Pound for pound, there have been few sluggers in Major League history more impressive than Jimmy Wynn. Generously listed in his playing days at 5’9″, 170 pounds, Wynn smashed 291 career home runs, with half of them (146) coming in the 1970s. In 1967 he was credited with the longest shot ever hit at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, a bomb sailing over a 58 foot high scoreboard in left center field and onto Interstate 75, an estimated 507 feet from home plate. And in 1970 he became the first player to hit a ball into the upper deck of the Astrodome.
A high school shortstop, Wynn was signed by his hometown Cincinnati Reds in 1962. After his first year in pro ball he was left unprotected and drafted by the expansion Houston Colt .45s. He started his first game in the majors at shortstop in 1963, but was converted to the outfield for good in 1964. In 1965 Houston changed its name to the Astros and moved into the indoor Astrodome. The 23 year old Wynn was the team’s starting center fielder and led his club in homeruns (22), RBI (73), stolen bases (43 – a career high), and outfield assists (13). His surprising pop at the plate and rocket arm earned him the nickname “Toy Cannon”.
Over the next 7 years Wynn established himself as one of the greatest Astros of all time, and one of the game’s top offensive stars. In 1967 he was an All-Star selection, belting a career high 37 HRs as a home town player in the spacious Astrodome while driving in 107 runs and scoring 102. Atlanta’s Hank Aaron, who played his home games at cozy Fulton County Stadium and led the league with 39 home runs, commented that he considered Wynn the season’s home run champion. In 1969 Wynn hit 33 home runs and scored 113, but most notable were his phenomenal 148 walks and .436 on-base percentage. In 1972 Wynn set another career high with 117 runs scored, to go with 29 doubles, 24 home runs and 103 walks. In all, the patient Wynn exceeded 100 walks in a season 6 times.
After the 1973 season Wynn was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitcher Claude Osteen. Wynn’s veteran presence was a key for the young 1974 Dodgers, as LA won their first National League pennant in 8 years. Hitting in the 3 spot all year in front of eventual MVP Steve Garvey, Wynn drove in 108 runs and led the club in home runs (32), runs scored (104), walks (108), slugging (.497), and on base % (.387). He was honored as Comeback Player of the Year, finished #5 in MVP voting, and was named to his second All-Star team.
By 1975 Wynn developed shoulder issues and though he was selected to his third All-Star team, missed 32 games and was never again the same player. Wynn was traded to Atlanta in 1976, and managed 17 home runs with a league leading 127 walks. He signed with the Yankees that off-season, and in his first at-bat on Opening Day of 1977 at Yankee Stadium, Wynn hit the last home run of his career. Fittingly, it was a tape measure shot, traveling an estimated 435 feet to straight away centerfield. The Toy Cannon went out as he had come in, with a blast.
Joe Gersbeck is a baseball historian and lifetime fan/student of the game who lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons. His website is http://www.1970sBaseball.com and his book, 1970s Baseball: A History and Analysis of the Decade’s Best Seasons, Teams, and Players is available on Amazon, B&N, and iBooks: