HOUSTON -- Quick history lesson: Before Bagwell, there was Wynn.Sure, there were plenty of sluggers who played for the Astros after Jimmy Wynn's final game in Houston in 1973 and before Jeff Bagwell's first in 1991, but these two will forever be tied together in Astros history. It was Wynn who held the franchise's all-time home run record for 29 years, and it was Bagwell who broke it in 1999. Wynn, all 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds of him, was the first bona fide slugger in franchise history. Bagwell, who has 446 homers with two years remaining on his contract, will go down as the greatest slugger in franchise history. Think today's players don't recognize the accomplishments of those from the past? Not so in this case. When Bagwell and Craig Biggio were inducted into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame in November, in a ceremony during which Wynn was honored with an award named after him, both franchise icons thanked Wynn personally for setting an example in his day for the younger players, a tradition that continues.
"It makes me feel good that superstars like Biggio and Bagwell came out and said just wonderful things about me during the course of that dinner," said Wynn. "It really made me feel good, to the point that when I went home, I started crying just a little bit."Coming from them, it meant a great deal to me. It makes you feel like you're part of history when they say something good about a person." Anyone who has ever known Wynn -- also known as the "Toy Cannon" -- has something good to say about him. As MLB.com celebrates Black History Month, it's only appropriate to spotlight one of the franchise's first superstars, a beloved figure in the community to this day. A three-time All-Star, Wynn is in the top 10 in nearly every offensive category for the Astros, including runs scored (fifth), hits (seventh), doubles (sixth) and slugging (seventh). He played 11 seasons in Houston during his 15-year career, mostly as a center fielder, and in 1967 he set then-single-season club records with 37 homers and 107 RBIs. And he did it in the cavernous Astrodome, the far fences and stagnant air of which today's young players will never know. Bagwell, however, played nine years there, and when he set his home run record, Wynn was there to pass the torch during a pregame ceremony commemorating the milestone. For Wynn the event was a pleasure, because Bagwell is precisely the type of player Wynn teamed with in the old days. In some ways, Bagwell reminds Wynn a lot of himself. "The reason I [liked] being No. 2 is because of the attitude of Jeff Bagwell, the type of ballplayer that he is," said Wynn. "He goes out there each and every day, regardless of whether he's hurt or not, and he plays hard, which is something I did when I played." Of course, Wynn faced challenges that Bagwell never will. Wynn broke into the Major Leagues 16 years after Jackie Robinson did, but in too many instances, life was still difficult for African-American players. According to Wynn, the racism he encountered wasn't exactly the same as what Robinson endured, but it was "maybe on that same plane." "We got called bad names," he said. "There were certain places where we couldn't go to eat. Certain places where we couldn't go to sleep. Certain places where we couldn't drive in a certain neighborhood. "Then again, it made you a much better person if you can understand and live with it. When I chose to be a ballplayer, my father told me about these things and said, 'You've got to learn to accept them, up to a certain point.' It made me a much better person to understand what this world is all about." These days, Wynn is still closely tied with the Astros organization. Five years ago he told then-general manager Gerry Hunsicker that he wanted to be an assistant general manager and "do the things [Hunsicker] didn't want to do." That opportunity never materialized, but Wynn found a new niche when Marian Harper, vice president of community relations, approached him about assisting her department's efforts. Already a vocal presence in the community, Wynn saw the proposal as a terrific opportunity. "I talk to kids about staying in school, education, minding their parents," he said. "It makes me feel gratified that I still am part of the Astros, doing the things I really like to do." Although many years have passed since he wore a big league uniform, Wynn is proud of the mark he left in Astros history. The home run record, during its run, was presumably the one he cherished most. "I held the record for 29 years, and it's just part of growing up," he said. "When you have a record, the record is going to be broken, no matter what. It took Bagwell a long time to do it."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.