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The Toy Cannon passes away today at 78. He was not an Astro any more when I moved to Houston as a kid but I remember venturing up to see the seat commemorating the blast he hit up into the rainbow seats in the early 70s...RIP sir




Edited by Dennis Taylor
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16 minutes ago, LTtxfan said:


I was at a game in late 70s or early 80s when then-Expo Andre Dawson hit one into the same area in the top of the 9th. This was when I went to see the Wynn seat in about the 6th inning. Unfortunately my buddy and i had to go back to where his dad was since the game was almost over...it would have come within 20 feet of us otherwise. A fan sitting at about 3rd base went over and got it since that game was pretty sparsely attended / csb...

Edited by Dennis Taylor
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“The first time a sportswriter saw James Sherman Wynn hit a curveball 450 feet out over the Astrodome, he looked at the dimensions of the home run and then the dimensions of the home run hitter and immediately thought of pocket battleships, toy bulldogs, snub-nosed revolvers — and came up with the compromise descriptive metaphor, ‘The Toy Cannon.'” 

— Jim Murray, 1975

At first, people in Houston were split on the nickname. Some thought that he should be called “The Pocket Rocket.” But others liked “The Little Toy Cannon.” All anyone knew for sure was that a man who stood 5-foot-9 and weighed (maybe) 160 pounds and hit home runs the way that Jimmy Wynn hit them, well, he had to have a nickname. And it had to reflect the unexpected delight that sparked when Wynn played ball.

Wynn, in his autobiography, remembered the story of the nickname like so: In the August 26, 1967 edition of The Sporting News, John Wilson began his Astros story: “Jim Wynn is Houston’s Toy Cannon.” Wynn remembered this being the first time he’d heard it.

“I couldn’t altogether believe John Wilson was actually writing about me in such flattering terms,” Wynn wrote, “but I privately ate it up because of everything my dad said about nicknames: ‘You haven’t arrived until you have one.’”

In truth, the nickname had been circulating Houston for months; Wilson himself had used it in The Sporting News before and it had been in other newspapers before that. See, in 1967, Wynn arrived for everyone to appreciate. Looking back, yes, he had been a pretty special ballplayer already. In 1965, for instance, he hit .275/.371/.470, hit 22 home runs, stole 43 bases in 47 attempts and scored 90 runs. But he did all this for a dreadful Houston team in the first season of the enormous Astrodome, and so few realized just how good that season really was. Then, in 1966 he was hurt, and he dropped off, and nobody really noticed him.

But in 1967, he could not be ignored. From May 2 to June 23, he hit .315/.386/.652 with 15 home runs in 48 games, and several of those home runs were so titanic that it left the mind scattered. On June 23, in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, a columnist named Emil Tagliabue wrote that people around Houston had started calling Wynn “Toy Cannon” (and “Pocket Rocket”) and that if Wynn kept on doing these sorts of incredible things, those nicknames would probably stick and become as famous as “Babe” Ruth or “Dizzy” Dean.

Wynn did not like the Toy Cannon nickname for a long time. “I don’t relate with it,” he said as late as 1975. “It’s true they call me the ‘Toy Cannon’ when I hit home runs. But when I don’t, I’m just plain Jimmy Wynn. So why don’t they call me just plain Jimmy Wynn?”

Over time, he came to understand that the nickname was spread out of admiration and giddiness; it’s one of the most delightful nicknames in baseball history and he was one of the most delightful players to watch. There was a singular joy in the way that Wynn played ball. It built out of the burning confidence that simply burst out of him: Wynn was born to be a baseball superstar.

He learned the game from his Dad. Jimmy’s father, Joe, was a garbage collector in Cincinnati — “When they came up with the newer cleaner term ‘sanitation worker,’ I still called him a garbage man because that’s really what he was doing and there was no shame in that work at all,” Wynn wrote — and he was also one heck of a ballplayer. Joe Wynn played ball in Cincinnati’s sandlot leagues even as he approached 50, and he raised his son to not just be a ballplayer, but to be a star.

“Jimmy,” he used to say, “if you want to drive a Chevy someday, you will need to become really good at hitting singles. If you want to drive a Cadillac, you will need to hit home runs.”

And Jimmy Wynn swung for the fences, for the Cadillac, from his earliest days. “I was always athletic,” he told reporters, “even back to kindergarten.”

Wynn grew up in Cincinnati in a magical time, when Sandy Koufax played baseball at the University of Cincinnati, when Oscar Robertson played basketball there and Frank Robinson played for the Cincinnati Reds. He went to Taft High in Cincinnati where he played baseball against Pete Rose and football against Roger Staubach. He was surrounded by greatness, and he never really doubted his own future.

He was a shortstop when the Reds first tried to sign him after high school graduation, but Wynn’s parents insisted he go to college first. Wynn went to Central State University for two years and then signed with the Reds for a $500 bonus. He went to play ball in Class-D Tampa.

Wynn told a story from that year in Tampa that is worth retelling now: He was playing third base in Palatka, Fla. when he heard a man in the crowd shout out, “Hey monkey, where’s your tail?” He thought that he heard some uneasy laughter and then the man began to shout out the N-word repeatedly. Wynn felt tears in his eyes.

“For innings on the field,” he wrote, “it was like a fight in which I wasn’t allowed to punch back. I thought of Jackie Robinson, and I wondered, almost aloud: ‘How did you put up with this stuff, Jackie?’”

After this went on for a while, Wynn’s manager Hershell Freeman, a large former pitcher from Gadsden, Ala., went over to Wynn and asked, ‘What’s going on here, Jimmy?” When Wynn told him, Freeman went up into the stands, found the man, and surrounded by police, said, ‘You see that man out there, mister? That’s my third baseman. And he has a job to do. He didn’t come here to put up with your insults. If I hear one more word out of your mouth, I’m going to punch you out.”

