Yankees family fondly remembers Bob Watson: ‘Gentle giant’

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Bob Watson and Joe Torre were teammates on the 1973 NL All-Star team and Watson played for Torre for three years in Atlanta.

But it was in The Bronx where the two made history, with Watson as the general manager when Torre and the Yankees won the World Series in 1996.

“All of a sudden we come together again with the Yankees and I am assuming he had to sign off on hiring me [as manager] and it was very comfortable,” Torre said Friday of Watson, who died Thursday at 74.

“Of course, after two years, he had enough,’’ Torre said, referring to Watson’s resignation prior to the 1998 season. “But the one thing I was grateful for was we shared the World Series in ’96.’’

Torre last saw Watson in March when the Astros dedicated a building in his name at their Astros Youth Academy.

He credited Watson for helping him get the job after Torre talked to the Yankees about the GM job that went to Watson.

Bob Watson and Joe Torre in 1997
Bob Watson and Joe Torre in 1997N.Y. Post: Nury Hernandez

“We worked well with each other,’’ Torre said. “It was a very comfortable marriage, that is for sure.’’

Watson spent the majority of his 19-year playing career with the Astros and was with the Yankees for parts of three seasons from 1980-82. And he went 7-for-22 with two homers in the Yankees’ World Series loss to the Dodgers in 1981. Watson also played for the Red Sox.

He made just as significant an impact on the game after he retired as a player.

Watson was the hitting coach for the A’s for three years before going to work in Houston’s front office, where he eventually became the GM from 1993-95. He was then hired by the Yankees following the 1995 season and remained in the position until 1998, when he was replaced by Brian Cashman.

“Bob was a gentle giant,’’ Cashman said in a statement. “He was an incredibly kind person, and a mentor whom I looked up to and admired. He shared his wealth of experiences and deep knowledge of the game freely and with everyone he came in contact with, and I was one of those beneficiaries. Bob is the reason Joe Torre became manager of the New York Yankees, and the two of them were instrumental in creating a winning culture that led to remarkable achievement.”

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred called Watson a “groundbreaking executive in the front office” as the first African-American GM of a World Series champion.

After he left the Yankees, Watson also oversaw all on-field operations for the commissioner’s office and was involved with USA Baseball, helping win a gold medal in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

Even now, Reggie Jackson, who played two seasons with Watson on the Yankees, remains impressed at how Watson dealt with the pressure of being the GM under owner George Steinbrenner.

“When he was working there, George was in full bloom,” Jackson said. “He was a tough man. Watson got beat up a lot. … If you worked there, [Steinbrenner] thought you were going to be a punching bag. Watson did well.’’

Willie Randolph knew Watson as a teammate, hitting coach and general manager.

“He was a mentor like Roy White [and] Willie Stargell,’’ Randolph said. “All those cats taught me how to be a professional. … A lot of people don’t realize how great of a player Bob Watson was. But when he became a teammate we hit it off right away. I always tried to tap into knowledge from [veterans like] Bob and Frank Robinson. They gave me knowledge and perspective on life and the game. I am going to miss him.’’

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