Davey and the Millionth Run

Adapted from The Machine.

It was a big deal. In the early 1970s, a recent college graduate named Mark Sackler -- armed with a his first electronic calculator -- pulled out his 2,338 page Baseball Encyclopedia and decided to add up all the runs that had been scored in the American and National League. What he found was that the one millionth run in baseball history would be scored sometime in 1975.

He thought that was pretty cool, so he found a promoter and together they decided to sell the idea as a baseball celebration. At first, they tried to get McDonald's behind it but Ray Kroc owned the San Diego Padres was uninterested. Kroc had a sort of love-hate thing going with baseball. During his first game as owner, he ran into the press box in the eighth inning, grabbed the microphone from the public address announcer, and announced: "I have never seen such stupid ball-playing in all my life."

McDonald's was out, but Tootsie Roll was in. Tootsie Roll had been around since 1896 -- Leo Hirshfield sold the original candy for a penny in his New York shop and named them "Tootsie Roll" after his nickname for his daughter Clara -- but executives had this sense that the time was right for a major expansion. The company hired Stan Musial and held a contest for fans to guess who would score baseball's one-millionth run. The winner of the contest would get 496 different prizes. And the player who scored the winning run would get one million pennies, 10,000 dollars. The league minimum salary was $16,000 in 1975, to give you an idea.

The lucky player would also get one million Tootsie Rolls.

"What could be more American than baseball and Tootsie Rolls?" Stan the Man asked

The Seiko Company installed run counters in every ballpark so that people could follow with exactly how many runs had been scored -- how close baseball was getting to the one millionth run. There was another giant run scoreboard placed in front of the Time Building in New York.

And then came the big day, a Sunday -- May 4, 1975 -- and there was a special countdown center set up in New York. To give you an idea of the technology in those days, the countdown center was a large teleconference connected to a public relations person in each ballpark. The PR people would shout out the instant a run was scored. It must have been one heck of a long distance bill.

Operators were standing by.

In Cincinnati, everyone saw when the Seiko Counter flipped to 999,999. It was the bottom of the fifth inning, Phil Niekro was pitching, and Reds pitcher Don Gullett was hitting. Dave Concepcion did some quick math in his head. If Gullet would make a quick out, he would be on deck. Pete Rose was scheduled to hit in front of him -- he needed Rose to make an out so that he would have a chance to score that millionth run.

And he needed it to happen fast.

And it did happen fast. Gullett grounded out to third. And Rose -- let's be honest, NOBODY wanted to score that millionth run more than Pete Rose -- somehow grounded out too. That brought Concepcion to the plate, and he knew exactly what he had to do. He looked up at that run counter, saw that it was still one shy of a million, and on the first pitch he swung as hard as he could a knuckleball that didn't quite knuckle.

As soon as he hit it, he knew it was gone. The crowd went absolutely crazy and Concepcion then went into what was almost certainly the fastest home run trot in baseball history. He absolutely sprinted around the bases with the cheers ringing in his head the 10 grand already spent. He could taste those Tootsie Rolls. "For my baby!" he screamed out as he crossed home plate. "For my baby!" The Reds players mobbed him.

The Seiko scoreboard turned to one million.

And ... as many of you know, history will always show that the player who scored baseball's one millionth run was ...

Bob Watson.

See in San Francisco, at almost precisely the same time, Watson had walked. Then, unusually, he stole second. After another walk, Milt May hit a home run. Watson began to trot home when the Astros players on the bench began to scream, "RUN!" Watson ran.

"Bob Watson scored!" the man in San Francisco shouted to the New York Countdown Center.

Four seconds later, the Cincinnati man screamed, "Dave Concepcion scored!"

There was brief chaos. The timing was clear -- the Watson news had come first. But there had been a problem with the connection to Cincinnati; the line had gone dead for a few seconds and nobody was sure if they had gotten the news on a slight delay.

They replayed the tape ... it was clear that Watson's name was said first. There was nothing to be done. Bob Watson had scored baseball's one millionth run.

Watson was not quite as excited about it as Concepcion had been. He donated his shoes to the Hall of Fame ("I had just broken them in," he grumbled) and he donated the money and Tootsie Rolls to charity. And Tootsie Rolls announced that they were, er, you know, pretty proud, sort of, to have an African American score that millionth run.

"I'm glad to hear he's a clean-living athlete," Richard Harshman, VP of marketing and sales at Tootsie said, "We have to keep the image -- good for kids, good for Tootsie Rolls. I know he's not blond-and-blue-eyed, but he's my idea of an All-American!"

Back in Cincinnati, a crestfallen Dave Concepcion told the press, "Tell them to send me a Tootsie Roll anyway, I came so close."

And the final word is, of course, that neither Bob Watson nor Dave Concepcion REALLY scored baseball's one millionth run. There have been so many adjustments and discoveries made since then that our best estimate is that the millionth run was actually scored in 1970 by an anonymous player who didn't get a single Tootsie Roll for his efforts.