Being a 5'9", 165-pound power hitter at the Astrodome in the late 1960s was an uphill battle, but Jimmy Wynn still likes a challenge--especially when he sees a social or spiritual benefit. Always a delightful speaker (he described Sandy Koufax's curve as a "mystic waterfall"), Wynn tells at-risk high school kids to stay off drugs and also goes to U.S. military bases to thank the men and women who serve the country. Next month he will host a charity golf tournament that benefits the Houston Area Urban League's Equal Opportunity Day. Wynn, 63, did well as a player; now mostly he does good.
Nearly 30 years after he left the game, the Toy Cannon, as he was known, still resonates. The sobriquet truly captured the undersized slugger in the egregiously outsized monument to sporting Americana: the Astrodome. Wynn spent 11 seasons in Houston, from 1963 through '73, nine of them in the punitive Eighth Wonder of the World. He hit 97 of his 291 career home runs in the Dome.
But quality rather than quantity marked Wynn as an iconic figure of the era. His regal homers generally were the type, players said, that should have had flight attendants on them.
"All the great home run hitters of the time--Mays, Aaron, McCovey, Stargell--the first time they saw me they'd ask if my bat was corked," Wynn says. "I'd say, 'You can swing it if you want to.' They'd tell me it was impossible to hit home runs in this place, but I never regretted [playing in] the Dome."
Traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers after the 1973 season, Wynn had one of his most productive seasons (32 home runs, 108 RBIs) the next year. Yet he hit .275 or better only twice in his career, and after his average plummeted below .210 in '76 with the Atlanta Braves and in '77 with the New York Yankees and the Milwaukee Brewers, he abruptly retired at 35. Wynn resided in L.A. for a year, then settled in the Houston area, where he lives with his third wife, Rose Marie. His children from his first marriage--Kimberly, a physiotherapist, and Jimmy Jr., who works for UPS--are also in the area.
He is only 12 pounds above his playing weight, a visual reminder of the small artillery piece who stole 225 bases, had a .366 on-base percentage and played a sublime centerfield. Before the Astros' July 8 game against the Dodgers at Minute Maid Park, Wynn will be honored for his all-around play when Houston retires his number 24. "It's like being inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame, just about," says Wynn. "I'm happy that people in Houston still think of me in that way." --Michael Farber