When the news came out on Friday that former big-leaguer Jimmy Wynn had died at the age of 78, most of the attention was focused on his time with the Houston Astros.
Rightfully so. Wynn, the slugger with a listed (and probably exaggerated) height of 5-9 who was nicknamed “The Toy Cannon,” had his No. 24 retired by the Astros in 2005 and was inducted into the club’s inaugural Hall of Fame last year. The Astros’ youth academy is called the Jimmy Wynn Training Center. Wynn still worked for the team as community outreach executive.
Wynn hit 223 of his 291 home runs for the Astros. It’s No. 291 that is the subject here. Wynn hit it on Opening Day, 1977, at Yankee Stadium. For the Yankees.
He had been purchased by the Yankees from the Braves on Nov. 30, 1976. The transaction didn’t garner a ton of attention. The day before, the Yankees had signed Reggie Jackson as a free agent.
Wynn was supposed to bring some righthanded power to the Yankees’ left-leaning lineup. And he did on April 7, 1977, when he hit a second-inning solo home run to center off Milwaukee Brewers lefthander Bill Travers.
Wynn became the third player to homer in his first at-bat with the Yankees. He joined John A. Miller, who homered in both the first and last at-bats of his career — the only two home runs he ever hit. Miller’s first homer came on Sept. 11, 1966. He didn’t appear in the majors again until 1969 with the Dodgers, and he went deep again on Sept. 23.
Graig Nettles, who was in the lineup just ahead of Wynn on Opening Day 1977, homered in his first at-bat as a Yankee on April 6, 1973, off Red Sox ace Luis Tiant.
More recent players who have homered in their first Yankees at-bats: Aaron Judge (2016, in the same game as fellow rookie Tyler Austin, who also homered in his first AB); Giancarlo Stanton (2018 off current teammate J.A. Happ); and current hitting coach Marcus Thames (2002 off Randy Johnson).
Wynn went 2-for-3 in the Yankees’ 3-0 Opening Day victory before 43,786 fans in the Bronx. He picked up two more hits the next game, two more two games later, and on April 19, after going 2-for-4 with a triple, was batting .360.
After that, the Toy Cannon stopped firing altogether.
From April 20 to the day of his release on July 14, Wynn had two hits in 52 at-bats (.038), including 32 consecutive hitless at-bats that wasn’t equaled by a Yankee until Derek Jeter also went 0-for-32 in 2004. Wynn finished his brief Yankees career with 11 hits in 77 at-bats (.143).
Wynn was in the middle of one of the most infamous moments in Yankees history. When Jackson and manager Billy Martin almost came to blows on June 18 in the dugout at Fenway Park after Martin had removed Jackson from rightfield for loafing after a ball, it was the 5-9, 160-pound Wynn who walked the 6-foot, 195-pound Jackson away from the raging Martin.
"It was chaos," Wynn said in a 2007 Newark Star-Ledger story. "I thought there was going to be a fight right in the dugout, right in public."
After his release, Wynn was signed by the Brewers and hit just .197 in 36 games. That was the end of Wynn’s career. He finished with a .250 batting average.
As for his delightful nickname, it was given to Wynn by a Houston newspaper reporter. At first, he didn’t care for it. Then it grew on him.
"At times, I forgot my real name," Wynn said in 2014, according to MLB.com. "If I hit a ball hard — or out of the park — I'd go back to the bench and look out to the mound to see the pitcher saying, 'How in the world can that little man hit the ball so far and so hard?'"