In 1974, using his first calculator, 23-year-old Mark Sackler, then a radio broadcaster for WMMM in Westport, Connecticut, decided to pursue a statistics project for fun. He purchased a copy of the Baseball Encyclopedia, and he decided to see how many runs have been scored in Major League Baseball history. As the project progressed, Sackler realized the game was quickly approaching its one millionth run.
A work colleague of Sackler’s father had connections in the promotional industry. Sackler decided to pass this information along to those connections, believing there was the potential for a successful promotion. They agreed, and they worked to sell the idea to Major League Baseball.
About one year later, the race to the one millionth run was on. The MLB jumped aboard for the promotion. They installed electronic boards that counted down to the one millionth run in every major league ballpark across America. Baseball legends Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, and Ernie Banks were hired to help advocate for the promotion. Tootsie Roll and Seiko were the main sponsors associated with it, and they provided prizes for the player who scored the one millionth run. The ballplayer to score that run would receive one million pennies, one million Tootsie Rolls, and a $1,000 Seiko watch.
The countdown started the 1975 season at 2,217 runs, and it rapidly diminished as the season progressed. It officially reached one run on Sunday, May 4, 1975. Earlier in the day, both Chris Chambliss of the New York Yankees and Rod Carew of the Minnesota Twins had opportunities to be the millionth run. But, both were thrown out at the plate before scoring.
That day, the Astros were at Candlestick Park in San Francisco against the Giants. Watson was on second base after drawing a walk in the top of the second and moving up on an out. With two outs, teammate Milt May hit a three-run home run. He noticed the counter in the stadium was still at one, and he started sprinting around the bases. “I got to third base, and our bullpen was right behind third, and the guys were saying, ‘Run, run, run!'” Watson recalled in a New York Daily News article.
Unbeknownst to everyone, at nearly the same time at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Concepcion smacked a solo home run. He began his own sprint for home.
In the end, Watson beat out Concepcion by just over one second, becoming MLB’s one millionth run. “I was flying around the bases,” recalled Concepcion, “but I didn’t have time to score before Bob.”
Immediately after scoring, Concepcion and his teammates celebrated at home, thinking he was the one millionth run. A few moments after scoring, he was told he was beat out by Watson.
When offered his three prizes, Watson turned down the Tootsie Rolls, instead donating them to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America. He had a 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter at home, and he didn’t want them being around that much candy.
He did keep the Seiko watch, and he still has it to this day. He considers it one of his most prized possessions from his playing days. “It’s still in my safety deposit box,” Watson said to the New York Daily News. “I’ve never worn it. It came in a nice wooden box with a plaque on it. I would never sell it — it’s one of a kind. As far as I’m concerned, when I leave the planet, my son or daughter, whichever wants it, I hope they keep it.”
In addition to Watson earning his prizes, a fan competition was held. Fans submitted which day they believed the millionth run would be scored and who would score it. The fan that correctly picked both would receive $10,000 from Tootsie Roll. Surprisingly, 50 fans picked both “May 4” and “Bob Watson” correctly. After a random drawing from those 50, a 10-year-old boy walked away with the money.
After the game, Watson’s cleats and jersey, and the home plate from Candlestick Park, were sent to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Neither are currently on display.
Watson’s one millionth run came just over 99 years after MLB’s first run was scored when Wes Fisler of the Philadelphia Athletics crossed the plate during their game on April 22, 1876.
Both Watson and Concepcion ended up having excellent careers in the MLB. Watson had a 19-year career, making two all-star teams. Concepcion also played 19 years, earning nine all-star appearances, five Gold Gloves, and two Silver Sluggers. They were both all stars during the 1975 season, as well.
Many years later, baseball historians re-counted the amount of total runs in MLB history, and figured out neither Watson nor Concepcion were the ones to score the one millionth run. However, there couldn’t be a determination as to who the one millionth run was, so Watson’s name is still attached to the milestone. “Nobody knows who scored the millionth run in baseball, but that was never really the point,” wrote Joe Posnanski in his book The Machine. “The point was to celebrate the game. And in many ways, it really worked.”
As of the end of the 2019 season, according to current calculations, around 1.9 million runs have been scored in MLB history. It’s projected that the two millionth run will be scored in either the 2020 or 2021 season.
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