If Jim Wynn had been born in 1982 instead of 1942, we might be witnessing the final stages of a Hall of Fame career here in the early 2020s.
Now, if you take a gander at Wynn’s career stats, you might be impressed but not overwhelmed …
.250 BA, 291 home runs, 964 RBI, 225 stolen bases, 1665 hits, three All-Star appearances
Those numbers might have gotten another bump were it not for a shoulder injury he sustained with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1975 … and who knows what would have happened from that point forward.
As things stand, Wynn was one of the bright spots for the expansion Houston Colt .45s, and the the Houston Astros, during their first decade of existence.
Debuting in 1963, a season after Houston became a Major League town, Wynn provided consistent star power even as others like Joe Morgan rose to prominence and then left town, and before Cesar Cedeno established himself as the next big thing under the Astrodome roof.
During 11 seasons with the Colt .45s/Astros, Wynn smacked 223 home runs and swiped 180 bases while manning the expansive Astrodome centerfield for most of those years.
That was enough to make Wynn an Astros star … and to get him trade to the Dodgers before the 1974 season in exchange for Claude Osteen and minor leaguer David Culpepper.
In L.A. in 1974, the man whose play had earned him the nickname of Toy Cannon in Houston continued doing what he did best — hitting home runs (32), driving in runs (108), and stealing bases (18).
That injury in 1975, though, sapped Wynn in his age-33 season and limited him to 130 games — he still managed 18 dingers, but his batting average fell from .271 in ‘74 to .248.
With damaged goods on their hands, the Dodgers made a move in the offseason, sending Wynn (along with Lee Lacy, Tom Paciorek, and Jerry Royster) to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Dusty Baker and Ed Goodson.
And, though, Wynn made it into 148 games for the 1976 Braves, his average plummeted to .207, and he managed “just” 17 homers.
Now, for most of his career, Wynn had donned Houston garb on his Topps baseball cards before showing up in Dodger Blue in the 1974 Topps Traded (airbrushed) and 1975 Topps base sets.
That was the end of his Dodgers cardboard run, though, because L.A.’s deal with the Braves came early enough in the offseason (November 1975) that Topps made Wynn a Brave in their 1976 set.
And then, in 1977, they captured him in a legitimate Braves getup, complete with warmup jacket:
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In this shot, Wynn looks sort of like what he was — an aging slugger, not quite as lithe and fresh-faced as he was in his prime.
And, after that rough showing in 1976, the Braves were happy to sell his contract to the New York Yankees in November of that year.
So, even as collectors were pulling the Braves version of Wynn from their wax packs early in 1977, the man himself was taking his first cuts as an American Leaguer, garnering 92 plate appearances in the Bronx, mostly as a designated hitter.
Things didn’t pan out well for Wynn or the Yanks, though, and his .143 batting average with a single home run got him released on July 14.
Less than two weeks later, the Milwaukee Brewers came calling with a free agent deal, and Wynn saw action in 36 more games as the summer waned.
Alas, a .197 showing with no home runs led to his release in October, and that was the end of the Toy Cannon in the big leagues.
Not surprisingly, with no team affiliation heading into 1978, Wynn dropped out of Topps’ lineup, too, thus wrapping his cardboard tenure.
All in all, Wynn turned in a solid, All-Star-level career.
But if you head back to Wynn’s career record over on Baseball Reference, your discerning modern baseball eye might pick up on something that those old-time baseball cards won’t tell you.
Look at his last full season, 1976, for example, and you’ll see that Wynn drew a majors-leading 127 walks, boosting his on-base percentage all the way up to .377.
And that wasn’t a one-hit wonder, either.
Six times, Wynn topped 100 free passes in a season, maxing out at 148 in 1969.
All in all, that discerning eye left his career OBP at a hefty .366, better than Bill Madlock and Pee Wee Reese, a bit below Hall of Famers Zack Wheat and George Kell.
Add in his .436 slugging percentage, and Wynn’s .802 OPS stands just north of big names like Ron Cey and HOFer Luke Appling, and a bit down the charts from Cecil Cooper and Wee Willie Keeler.
None of which is to say that Wynn is a surefire Hall of Famer — although B-R does have him as something like the 17th best centerfielder of all time.
But don’t you think, if Wynn were finishing up that 1976 season of his today — still getting on base, still flashing power — that he’d have a few more teams interested in his services?
That he might draw enough interest to make the monetary considerations worth his while to keep playing, even with a rough showing in 1977?
The recent opportunities afforded guys like Nelson Cruz and Carlos Santana argue that just might be the truth.
Add another 20-50 home runs and 5-10 WAR to Wynn’s record, and that Cooperstown discussion becomes that much more interesting.
In our real world of the 2020s, of course, we’re left to ponder that final Toy Cannon card and wonder what he might have looked like in today’s game.
More like than not, he’d have been something of a Sabermetrics darling.
The Toy Cannon hit three home runs in a game on June 15, 1967, the sort of performance that lives on in legend … and in memorabilia:
That’s a game-used ball from the era, signed by Wynn and noting his monumental performance.
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