Baseball’s One Millionth Run
They have been playing major league baseball a long time, since 1876. There must have been a lot of players cross the plate in that time. Back in 1974 some stat guy decided to figure out how many. At the end of baseball’s 98th season he discovered that 570,819 runs had been plated in the National League and the dish had been dented in the American League 426,964 times – altogether not quite one million.
The gears started turning in the minds on MLB marketing men and it was decided to turn this most insignificant scrap of trivia into a promotional opportunity. Sometime in the first weeks of the 1975 season someone would score the one-millionth run in baseball history. To know the exact moment that historic milestone was reached baseball set up a “Control Center” that would make the technical wizards at Houston’s Mission Control green with envy.
But before anything could be put in place, MLB needed a sponsor for this whole business. Somehow the beer companies and car manufacturers failed to jump on board and the company that answered MLB’s phone calls was Tootsie Roll that had been wrapping chewy chocolate candy since 1896, when they could have sponsored the race for baseball’s 1,000,000th run. The marketing mavens also signed up the Seiko watch company that was plugging a brand new product at the time – a watch without a clock face called a digital watch. Seiko would pay for the massive electronic counters that would be placed in all the major league stadiums so fans could gasp at the excitement of every run scored.
Tootsie Roll put together a fan contest to identify the millionth run scorer with a $10,000 prize and award his team $10,000 (that would pay for about two innings of work for a typical player these days). Seiko would step in and give the lucky player a special watch.
Almost immediately objections were raised over all this nonsense. Not only was major league baseball making much ado about barely anything but the whole shebang was being fronted by a small-time candy company. What had baseball sold its soul for? The controversy threatened to erupt into a brushfire when none other than Joe DiMaggio stepped into the fray. The revered Yankee Clipper wondered what all the fuss was about – it all seemed like innocent fun and, heck, he had eaten Tootsie Rolls when he was six years old.
So the race was on. And baseball was charmed as the contest came down to May 4, a Sunday with a full slate of games on tap. In San Francisco’s Candlestick Park the Astros’ first baseman Bob Watson drew a walk to start the second inning. Two outs later catcher Milt May turned on an 0-2 pitch and blasted it into the right field bleachers. Watson slowed to a jog but as he was rounding the bases his teammates saw that the giant counter was at 999,999 and yelled at Watson to run harder. He needed to hustle because at the same time in Cincinnati, shortstop Dave Concepcion had cracked a home run as well and was racing around the bases. Watson made it to plate just a few Seiko seconds before Concepcion to score baseball’s one-millionth run.
Baseball was prepared to play the moment up big. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum had representatives in every stadium and after May followed Watson across the plate the game was stopped and home plate dug up. May’s bat and Watson’s shoes went back to Cooperstown with the rubber plate to go on exhibit in the Hall of Fame. The museum men were even able to get May’s home run ball back.
Watson got that new-fangled digital watch worth $1,000; his Astro cheerleader teammates each received a less fancy wrist ornament. Over 50 fans had improbably sent Tootsie Roll an entry with “May 4” and “Bob Watson.” A drawing had to be held and a ten-year old boy won the $10,000 first prize. The contest was charmed again. Tootsie Roll also presented Watson with 1,000,000 pieces of candy. Ironically, his own kids were allergic to chocolate so he gave his sugary stash to the Girl Scouts of America.
So Bob Watson scored baseball’s 1,000,000th run. Or did he? Historians are always finding new statistics in the dusty folds of the record book and make little adjustments from time to time. We will never know who was the real perpetrator of the actual deed. But at least we have a good story.