Baseball is a game marked by milestones of achievements—3,000 career hits, 300 career pitching victories, 100 RBI in a season.
It’s also a game marked by milestones reached when opportunity meets happenstance. Players attain an illustrious position in the annals of baseball history simply by being in the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time—Mickey Mantle hitting the first home run in the Astrodome to inaugurate the facility known as the Eighth Wonder of the World, Al Downing pitching the 715th home run ball to Hank Aaron, Bobby Thomson hitting the Shot Heard Round the World.
On May 4, 1975, Bob Watson stood on the precipice of a baseball milestone born from the opportunity-happenstance marriage. Geographically speaking, he landed on second base in the first game of a Giants-Astros doubleheader at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park.
Thomas Rogers led his article “Astros’ Watson Scores Millionth Run” in the New York Times with an explanation of baseball’s trek to 1,000,000 runs. “By a margin of approximately four seconds, Bob Watson of the Houston Astros yesterday scored major league baseball’s [sic] heavily publicized and eagerly anticipated one millionth run. It came 99 years and 12 days after Wes Fisler of the National League’s Philadelphia team was the first to circle the bases successfully,” wrote Rogers.
Giants pitcher John Montefusco walked Watson, the Astros’ first baseman and cleanup hitter, to start the second inning. Watson stole second base, then journeyman outfielder José Cruz followed with another walk, leaving catcher Milt May the opportunity to ignite history by hitting one of his four home runs for the 1975 season. “As the ball rocketed off teammate Milt May’s bat and headed deep to right, Watson tagged up and held his breath. Home run! Elated, Watson forgot all about the record and started to jog home. His teammates, alerted by a message flashed on the scoreboard that major league baseball’s [sic] 999,999th run already had been tallied, began to yell at him, and Watson started to spring. He just beat Cincinnati’s Dave Concepcion, who was rounding third 2,000 miles away, to score the millionth run,” wrote Jim Kaplan in the article “All-American but not an All-Star” in the July 14, 1975 issue of Sports Illustrated.
Watson’s gifts included a $1,000 Seiko watch, a place at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum for the shoes he wore during the historic moment, and, of course, notoriety. MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart quoted Watson in his 2012 article “Game to Remember: Bob Watson” on the Houston Astros web site. “When I really think back, the one thing that stands out for me is Houston, except maybe for Cesar Cedeno, we were off the beaten track,” Watson said. “I think my fan mail was something like four or five letters a week, or something like that. Scoring the 1,000,000th run, it increased to 50-100 per week. It got me on the map a little bit, and I ended up being the answer to a trivia question.”
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 15, 2014.