Remembering When Baseball Scored the One Millionth Run

One gripe you hear year in and year out is that baseball is getting too commercial, the Reds recent ownership has increased the teams marketing efforts more so then the last ownership group, this includes reintroducing vintage brands that extend merchandising (Hi Mr. Redlegs) or packaging soda pop sales with cheerleading dance troupes that were formerly a NBA side show in most cities. One of the key movements in the MLB’s marketing push has been to increase signage at the ballpark, more often this is the sort of advertising that gets the baseball traditionalist up in arms, and that caused an issue 2 years ago when the Cubs of all the teams were going to bow to the will of the advertiser and place ads on the walls of Wrigley Field.

The HORROR!!!!!!

What a load, did we forget the name of the park itself?

Wrigley Field, as in Wrigley Gum… originally it was Weeghman Field, named after the owner of the team it was built for… The Chicago Whales of the Federal League, Weeghman owned a bunch of eateries in town and the name was a way of advertising his lunchettes. When Wrigley bought him out he eventfully changed the parks name to reflect his business, Chewing Gum. However from 1916-1926 it was known as Cubs Park, before the change. Therefore it’s ridiculous to lament the appearance of advertising on the walls of Wrigley, the stadiums name itself is a brand icon that literally sticks to whatever it touches. The Reds themselves are guilty of the same offense. According to a Sports Illustrated interview in 1959 with Larry MacPhail Powell Crosley changed the name of Redland Field to Crosley Field against the wishes of MacPhail, who felt that Crosley who was neophyte in the business didn’t deserve the honor yet. Crosley though had connection in the glass industry, these connections led to the ability for the Reds to have special lights built to try out a game at night, that alone gives Powell the cache to name his park after himself, but that’s another story, for another time.

Back to the advertising, I could skim the games years and come up with silly moments, ads and photos that exemplify the permanence of advertising in the game, maybe not as in your face as NASCAR or EPL soccer, but there nonetheless. One moment that recedes each year was the moment that Major League baseball celebrated the scoring of the “Millionth Run” in MLB history. I’m fairly certain that the memory of the event was greater to me since at the time I was knee deep in everything baseball, including vague celebrations about events that likely would go unnoticed if it wasn’t for the overzealous fan type, the ones who lay about in the games minutia.

As the 1974 season ended the American League had tallied 426,964 runs in its existence. The older National League could boast of scoring 570,819 runs. Since the American Association of the 19th Century and the Federal and Players League held no cache in the argument it was decided that Major League baseball had scored a grand total of 997,513 runs (by my count, theirs was 997,869) and that the millionth run was going to be scored in the 1975 season, and therefore a celebration should be undertaken to honor this event.
Baseball set up at the beginning of the 1975 season a “Control Center” to track the event. To enrich the interest of the fan base the 80 year old year old candy company “Tootsie Roll’s” sponsored the event with a sweepstakes designed to give a prize to the person who correctly identified the player that scored the one millionth run, and the date that he scored the run. Also participating in the contest was the Seiko Time company of Japan, the maker of the then popular digital watch.

As the final run came closer to being scored each park had a countdown posted in view for the players and the fans and as the nights commenced it crept closer to the magic seven figure number. For the event Tootsie had promised to pay the team of the player who scored the run $10,000, however there were those who had concerns about the sponsor, not exactly a big name, nor a class enthused product.

The ingredients of the traditional Tootsie Roll are sugar, corn syrup, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, condensed skim milk, cocoa, whey, soy lecithin, and artificial and condensed flavors. In short it’s a bunch of additives and sugar.

Despite the grumblings the support for the promotion finally was cleared, and the turning point came at a meeting attended by Joe DiMaggio, who saw the idea as harmless. “Look,”said Joltin’ Joe, “”I ate my first Tootsie Roll when I was six.”

On the evening of May 3rd the San Francisco – Astros game at Candlestick was canceled, since the next day was a Sunday afternoon game so the makeup game was scheduled for earlier in the day. Giving the teams an opportunity to get a jump on the rest of baseball in the days action.

As the game progressed the countdown clock on the wall at Candlestick clicked closer to the magic number, during his first at bat Watson drew a base on balls, and was forced to second as Jose Cruz drew another. With the count 0-2 to Milt May the countdown clock clicked to 999,999 and May smashed pitch into the stands, Watson watched the ball sail over the fence and began trotting towards home. Meanwhile in Cincinnati, Reds shortstop Davey Concepcion also hit a home run and was rounding the bases. At the same moment John Lownestein of the Orioles was on third pondering trying to steal home to score the 1,000,000 run himself.

“I thought about trying to steal home, but we were behind by so much (8-1) that I figured that if I didn’t make it I might as well just keep on running, so I didn’t even try to get in.”

Meanwhile the Astros bullpen had Watson’s back, they knew that he had to run faster and they started to yell at him, imploring him to pick it up.

“I take off in a dead sprint and score the run,” Watson said. “If I don’t take off and listen to my guys in the bullpen, Concepcion scores the millionth run. I beat him by a second and a half.”

Officials from the Hall of Fame stopped the game, dug up home plate, asked for May’s bat and Watson’s shoes and even managed to retrieve the ball from the stands.

“I was upset,” Watson said. “I wasn’t going to let them take my shoes because in those days it took you a long time to break your shoes in. They weren’t like the shoes you have today where you can wear them right out of the box. This was May 4, I had just gotten my shoes broken in, and then they took them.”

The event was the highlight of the Astros year, other then breaking out the famous rainbow uniforms. For his effort Watson received a special $1,000 watch from Seiko, all his teammates received a lesser version and the Tootsie Roll Company paid off the $10,000 to the Astros in the form of 1,000,000 pennies (gee thanks guys!!) they also passed on 1,000,000 tootsie rolls to Bob Watson himself. He also received a million dollar grant to financially troubled minor league players in his name.

Watson’s children are allergic to chocolate so he donated that and the pennies to the Girl Scouts of America. Topping off the season for Watson was the fact that he was the Astros lone All Star representative, and along with his one millionth run it was the highlight of a disappointing season in Houston, one that saw the Astros as the worst team in the National League and next t the Tigers the worst in the game. But I’ll always remember them because of the Tootsie Rolls and the lucky kid who won the contest, he and 50 other folks guessed Bob Watson and the date, and then he won the draw, $10,000 for a 10 year old who likes Tootsie Rolls, you have to love that.

In an after thought a fan posed this question to The Sporting News.

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