Watson, vice president of on-field operations for Major League Baseball, took center stage here Saturday at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and talked about how important it was for men like him to keep the legacy of black baseball alive.
"I started in the game in 1964, and that was just before the civil rights movement," he said. "So I know a lot of the things these guys went through before me."
During his career, Watson has had to fight to keep the doors of Major League Baseball open to men of color. He's been a pioneer in his own right, a trailblazer who has embodied the spirit of Jackie Robinson.
For his contributions to baseball, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum bestowed upon Watson, the first black general manager in baseball history, its highest honor: the Jackie Robinson Lifetime Achievement Award.
Watson was among a dozen Major Leaguers who came to Kansas City for the Sixth Annual Legacy Awards, an event in which the museum paid tribute to baseball's best. The event also honored the history of the game and the contribution of men like Watson.
"When we started the Legacy Awards in 2000, we didn't get a single Major League player to come out," said Bob Kendrick, director of marketing at the museum. "But we stuck to it."
The museum's unwillingness to quit has allowed the Legacy Awards to flourish. Its star-studded gala brought most of the recipients of its awards to Kansas City for the Oscar-like ceremony.
The event saluted players, club executives and people who have given their lives to the national pastime -- on and off the field. The awards were handed out for excellence, and they are colorblind, Kendrick said.
"It would be doing an injustice to the Negro League players not to honor the very best in the game," he said. "That's what we set out to do. So the guys who sit here before you are the crème de la crème."
Among the best in front of baseball fans, museum officials and media here Saturday were Derrek Lee and Michael Young. They won the Buck Leonard Award, a honor that goes to the top hitters in each league.
Two men who were not here, however, were Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez, winners of the Oscar Charleston Award that goes to the best player in each league.
Yet their contributions to the '05 season didn't go ignored. They, too, had their success trumpeted, just as Watson, Lee, Young and reliever Chad Cordero, as well as the rest of the award winners.
In that group was Dave Winfield, the Hall of Fame outfielder. Winfield, a vice president/senior advisor with the Padres, received the John "Buck" O'Neil Award, along with Royals president Dan Glass, for his outstanding support of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
"It's always humbling to come here," Winfield said. "I almost do not know where to start; I don't know what to say."
What he said became a tribute to the league, its legacy and its players.
"Do not let this legacy die," Winfield said. "Let's not forget about these people."
These people are the thousands of black and Latino ballplayers who helped shape black baseball. The museum itself is a tribute to them, too. Its award ceremony ensures that, at least once each year, baseball's spotlight shines on the Negro Leagues and its legion of star players, men who were the forerunners to Winfield, Lee and others.
That's something that Kendrick and museum officials like to see.
"To honor them for their accomplishments," he said, "we elevate the status of the Negro Leagues."
For Kendrick, the Legacy Awards have allowed the museum, its staff and its supporters to build a stronger bridge with Major League Baseball, which he saw as a good thing for both sides. They both have similar missions: to keep the spirit of the game fresh. The two sides can be allies in that purpose, which is what Kendrick is hopeful of.
"So it's good to build these kind of relationships," he said. "That's what the awards give us the opportunity to do."
The other honorees Saturday night were:
Satchel Paige Award, presented to the top pitchers in the American and National Leagues: Dontrelle Willis, Marlins; and Johan Santana, Twins
Josh Gibson Award, presented to the NL and AL home run leaders in '05: Andruw Jones, Atlanta Braves; and Rodriguez
James "Cool Papa" Bell Award, presented to the NL and AL stolen base leaders in '05: Jose Reyes, Mets; and Chone Figgins, Angels
Andrew "Rube" Foster Award, presented to the NL and AL executives of the year in '05: John Schuerholtz, Braves; and Ken Williams, White Sox
Charles Isham "C. I." Taylor Award, presented to the NL and AL managers of the year in '05: Bobby Cox, Braves; and Ozzie Guillen, White Sox
Larry Doby Award, presented to the NL and AL rookies of the year in '05: Ryan Howard, Phillies; and Robinson Cano, Yankees
Hilton Smith Award, presented to the top relievers in each league: Cordero, Nationals; and Bob Wickman, Indians.
Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.