07/09/2004 9:27 PM ET
Wynn remembers the Astrodome
Outfielder hit 291 home runs in 13 seasons
HOUSTON -- Jimmy Wynn winced. It was mock angst, but the man known as The Toy Cannon has been no stranger to pain, what with the fractured wrist, hand, elbow and various other injuries the outfielder endured during his 15-year career in the Major Leagues.
By Jim Molony / MLB.com
This time, however, Wynn's pained expression was not a reminder of some old ball field injury, but rather this writer's question about what it would have meant to Wynn to have played his home games in cozy Minute Maid Park instead of the spacious Astrodome.
"Don't mention that; that's torture!" Wynn said. "I wish they had a ballpark like [Minute Maid Park] when I was playing here. I probably would be in the Hall of Fame right now. I probably would have had over 400 home runs, I believe."
Who could disagree? The five-foot-nine Wynn spent most of his career with teams that played in pitcher-friendly parks, including old Colt Stadium and the Astrodome in Houston, and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. And yet, despite his years in such notoriously cavernous parks, Wynn still hit 291 home runs which stood as the Houston record until it was broken by Jeff Bagwell a few years ago.
The fans who queued up in lines that wound around FanFest Friday afternoon at the George R. Brown Convention Center to get Wynn's autograph, obviously hadn't forgotten the Toy Cannon or his place in baseball history. Forty-something fathers introduced their children to him and, one by one, the generations of baseball fans who remember Wynn launching home runs as an Astro or belting the ball out of Dodger Stadium in the mid 1970s, came by. They had no problems remembering the man who was one of the more feared power hitters of his generation and a three-time All-Star.
In those days, Wynn could match power with the best of them. But he was hardly a one-tool player. He could also run, stealing 43 bases in 1965, and was usually among the league leaders in walks. As for on his abilities in the field, Wynn's arm was adequate if not great. He was walking proof that good things do indeed come in small packages. While he was the champion of the little guy, you had to appreciate the man's talent regardless of your size.
Wynn, now 62, is pleased to watch the evolution of baseball as well as this city, and yet he is also glad so many people have not forgetten Houston's baseball roots.
Colt Stadium and the Astrodome may have cost Wynn a some home runs, but both are remembered fondly.
"You ever see the B-44 bombers?" Wynn said. "We had mosquitoes that big at old Colt Stadium. Instead of dragging the field in the top of the seventh inning, we had to spray it in order to keep the dive bombers away, because they used to carry the fans away. Playing in Colt Stadium was fun, but it was like 'Hey heads up.' "
Wynn tied the NL season record for walks with 148 in 1969, while still managing to hit 33 home runs. When he left the Astros in 1974, Wynn held club records for hits, homers and RBIs. For 40 years a reminder of his prodigious power could be seen in the upper deck of the Astrodome, where a Toy Cannon was painted on the seat back where Wynn once rocketed a home run against Phil Niekro.
In '74 Wynn replaced Willie Davis as the Dodger center fielder and led Los Angeles to a pennant. A year later he was sent to Atlanta in a six-player trade that brought Dusty Baker to the Dodgers. Wynn's final campaign, in 1977, was split between the New York Yankees and Milwaukee Brewers.
Today, as he signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans, Wynn said he is "just having a lot of fun."
"This is so different from what it was years ago," he said. "[Houston] was kind of a quiet baseball town back in 1968. People weren't that up on the All-Star Game compared to the way it is today. All of this, the [FanFest], the All-Star Game festivities and having all of the Hall of Famers in town I think it's wonderful."
Wynn saw Houston baseball in its infancy and is appreciative of having been fortunate to witness its growth.
"I believe that Judge Roy Hofheinz was before his time," Wynn said of the Astrodome's founder. "He had something built that nobody ever dreamed of, an indoor baseball field. I personally believe that if he hadn't had this inclination of building a dome, baseball would not have gone on to become] like it is right now. Fans would never have come because it would have been too hot."
Even though the price might have included a few lost homers for Wynn, Hofheinz's dream was well worth that cost to the Toy Cannon. At least he has the stadium seat from the blast off Niekro. That was one shot that won't make Wynn wince.
"I've got the chair at home; that was a fun one," he said. "I hit it off Phil Niekro, the old knuckleballer and a good friend of mine."
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.