Many baseball players have the singular goal of doing whatever it takes to reach the major leagues. Even after a lot of work and time, it only pays off for a small percentage. While it didn’t last long, Dave Watkins was one of the lucky few who got to reach baseball’s summit.
Watkins, a catcher and outfielder, was signed by the Detroit Tigers as a 19-year-old free agent in 1963. He only lasted one year in the low minors with Detroit, despite hitting .294 with 18 home runs. Following that season he was taken in the first-year draft by the Philadelphia Phillies, the organization with which he would spend the remainder of his professional baseball career.
Life wasn’t all about baseball for Watkins. In 1967, the Reading Eagle reported that the prospect spent his offseason studying biology at Kentucky Wesleyan.
Watkins was the kind of young player with ability, but no one particular skill that made him stand out from dozens of other prospects. He progressed slowly through the Philadelphia system before finally getting his opportunity.
In 1969 the Phillies’ starting catcher was Mike Ryan, a strong receiver but putrid hitter (.193 career average in 11 seasons). The other veteran catching option was Vic Roznovsky, who with his career .218 batting average, wasn’t a much better hitter. With Watkins having several seasons of the high minors under his belt, he was tapped as the backup.
Unfortunately, Watkins couldn’t do any better offensively for the Phillies. He appeared in 69 games and hit .176 with four home runs and 12 RBI. His first major league hit came on May 3rd, when he singled to center field off future Hall of Famer Steve Carlton.
Another highlight came on August 29th, when Watkins hit a home run off the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Don Sutton, another future Hall of Famer.
The 1969 Phillies finished 63-99 and the following season acquired Tim McCarver to be their starting catcher. Watkins professional career was over and he never played another game again after the one season he was able to enjoy in the major leagues. More information about his career statistics can be found at BaseballReference.com.
I recently had the opportunity to pose a few random questions to the former ballplayer. Despite his short time in the majors, he has his own unique stories and experiences to share.
Dave Watkins Questionnaire:
If you could do anything differently about your playing career, what would that be?: I would have learned how to assess myself better in order to advance faster.
What was the strangest play you ever saw on the baseball diamond?: A triple play on a non-struck ball! You figure it out. (Check out a possible explanation here.)
Who was your favorite coach or manager?: Andy Seminick- managed me in two minor leagues years, and as bullpen coach in 1969 with the Phillies.
Was it difficult to make your meal money stretch?: Not for me. I did not eat at expensive restaurants, and I did not drink alcoholic beverages with meals.