An interview with Bob Watson

Here’s another interview from the annual SABR convention in Houston. This one is with Houston Astros great Bob Watson, who I caught up with after a panel a little while ago.

Me: I was interested to talk to you ’cause you were one of the great Astros hitters of the ’60s and ’70s, and one thing that struck me is just you hit so well playing in a ballpark that was so tough to hit in. What do you think was your secret?

Watson: I used a 40-ounce bat, and I didn’t try to pull the ball. I used the turf. I think that playing in the Astrodome actually helped me because it allowed me to hit the ball hard on the ground and not in the air.

What kind of advice did Rusty Staub give you?

See it and then hit it. Rusty, great fastball hitter, and all he just said, ‘Hey, see it and hit it.’

Jose Cruz was telling me yesterday that Rusty advised him not to go for home runs so much, to be more of a contact hitter. Did Rusty say anything similar to you?

Yep, basically, because we didn’t play in a home run ballpark. My 18 home runs a year probably translated to 36 somewhere else. And if I played in this little ballpark here, it would’ve been 45 or 50, because I was a gap hitter, I didn’t pull the ball, and right center here at Minute Maid, what is it, 370 or something? Well it was like 410 in the Astrodome.

Do you feel the Astrodome cost you the Hall of Fame?

No, no. I wasn’t a Hall of Famer, and I’ll tell you why. Since baseball started over 100 years ago, 135 I guess, there’s been 18, 19,000 players and there’s only 300 guys in the Hall of Fame. I don’t really think the Astrodome cheated me. I had a very good career. I hit .300, I dunno, seven, eight times, .290 or better another six times, .280. The criteria for Hall of Fame in my opinion: lead the league two or three times in either home runs or RBIs, be an MVP three or four times. I didn’t have that kind of career.

Interesting. What about some of your teammates like Cesar Cedeno or Jimmy Wynn? Do you think those guys might have had [HOF] bids if they’d played elsewhere?

Oh well, probably. I think, very, very honestly, those guys– both of ’em– their off-the-field habits cost them their careers. Everybody knows what Cesar did over in the Dominican. (Editor’s note: Here’s the story.) Jimmy had some other problems off the field. I think if those weren’t there, their careers would’ve been a lot longer and a lot better.

Interesting. One last question. I wanted to ask you, Bill James did a thing years ago where he looked at your stats and compared ’em to High Pockets Kelly who’s in the Hall of Fame–

High Pockets Kelly! [laughing] I’ve gotta look him up.

What he found was you guys had similar batting averages but when you adjusted for era that your numbers were a lot better. Do you make anything of that?

I have never heard of High Pockets. But you know what, again, I had a very good career, and if I was born in this era, yeah, I’d be a millionaire. But I wasn’t. Just like Hank Aaron. He would own the team, he might own the league if he was playing in this era. Sandy Koufax, all those guys, the era you play in is where you play, and I fit in very nicely where I played.