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Ex-Athletics' manager Tony La Russa Recalls Bob Watson as `the Kind of Guy You'd Want as a Friend'

Bob Watson, a two-time All-Star with the Houston Astros and later the general manager of the New York Yankees, spent three years with the Athletics as a coach. The A's got three Rookie of the Year winners out of it - Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and Walt Weiss.

Bob Watson, who died Thursday at 74, will best be remembered as a two-time All-Star for the Houston Astros and later as the first black general manager to win a World Series with the New York Yankees.

It’s worth remembering, however, that in between those two arcs of his Major League Baseball career he helped create the A’s juggernaut of the late 1980s as the Oakland hitting coach.

Hired in 1986, the former left fielder and first baseman handled three first-year A’s hitters in particular, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and Walt Weiss. The right fielder, the first baseman and the shortstop all went on to win American League Rookie of the Year awards.

In expressing his condolences to Watson’s family on Twitter, Canseco said of Watson, “What a great guy he was.”

Canseco leaned heavily on Watson that first full year, in particular during an 0-for-40 stretch that tested the rookie’s soul.

“Those guys were Bob’s babies,” Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa recalled Friday. “He was coaching when I was hired there in June of 1986, and I found him to be a very sharp individual baseball-wise, and an outstanding man. It was a great combination, and Bob was as good as it comes, the kind of guy you want as a friend.”

A year later, McGwire was the rookie du jour. He would go on to set a rookie record with 49 homers. Watson was enthralled by McGwire’s swing and predicted early in the season that the first baseman was going to be a star for years to come.

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Weiss didn’t have the same kind of offensive game as Canseco and McGwire, but the sure-handed, strong-armed shortstop hit .250 as a rookie, which was within eight points of the average he would post in a 14-year big league career.

“Bob worked very closely with three consecutive rookies of the year,” La Russa said. “Most of that is on the player, but there is also a big contribution that a coach can make, and Bob did.”

The A’s won 104 games in 1988 thanks in large part to an offense that ranked second to the Red Sox in runs scored, second to the Blue Jays in homers and fourth in the league in batting average.

Known universally around baseball as “Bull,” Watson spent 45 years in the Major Leagues as a player, coach, front office executive and as a member of the commissioner’s office.

In recent years he’d dealt with kidney failure and had been undergoing kidney dialysis since 2016. He was offered a chance to get off dialysis with a kidney transplant, but turned those chances down.

“Both my kids offered to donate kidneys to me,” he told The Daily News in 2018. “I told them both the same thing: `I’ve had a good life and I don’t want to take a kidney from young people who really need them and still have their whole lives ahead of them.”

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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