One wouldn’t normally link Bob Watson and Phyllis George, who both passed away last week, but both were sports pioneers, albeit in different ways.
Watson played 19 seasons and batted .295 with 184 homers. I have no doubt his home run total could easily have been doubled if he didn’t play his first 14 seasons for the Houston Astros, whose home games were in the very pitcher-friendly Astrodome.
Watson was one of the few players who was able to seamlessly transition from the diamond to the executive suite when his career was over. The Astros hired him as general manager in 1993, making him the second African-American general manager in MLB history. The Yankees would hire him to be their GM in 1995 and he had that role when they won the World Series. He later worked in the Commissioner’s Office.
I remember chatting with Watson around the batting cage at Shea Stadium when I was a young sportswriter and he was finishing up his playing career during the first Reagan administration. Watson gave me an MBA-style lecture on the difference between various mutual funds and predicted that the Dow Jones average would soon break the 5,000 mark (which seemed an astronomical number at the time) even though the country was in a recession.
Watson deserves consideration for entry to the Baseball Hall of Fame for his contributions.
Phyllis George was crowned Miss America 50 years ago and remains one of the best-remembered titleholders. In 1975, CBS Sports hired her to join Brent Musburger, Irv Cross and Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder on its “NFL Today” pregame show. She had some knowledge of the National Football League but it was revolutionary to see a woman in any aspect of televised sports, let alone pro football.
George primarily anchored player lifestyle features and left it to Cross, a former player, and Snyder, America’s pre-eminent oddsmaker, to handle the game analysis. Musburger’s job was to shill the contests about to be televised. They clicked with the audience as no pregame panel had before them.
Former Mets outfielder Art Shamsky held a Zoom video conference last Tuesday sponsored by a prominent nonprofit agency that assists the elderly, Dorot. Shamsky gave plenty of recollections of that magical year of 1969. He cited Mets reliever Ron Taylor as the unsung hero of that season. He told viewers he believed the death of manager Gil Hodges from a heart attack in 1972 was the key reason why the Mets did not win more titles and endorsed Hodges for enshrinement into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
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Life and style
Bill Boggs, who hosted the popular Channel 5 talk show “Midday” for years, has written a book titled “Spike The Wonder Dog” (Post Hill Press).
Spike, the narrator, is a bull terrier (think of Spuds Mackenzie from those classic 1980s Budweiser TV commercials), and the co-host of a daytime talker along with his human friend, Bud. It’s a brilliant sendup of the kind of show Boggs used to host. Although it’s of course fiction, Boggs smartly drops in numerous real-life boldfaced names to help further engage the reader.
I was saddened to learn of the passing of one of the best supporting comedic actors ever, Fred Willard, who specialized in playing unfailingly upbeat and clueless characters.
My favorite Willard role was that of Jerry Hubbard who served as the sidekick to Martin Mull’s smarmy smalltime TV talk show host, Barth Gimble, in “Fernwood Tonight,” which aired in syndication during the summer of 1977.