On October 5, 1993, Bob Watson replaces Bill Wood as the general manager of the Astros, making the former Houston player the first black GM in baseball history. Bill Lucas had performed many similar duties for the Braves in the late 1970s, but he never officially held the title.
Mr. Lucas was a member of the Braves’ organization for 23 years, he was inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame in 2006.
Lucas was born in Jacksonville, Florida. A graduate of Florida A&M University, he served as an officer in the United States Army. He then signed as an infielder with the Milwaukee Braves in 1957 and played for six seasons in the club’s farm system, batting .273 in 655 games.
He joined the Braves’ front office in 1965, working in sales and promotions during the team’s relocation to Atlanta before he switched to the player development department in 1967. Lucas was named the director of the Braves’ farm system in 1972 and promoted to GM responsibilities on September 17, 1976. At the time, the Braves were in last place in the National League West Division, 301⁄2 games out of the division lead. Lucas’ official title was vice president of player personnel, but owner Ted Turner gave him all the duties of a general manager.
With players like Dale Murphy coming up through Lucas’ minor league system, and the selection of Bob Horner as the top pick in the 1978 Major League Baseball Draft, the Braves began assembling the team that would win the 1982 division title.
But the job of rebuilding the Braves was compounded by Turner’s tempestuous behavior. On May 11, 1977, the owner appointed himself the Braves’ field manager during a losing streak. His dugout reign drew national headlines but lasted only one day before the president of the National League ruled that Turner, as an owner, could not appoint himself manager. Then, starting in 1978, Lucas found himself caught between Turner and players like rookie Horner and veteran pitcher Phil Niekro, a future Hall of Famer, during contentious contract negotiations.
On the evening of May 1, 1979, with the Braves on the road facing the Pittsburgh Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium, Lucas watched on television from his Atlanta home as Niekro won his 200th Major League game, 5–2. Hours after congratulating Niekro by phone, Lucas was stricken with cardiac arrest and a massive cerebral hemorrhage. He died three days later without regaining consciousness at age 43. At his passing, he was still the highest-ranking black executive in professional baseball.