The Toy Cannon has gone silent

When I was in early elementary school my family moved a lot. From Milwaukee to Peewaukee (home of JJ Watt) to Chicago to Dallas to Houston. When I was in third grade I began to enjoy pro sports and my team was the Dallas Cowboys. This was not yet the ubiquitous (obnoxious) America’s team, but a struggling expansion team with mighty might Eddie Lebaron at QB and not so legendary (at the time) Head Coach Tom Landry. Dallas had no major league baseball team, but then we move to Houston in the summer of 1965 and the Astros and the stunning new Astrodome were the center of my sports universe.

And my first baseball hero? It was Jimmy Wynn, the Toy Cannon, who died on Thursday at the age of 78. It was not a real surprise as he had looked extremely fragile in a wheelchair at his Astros Hall of Fame induction back during the 2019 season (and doesn’t that seem like 10 years ago).

Jimmy Wynn came out of Cincinnati and started off in the Reds minor league system for one season before being picked up by the Colt .45s in something called the first-year player draft. He made his MLB debut right after that in 1963 splitting the year between the minors and majors. And shades of Myles Straw he played the infield and the outfield as a rookie for Houston. By the time my family moved to Houston he was in his first full-time season as an Astro and was the best position player on a very bad team as he hit 22 HRs and stole 43 SBs. He proudly wore the #24, the same as the player who he was a smaller version of – Willie Mays.

It is funny, but it never made any difference to me that the Toy Cannon was a different color than me. Never really thought about it. He was just my favorite player, just like Hank Aaron was my parent’s favorite player, who they rooted for when they lived in Milwaukee.

For much of his 11 seasons with the Astros, his protection in the lineup was not a lot to talk about. A couple of the best, Joe Morgan and Rusty Staub were shipped away before they could grow into the core of a terrific lineup.

Looking at some of Jimmy Wynn’s stats modern folks may not be that impressed. He never hit much for average topping out at .282 in 1970. Especially early on his on-base percentage (which no one cared about back then) was pretty low. But from 1968 to 1976 he had a series of very good OBP seasons topped out by a huge .436 OBP in 1969 when he led the majors with 148 walks. In 1965, the season I first saw him play, his OPS, a stat I would not know about for another 30 seasons was .841 when the NL average was .685.

And that OPS, which topped out at .943 in 1969 was tied to his power. His power is the thing that comes to mind along with his ever-present toothpick, even when hitting. His power was insane for someone who was 5′-9″ and 175 lbs soaking wet.  He had George Springer kind of power in a package that was 6″ shorter and 40 lbs lighter. He had that wonderful long helicopter blade swing and when he met it just right wonderful things happened.

There was the shot in his hometown at Crosley Field onto the freeway.

There was the early Sunday shot over the batting cage in center field at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, the batting cage left on the field because no one was going to hit it 450+ feet away. Well, he didn’t hit the cage. He cleared it by a ton.

I wish I could include his HR into the upper deck of the Astrodome where they painted a cannon on the seat a few down from where they painted a red rooster where Doug Rader clubbed an upper decker. That was a long, long, long way from home plate.

Even with all his power he never hit more than the 37 HRs he whacked in 1967. But remember that the Dome for much of the time he played there was 340 feet to the leftfield pole and 390 to left center and you had to hit it up in the pavilion to register a dinger. If Wynn had played at Enron/Minute Maid he would have been tattooing the scoreboard and plunking the patrons of the Crawford Boxes on a frequent basis. He could have easily been a 50 HR player.

Folks have often pushed Roger Maris for the Hall of Fame. Here are some career numbers to compare….
Maris   .260 BA   .345 OBP   .822 OPS   826 Runs   275 HRs   850 RBIs   21 SBs
Wynn  .250 BA   .366 OBP   .802 OPS  1105 Runs  291 HRs   964 RBIs   225 SBs

Wynn was a comparable hitter, with a lot more speed and could play a good CF on top of it. Oh, and he did not play in Yankee Stadium with a short right field porch (for the lefty Maris) and with Mickey Mantle, Elston Howard and Yogi Berra around him in the lineup.

So should Jimmy Wynn be in the Hall of Fame? Nope he was good and sometimes very good but not quite that great and neither was Maris except for a few peak seasons.

Like Morgan and Staub and Cuellar and Mayberry before him, the Toy Cannon was shipped out, in his case to the Dodgers at the age of 31 in the off-season before the 1974 season. Finally, with a good team he had one of his finer years scoring 104 runs, hitting 32 HRs and knocking in 106 runs while sparking LA to a losing matchup in the World Series with the A’s. This was the only postseason appearance for Wynn and after one more season with the Dodgers, he bounced between the Braves, Mets and Brewers for the next couple years until he was finally done at the age of 35 years old.

He came back to his real home in Houston and showed he was as fine a person as he was a player, helping kids and others and serving the team and the city he loved until he died.

He wasn’t the greatest player or even the greatest Astro player I ever saw. But he was the first one who sparked my love for my team and his passing leaves me with a large hole in my heart.

God bless Jimmy Wynn and please hold him close to Your heart dear Lord.

22 comments on “The Toy Cannon has gone silent

  1. When I was a wee lad, playing little league over by Crosstimbers road, my hero was Jimmy Wynn. I decided I wanted to move from shortstop to centerfield, and the coach reluctantly let me. I patterned my stance and swing after the unorthodox style of the Toy Cannon. It started out rough, but ended really, really well – til higher level coaches put their foot down and brought me back to a more orthodox and adjustable plate approach. Jimmy wynn was a houston boy’s Hammerin’ Hank Aaron and Willy Mays. See you on the other side, JW!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Paul Richards was the GM through 1965. When he was fired that winter, he was not happy and said he thought the team was set going forward. The 1966 team had Rusty Staub (22), Joe Morgan (22), Jimmy Wynn (24), Sonny Jackson (21), Bob Aspromonte (28), John Bateman (25) and Larry Dierker (19).

