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Remembering Jimmy Wynn, the Toy Cannon

Longtime Astros and Dodgers power hitter dies at 78

Athletics v Dodgers Photo by Focus On Sports via Getty Images

Baseball lost an excellent player and ambassador on Thursday, when Jimmy Wynn passed away at the age of 78.

Wynn played the bulk of his career with the Houston Astros, and spent the last several years doing community outreach work for the team. He also made an indelible mark in his two years with the Dodgers, doing the things he was known for: power and plate discipline.

The power might not be expected from someone listed at 5’9, but that’s where one of the great baseball nicknames enters the discussion. Wynn was known as the Toy Cannon for his prodigious home runs produced from his relatively small frame. He famously hit a ball onto the freeway at old Crosley Field in Cincinnati.

Wynn spent 11 years in Houston, but toward the end of his time there he was moved from center field to the corners, and in 1973 he was moved to the top of the lineup in two-thirds of his starts. As early as 1970, Wynn made it known he wanted to be traded. In the winter of 1973, the Dodgers traded longtime starting pitcher Claude Osteen to get Wynn, who got what he wanted in Los Angeles.

From Ron Fimrite in Sports Illustrated in 1974:

Ah, but there is nothing quite like a new suit of clothes. After the trade with Houston for Claude Osteen, Alston advised Wynn that he could bat third, play center field, swing at the ball any way he damn well pleased as long as he hit it from time to time, and have complete freedom on the bases.

Wynn was just what the Dodgers needed on offense, with the 32-year-old complementing a lineup full of young talent that was just beginning to gel. Another trade by Dodgers GM Al Campanis, a day apart from acquiring Wynn, saw another longtime franchise staple — Willie Davis — get traded for rubber-armed reliever Mike Marshall, which solidified the pitching staff.

Those Dodgers won 102 games in 1974, which stood as the most for the franchise since moving to Los Angeles until passed in two of the last three years. Wynn was right at the heart of it, in both the lineup and in the field. All 147 of his starts were batting third, and in center field.

Wynn also hit 32 home runs and drove in a career-high 108 runs. He was just the second Dodger to hit 30 home runs since the club moved to Los Angeles 16 years earlier (Frank Howard hit 31 homers in 1962). Wynn also walked 108 times, good for a .271/.387/.497 line, a 151 OPS+. That helped the Dodgers win their first pennant since Sandy Koufax retired.

The raw numbers waned in 1975 and his batting average dropped to .248, but another 110 walks gave Wynn a .403 on-base percentage. Since moving to LA, a Dodgers player has walked 100 times in only six seasons, the first two by Wynn. Those 110 walks are the most by a Dodger in the last 70 years.

He also posted a 134 OPS+, another relative rarity. Only four LA Dodger center fielders have posted a 130 OPS+ or better in a qualified season — Wynn (twice), Brett Butler (twice), Willie Davis, and Matt Kemp.

Wynn was an All-Star in both years with the Dodgers, and in the 1975 game in Milwaukee he and Steve Garvey made history, the first teammates to hit back-to-back home runs in the midsummer classic.

Wynn was traded after 1975 as part of a five-player deal with the Braves that brought Dusty Baker to Los Angeles. Though his time in Los Angeles was relatively brief, Wynn was a memorable Dodger.

Here are some other Wynn remembrances worth your time: