Wednesday, January 07, 2009

#257 Jim Wynn

WYNN by you.
You know, I'm really starting to feel sorry for all of these hatless Houstoners. A guy could get a nasty sunburn playing nine innings with no headwear, to say nothing of the glare problems. Jim Wynn in particular could use a hat to shade his eyes, since his future is so bright.

In 1962, the Reds signed 20-year-old Jimmy Wynn out of Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio (about an hour's drive from his birthplace of Hamilton). He was signed as a shortstop, but would convert to a full-time outfielder within a few years. Before the ink was even dry on Jimmy's contract, the Astros snapped him up in the expansion draft. He spent roughly half of the 1963 and 1964 seasons in Houston before earning the starting center field job in '65. The youngster showed off his dazzling combination of speed (90 runs and a career-high 43 steals in 47 attempts!) and power (30 doubles and 22 home runs), and batted .275 with a strong .371 on-base average. Only 5'9" and 160 pounds, he was nicknamed "the Toy Cannon" by writer John Wilson.

After a down year in which he saw action in just 105 games, Wynn stormed back in 1967. His 37 home runs trailed only Hank Aaron's total of 39, and he drove in 107 runs while scoring 102 (the first of four 100-run seasons). The Astro slugger made his first All-Star team and finished eleventh in the MVP race despite playing for a ninth-place team. After a less-glamorous 26-HR, .376 OBP year, Jimmy turned heads again in 1969. He bashed 33 longballs, scored 113 times, and walked 148 times for an astounding .436 on-base percentage! His walk total was an N.L. record until Barry Bonds strolled on by in 1996. From 1970-1973, Jimmy vacillated between good and bad years, with the highlight being a personal-best 117 runs in 1972 and the low point being a .203 average in 102 games in 1971 (and even then, he took enough walks to post a .302 OBP). After he hit .220 with only 55 RBI in 1973, Houston traded the 31-year-old to the Dodgers, ending an eleven-year partnership.

Finally freed from the pitchers' paradise that was the Astrodome, Jimmy flourished. He scored 104 runs, walked 108 times, and hit 32 homers and drove in a career-high 108 runs in helping Los Angeles to the pennant. He was an All-Star, the N.L. Comeback Player of the Year, and a fifth-place finisher in MVP voting; the award went to teammate Steve Garvey. In postseason play, the veteran outfielder had only five hits in nine games, but walked thirteen times, leading to an unusual .192/.450 batting/on-base combo. The Dodgers stormed past the Pirates only to fall to the A's in the only postseason of Wynn's career. He earned a second straight All-Star selection in 1975 despite a dip in offensive production (aside from an impressive 110 walks). That November, the Dodgers flipped him to the Braves in a six-player deal that brought Dusty Baker to L.A.

In his lone season in Atlanta, Wynn walked more times than he hit safely, the second straight year he compiled this unusual stat line. Thanks to his 127 walks and 93 hits, he batted a paltry .207 yet had a robust .377 on-base average. In 1977, Jimmy played out the string in the American League, splitting a substandard 66 games between the Yankees and the Brewers. He retired with 291 home runs, 225 steals, a .250 average, and a .366 on-base percentage. There's no telling how much greater his numbers would be if he had played in a hitters' era, and/or in a more accommodating ballpark.

Currently, Jimmy works for the Astros as a community outreach executive, and provides post-game analysis of the team's broadcasts on Fox Sports Net Houston. The team retired his uniform number (24) in 2005, leading outfielder Jason Lane to switch from #24 to #16.

Fun fact: Wynn twice hit three home runs in a single game, seven years apart. The first such game was against the Giants in 1967, and the second was in 1974, victimizing the Padres.
WYNNB by you.


  1. Wow, two Dodger favorites in a row!

    (word verification: coupon).

  2. one thing that always kind of bugged me about the ultra-cool cartoons on the back of vintage topps cards.

    we can all agree that jimmy wynn is about as black as night. he has the look of an african prince. i don't mean this in any sort of racist sense, it is just a fact: he is an african-american and looks it. but the cartoon on the back that represents him is about as lily white looking as you can get.

    while i don't think topps should have had stereotypical mamie looking cartoons, they could, perhaps have either something a bit more representative of the person on front, or simply have something more generic than have everyone look like lil abner.

    am i crazy on this one, or what?

  3. night owl - It's odd that it worked out that way! Sorry we couldn't make it a three-fer.

    Max - I totally agree. I first noticed it as a kid, when I had some Topps Big cards. They were full-color cartoons, which made it even more blatant. The last time I checked, Lou Whitaker was about as white as Chris Rock.

  4. I always felt sorry for Jimmy Wynn, in that he was drafted by the Astros and had to play in the dome. There is no telling what type of numbers he would have put up at Crosley Field - batting in the Big Red Machine's Line-up. He could have easily been a Hall-of-Famer.