredi quotes… the lines are blurring between real and fake. It’s a very weird time at Braves journal and I kinda like it. We almost need a “Did Fredi say it?” section.

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