The man did not say another word for the rest of the game. And Wynn would say that Freeman made a difference in his life, made him believe that he could endure.

Wynn did not get to play for his hometown Reds. Instead, the Reds failed to protect him in the 1962 minor-league draft, and the Houston Astros selected him. “Sure hated to lose Wynn,” Reds minor-league director Phil Seghi said. “The kid has good power … he’ll be up with Houston in a year or two.”

He was actually up with the Astros just a few months later.

Wynn was an extraordinary athlete. He was fast. He was strong. He had a great eye. He could play any position except catcher (he’d been hit in the head with a foul tip in high school and promised to never play catcher again). He stole as many as 43 bases in a season, hit as many as 37 home runs, scored as many as 117 runs, as many as 1o8 RBIs — and he did all of it while playing half his games in brutal hitting ballparks in a time when pitching dominated the game.

Wynn hit .250/.366/.436 for his career with 285 doubles, 291 homers, and 225 steals.

Neutralize those numbers — meaning adjust them by imagining Wynn in a neutral ballpark when the pitcher-hitter balance was more even — and they jump up.

Wynn’s neutralized numbers: .262/.379/.456 with 305 doubles, 308 homers, and 239 steals.

“I have to overcome my small size with a lot of confidence,” he said. He never lacked confidence. In 1970, a reporter asked him his goals. He said that he wanted to win the triple crown. It was an impossibly bold thing considering Wynn’s game — he always struck out a lot and, as such, never hit even .285 in a single season (he made up for this by walking 100 times most years, including a league-leading 148 walks in 1969).

But in Wynn’s mind, he could win the triple crown. Why not? He always saw possibilities in himself.

And no, he never challenged for the triple crown, but he did extraordinary things as a baserunner, as a centerfielder and, mostly, as a slugger. He hit a Phil Niekro knuckleball into the fourth deck of the Astrodome. “I’d always heard a knuckleball would go a long way if you hit it right,” he said. “And I sure did find out.”

At Forbes Field, he hit a home run over the batting cage in center field that was estimated to travel 500 or so feet, and a writer said it went “about as far as a ball can go.”

“I didn’t even look at it,” Pirates pitcher Pete Mikkelsen said. “As an expert in giving up home runs, I knew it was gone.”

On a hot day in his hometown of Cincinnati, he blasted a home run over the Crosley Field scoreboard, a 500-foot homer for sure. “I made the mistake of testing Wynn with my fastball,” Mel Queen said. “I got it four inches farther out on the plate than I wanted. He really creamed it, didn’t he?”

From 1963 to 1971, Jim Wynn and his close friend and teammate Joe Morgan were virtually identical players — two smallish guys who didn’t hit for average but walked a lot, hit with power, stole bases. Both were at war with Houston’s manager Harry Walker. Both were proud and confident and underrated. They were born a little more than a year apart.

Wynn from 1963-71: .257/.360/.447, 179 homers, 149 steals, 132 OPS+, 33.2 WAR

Morgan from 1963-71: .263/.375/.396, 61 homers, 195 steals, 121 OPS+, 27 WAR

But then their paths diverged. Morgan was traded to Cincinnati, where he became perhaps the greatest second baseman in the game’s history. Wynn meanwhile stayed a couple more years in Houston and began his untimely decline. His body just didn’t hold up. He was traded to Los Angeles, where he had a couple of All-Star seasons. The Dodgers then traded him to Atlanta for Dusty Baker with Dodgers GM Al Campanis saying that the Dodgers needed better defense.

In Atlanta, Wynn led the league in walks, but he hit just .207 and it was clear that he was at the finish line. The next year, 1977, he tried to make a go of with the Yankees and the Brewers but it was over. He hit just .175 that final year.

Jimmy Wynn died on Thursday, at age 78. He was working in the community for the Astros. His number 24 had been retired. He was in the first class for the Astros Hall of Fame. At the end of his life, he came to appreciate the love around him. He even grew to love that nickname — he titled his autobiography “Toy Cannon.”

And we should mention: He did have one final legendary moment in that last year. He was playing for New York on Opening Day, and before the game, he went out past center field at Yankee Stadium to look around Monument Park. It felt like an almost spiritual experience for him, and so he was not happy when he suddenly heard a loud voice. He turned around and there was Reggie Jackson.

He did not like Reggie Jackson.

“What are you doing here?” Wynn said grumpily.

“Hey man, I play for the Yankees, too,” Jackson said. “I thought I’d come out here and join you.”

“I didn’t need your company,” Wynn said. Jackson had taken some shots at Wynn coming over “from that other league,” and poked fun at Wynn, saying he wasn’t any sort of cannon because he couldn’t hit home runs the way Reggie could.

In the second inning of the game, Wynn connected with a Bill Travers’ fastball and smashed it over the center-field wall into Monument Park. And when Reggie Jackson saw that, he bowed in admiration.

“You can hit home runs with anybody,” Reggie said in apology. That was the Toy Cannon’s last home run.


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Jimmy Wynn was my Astro Buddy every year I was an Astro Buddy.  Flash forward a couple of decades and I was in the media room at the Dome when he came and sat down to eat with us.  I told him he was my one and only Astro Buddy and every time I saw him after that he called me "Buddy."  

If you go to Wynn's Wikipedia page Here you'll see a reference to his appearance in the movie "Apollo 13."  I was responsible for that video (not the Wikipedia entry).  A party connected with the film called KTRK during their pre-pro requesting Astros video contemporaneous with certain dates and I located some in the archives, but not a lot.  I had it dropped to half-inch tape and sent them the Wynn clips, including the one that wound up in the movie.  Forgot all about it until I was sitting in the theater.  

He was a good dude.

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