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Ah, The Toy Cannon. I saw him hit some shots in the Dome. Thanks, Dan, for those clips of the bombs in Cincy and Pitt: called by Loel Passe and Harry Kalas. Too bad he never played in a hitter’s park (or at least neutral).

    But mainly I remember him as a very humble man: proud but humble, which is really a greater legacy than anything his playing prowess could produce.

    Has anyone seen a comment from Dierk? They were teammates and “organization mates” for a very long time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would just like to add, as a youngster, I got to “see”many ball games over the transistor radio by “listening” to Loel Passe. He was the consummate “homer.” The Buffs, Colts, and Astros were the best team in baseball. The others were just lucky. Every ball hit was at or near the fence, except for the other team and it was a pop up that the wind blew out of the park. Everyone knew he was exaggerating to the point of disbelief, but we didn’t care. He was terrific.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Road thriller –
      One of the fun things about watching those clips was how it brought back his unique “trot”. He just had a unique stride to him – a little wide bow legged look – especially in the HR trot.

      ac45 – You probably could not find two more different announcers than Gene Elston and Loel Passe. Elston was the ultimate neutral professional – very down the middle of the fairway – while Loel was the country guy who showed his love to his home town team by leaning their way in his calls. They were a good trade-off. I don’t remember Harry Callas as well, but obviously he went on to more fame than the other two. It is nice to have his son here these days.

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  4. I had the pleasure of meeting Lowell Passe in my dome days. Some of us would hang after the game and watch the players leave. Lowell Passes always had time to stop and talk Astros. The Astros were just a player or two away from a World Series in his stories. How I wish he could have been around when it finally happened. I remember how Doug Rader always came out with his pockets stuffed with Lone Star beers, and me thinking how tall Cedeno was when he walked by.
    Funny, the things one remembers.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. MLB Network has that NLCS game against the Mets right now. I had to listen to it on the radio at the time, so this is actually the first time I’m seeing it. I hope the outcome is better this time.

    In seriousness, the 2020 Astros hitters should watch this. Players aren’t trying to hit hr on every swing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I watched the extra innings part of it, Devin. Several things struck me: did they muffle the crowd noise on the recording, because it was not very loud; strike zone differences – impossible to get a called strike on anything above the belt; umpire positioning was different. The celebration on the Billy Hatcher HR was all in the dugout, nothing at home plate. And speaking of hitters approaches, there was a Ray Knight bunt attempt. Some of the players seemed undernourished: Roger Mc Dowell and Daryl Strawberry looked like sticks! It’s always good to hear Keith Jackson, but I don’t think baseball was his best venue. And Tim McCarver was a really good analyst (he warned about the inside fastball to Hatcher about 3 pitches before Billy bounced it off the foul screen) but he could say some goofy things.

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      • My observations-

        That Ump was terrible. He was horrid for Knepper early in the game (several times Bob stood there with hands on hips), and then did the ol makeup call when it was less important to “even the score” among managers.

        Funny seeing everyone in afternoon coat and tie, coming in from the office for a matinee.

        You can say all you want about them not trying to hit HR’s, but I’m never worried being behind late in the game anymore, like I was when we had no real hope. That Hatcher shot was a miracle, because we weren’t going to see it with Reynolds (vs Correa), or Doran (vs Altuve). Davis looked inept offensively in that game too.

        Knepper was in command almost the whole way through — Dave Smith couldn’t find the plate and blew it! Strange, Lanier stuck with Arelio Lopez and not Darwin, or others. That game made me miss ’86 a lot less, than I thought I would.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Watched the late innings on the 1986 6th game with the Mets and some of the show after it which highlighted both crazy CS series and the Buckner WS:
    – I am always surprised at how skinny the players are – except Aurelio Lopez and Sid Fernandez, who apparently beat everyone else to the buffet table
    – Hatcher’s HR really gave me a thrill even though I knew it was coming
    – I forgot Mike Scott always wore those glasses on his days off
    – in the “other” show Scott made the following quote when asked about scuffing. “I didn’t say I never threw a scuffed ball – I just didn’t throw only scuffed balls”. So if we had won it all back then they would have griped about the cheating Astros again
    – I looked at the series summary and the Astros used 21 players – 8 of them pitchers – while the Mets used 22 players – 8 of them pitchers
    Any idea how many players were allowed on the roster? I know the Astros did not use Darwin but over used Lopez and what the heck – Jeff Calhoun??
    – Home plate ump Brocklander missed a key strike in the 9th just like he missed a key out in the 5th game that cost us a run early in a game that went to extra innings

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    • Another thing you’ll notice is that whenever the ball hit the dirt the umpires would try to check the ball before it got back to the pitcher. Some fielders used to work as hard as they could to get their pitcher the ball before it could be inspected. Most of the balls were returned to play as the damage / scuffing was considered minor. In today’s game, the ball is immediately discarded by the home plate umpire as soon as he has can get his hands one one that’s not pristine. That’s a huge advantage for the hitters.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Shoot, 8 pitchers in a playoff GAME these days is almost normal! Back in the day especially the NL managers were always leery about burning that last catcher or pinch hitter. McCarver mentioned it several times in extra innings .

      Liked by 1 person

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