January 25, 2006
BASEBALL: The Toy Cannon
Thanks to my law firm having paid for a table at the event, I had the pleasure of attending the Baseball Assistance Team (BAT) dinner last night. BAT is a charity run mainly by current and former MLB players to help "members of the baseball family" - ex-MLB and Negro League players, widows, umps, scouts, front office people, etc. - in various types of need, and its annual dinner in Manhattan kicks off with an autograph-signing session and then a dinner at which ex-players disperse and sit at the tables. It's a pretty cool event, and this is the second one I've gotten to attend. Many of the 1986 Mets were there - commemorating the 20th anniversary of the team - and in the autograph session I got to Strawberry, Darling, Mitchell, Santana, Foster and HoJo.
Anyway, the ex-player at our table was Jimmy Wynn. It's pretty loud in the room and I'm not sure everyone could immediately make out his name - or necessarily remembered him - so he brightened up when I said, "the Toy Cannon!" When I pointed out that drawing walks was one of baseball's most underrated skills and that he'd been one of the best at it, he said I'd made his day, and he seemed to genuinely mean that (and added: "and being patient. I was always a patient hitter."). Not to make Wynn sound like some sort of pitiful figure or anything; rather, like a lot of ex-players he's obviously proud of his accomplishments and glad when they're remembered and respected. He still feels, for example, that he should have been allowed to run more, pointing out from memory that he stole 43 bases in 47 attempts as a rookie. I asked Wynn who the toughest pitcher he faced was, and he didn't hesitate for a second: Bob Gibson.
I'm still working on a lengthy analysis of some current and recent Hall of Fame candidates, and in doing so I'm comparing them to other first basemen and outfielders with similar careers; one of the latter that I've been looking at was Jimmy Wynn. So it was definitely a thrill to meet him.
The combo of the Astrodome (and then Dodger Stadium) , the 60's, and production created largely out of secondary average-type skills have conspired to keep Wynn out of meaningful discussions of great players.
Not sure he was a HOFer, but he certainly deserves it as much as, or more than, Rice, Dawson, Murphy or others getting ink lately.
He was better for longer than Murphy. The point isn't to stump for Wynn as a Hall of Famer but to point out that he's a lot closer to one than people think.
And, I should add, even under the most adverse conditions a hitter could be asked to survive, he managed a career OBP 43 points higher than Andre Dawson's. As a 34-year-old batting .207 his OBP was nearly 50 points higher than Dawson's the year Dawson won the MVP.
In a run-starved environment, Wynn scored 100 runs 4 times, including two seasons of 113 or more. Dawson cleared the century twice.
This about Wynn from baseballlibrary-
Mets 1B Frank Thomas pulled the hidden ball trick on the rookie Wynn in 1963.
In 1969, Wynn got his revenge. He hit the first of two grand slams in Houston's 11 run 9th at Shea. First time in NL history two GS in the same inning (Denis Menke hit the other).
Jimmy Wynn's skills have to be among the best-hidden in baseball history. He'd be a big, big star if he was playing today, both because of more favorable conditions, and because the things he was good at are much better appreciated.
Jimmy Wynn was a fine player and, from the BAT Dinner description, sounds like a fine man. But, to suggest that he was as good as Jim Rice or Andre Dawson -- whether or not any of the three are Hall of Famers -- is just not right.
My favorite Jimmy Wynn moment was the grand slam he hit off of Pedro Borbon on 15 Sept 74. Cincinnati had won the first two games of a three game series in Los Angeles to reduce the Dodgers lead to a game and a half. This Sunday game had a must win critical mass for the Dodgers to it. The Reds jumped out to a 1-0 lead. Don Sutton struck out Johnny Bench with the bases loaded to keep it that way. The Dodgers scored two in the 6th to take a 2-1 lead. Wynn's grand slam in the 7th inning provided welcome insurance runs. That grand salami was the Dodger highlight of the 1974 season. Close but no cigar honors go to Steve Yeager for a grand slam he hit during that summer at home also against the Reds.
Except for one season with Atlanta in 76, Wynn played in pitcher's ballparks. Most of his career he had the Astrodome and Dodger Stadium for his home park. My last Toy Cannon sighting was in Yankee Stadium in June 77. That resulted in a Death Valley flyout to leftfield. Wynn's 69 season with 33 home runs, 113 runs, 87 rbi, 23 steals, 148 walks and .269/.440/.507 was his best. That walk total included 14 intentional walks.
I'd agree that Rice was better than Wynn, but when I run the numbers you'll see why I think he wasn't so dramatically better. But I would absolutely have preferred Jimmy Wynn on my team over a 10+ year period than Andre Dawson. Your 27 outs are your most precious possession, and Dawson gave too many of them away.
I'll be very curious to read your breakdown which includes Rice vs. Wynn.
I see Rice earning some advantage via 14 prime seasons vs. 12 for Wynn, with Rice getting more PAs on average. But Wynn played CF, as opposed to Rice's LF. And Rice was at best average in a small LF, whereas Wynn was good in a large CF. Their production, adjusted for ballpark, league and era was quite similar.
But again, I await your analysis.
We AstrosFans remember Mr. Wynn just fine...what a ballplayer...and a great guy...nice to see the club retire the jersey last year...
I think it would be great for Bidge and Bags, two of our most prized hopefuls, have some "Dome" HOFers with them...there are a lot of players whose stats were affected by that ballpark...Bags and Bidge are in that category no doubt...Jose Cruz as well...not sure Cruz or Wynn would have been HOFers "butfor" Dome, but it would have been a lot closer...Cheo was a five tool player, just what every team is now looking for... To describe what the Dome was like, Cruz lead the team in home runs in the Dome one year with like nine...the place was a canyon...
Great article, tho, Crank...and a great guy to talk ball with...Astros don't do that enough, in my opinion...
When Steve Garvey won his MVP in 1974, he wasn't even the best player on his team. Jimmy Wynn was on base more, hit for more power (in a pitcher's park), and played center field as well. But Garvey had the batting average, not to mention the phony smile.
Wynn was with the Yankees for part of 1977, when he had nothing left. But on Opening Day that year he hit an astonishing home run, a line shot to dead center field. It probably never got more than about 15 feet off the ground, and got out of the park as quickly as any of Sheffield's. One of the most memorably homers I've ever seen.
JL25and 3, you must be a Ron Guidry fan!
I was just looking at Jimmy Wynn's statistics the other day and recalled he had only one home run with the 77 Yankees. I checked out the 77 Yankees Opener in Retrosheet and noted that Wynn did indeed homer in that game. It was the Toy Cannon's first at bat as a Yankee, in the bottom of the 2nd inning. It turned out to be the 291st and last home run of Wynn's career.
Steve Garvey had a real smile. He turned out to be a phony person. Garv sure fooled the L.A. Times sports desk. They all but coronated Garvey as the next governor. In retirement Garvey endorsed a Fat Trapper pill that would allow you to eat all you wanted without gaining weight. Steve evidently was a disciple of the P.T. Barnum school.
In 74 the Wiseman N.L. MVP Award deservedly goes to Jimmy Wynn.