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Jimmy Wynn: Overcoming Adversity
Baseball writers always like to discuss and debate what players are the most overrated and the most underrated. A name that comes up often in the underrated category is Jimmy Wynn, the “Toy Cannon.” Wynn is listed on baseball-reference.com as being 5’9″ and weighing 170 pounds. Although short, he possessed a rugged build and was more than capable at hitting the long ball. He brought to the lineup very good speed and an uncanny ability to draw the base on balls. Over his career Wynn was a three-time all-star, and he hit 291 homeruns and stole 225 bases. He also managed to lead the league in walks twice.
During Wynn’s first 6 seasons as a regular (1965-1970), he consistently put up some very impressive offensive numbers. In ’65 he hit 22 homeruns and scored 90 runs while hitting .275, and stole 43 bases. Other highlights included scoring and knocking in over 100 runs and hitting 37 homers in ‘67. In ’69 he walked 148 times, hit 33 homeruns and scored 113 times. In ’70 he hit .282, walked over 100 times again and hit another 27 homers.
Then, something drastic changed in 1971. Wynn wasn’t the same player. His production fell off the table. He couldn’t concentrate and he missed many games. He couldn’t focus. His manager and his teammates increasingly grew more concerned about Jimmy Wynn. What happened? Why the horrible performance in 1971? He played in only 123 games and his batting average plummeted to a dismal .203 for the season. He hit only 7 homeruns all year. His slugging percentage was a horrid .295. What happened to cause this type of dropoff?
During the 1971 season, Jim Wynn was battling troubles in his personal life. Anxieties overwhelmed him, and his difficulties saturated his thoughts. His marriage was falling apart at the seams and Wynn could not control the events that were unfolding in his life.
One thing that baseball fans sometimes seem to lose sight of at times is that ballplayers are human beings. They have problems in their lives just the same as the rest of his. Wynn tried to cope with his quagmire the best he knew how.
His marriage had deteriorated so badly that his wife actually stabbed the star slugger while the two were quarrelling. This horrible event actually occurred on their wedding anniversary. Things started to go sour for Wynn in December of 1970, when his wedding anniversary party erupted into a heated argument that turned violent. Wynn grabbed an unloaded gun, and his wife swiftly picked up a knife and stabbed Wynn in the stomach.
Later Wynn tried to downplay the fracas. He explained, “Everything got blown out of proportion. The knife thing wasn’t as serious as many people thought it was. It was a minor wound, like sticking a pin in your finger and drawing blood. One of my friends could have driven me to the hospital. Instead, they took me there in an ambulance, and the next thing you knew, it was all over the TV and the radio and in the papers.” Regardless of Wynn’s spin on the event, it involved a gun and a knife, and it was serious enough to cause everything in his life to crumble. Unfortunately, Wynn couldn’t come to terms with his personal life, himself, let alone baseball.
At one point during the ’71 season Wynn even took things out on his manager—Harry Walker. The episode made all the headlines. Concerning the event Walker said, “He tried to chase me out of my office. I couldn’t allow that. Not if I was going to be manager of this club.”
After the ’71 season was over, Houston considered trading Wynn, but given his deflated market value, due to his poor season, the Astros figured they were better off keeping Wynn and they believed he was capable of putting together a fine come back season. Instead, the Astros chose to trade Wynn’s long time roommate—Joe Morgan.
By February of ’72, Wynn was finally divorced, and many of his problems started to work themselves out. Wynn and his ex-wife became friends again. “The problems we had are now completely resolved, Wynn said after the divorce. Soon thereafter Wynn had established a new romantic interest. Wynn communicated with his manager about many things, and they patched things up. At last, for Wynn his spirits appeared to be very much on the rebound.
Once the 1972 finally began, Wynn informed others that he finally had a “free mind.” Wynn was very much his old self on the baseball diamond too. Concerning his ’71 performance Wynn admitted, “I was terrible . . . simply terrible.” Wynn was finally at peace with his life, once again. He explained, “I had so many problems at home. So many things went wrong. But once they were cleared up, it was like a cloud lifted from my mind.”
Concerning his revitalization, Wynn said, “The difference is that I’m in the right frame of mind. I don’t have to worry about personal problems—the ball club and my personal life. That’s all behind me now.” He added, “First and foremost, I’m a ball player again. Being a ball player and travelling and playing 150 or so games a year, you can’t have anything on your mind except baseball. If you do, you can’t concentrate on baseball, and that is bad.”
The other big change that came for Wynn in the ’72 season was that he would no longer be rooming with his friend Joe Morgan. Some observers had believed that Morgan was not the best influence on Wynn. Some referred to Morgan as a “troublemaker.” Wynn stuck up for Morgan in this regard. Wynn said, “There was no truth to it. Joe’s no troublemaker and neither am I. We saw things we didn’t like and voiced our opinions. Why hold it in? Speak what you think and get it over with.”
Morgan expressed his views on the subject:
“I was Jim’s roomie for seven years in the big leagues, and for six of those seven years he had good years. He hit 37 homers and drove in 107 runs one year. He stole 43 bases another time and hit .282 another year. All that time he was hitting more than his share of homeruns too, but I never heard anybody say, ‘Well Joe Morgan did a good job with him.’ The last year, Jim hits .203 and I get credit for .202 of it. It’s a funny game.”
Early in the ’72 season Wynn had a clear mind, he was happy and performing very well. “I’m swinging the bat with authority. I’m hustling and I’m playing good ball for this club, something I didn’t do last year. Some things I know now were my fault and other things I know were not.” He continued, “My attitude is much better this year. The team as a whole has a much better attitude.”
Wynn did turn things around in 1972. He finished with a .273 average, 103 walks, 24 homers, 117 runs and 90 RBIs. What did Joe Morgan do with his new club, the Cincinnati Reds? All he did was lead the league in runs (122), walks (115) and on base percentage (.417). He hit .292, stole 58 bases and hit 16 homeruns, helping his new club make it to the World Series.
This Wynn story sheds light on the effects a player’s personal life can have on his performance on a baseball diamond. All are fallible. We are all human. Life is unpredictable. All on this planet must learn to cope and deal with all we confront. Wynn faced adversity in 1971, he struggled and was able to regroup and conquer his problems and regain his old form. Most lives experience triumph as well as tragedy. To survive, we must learn to weather the storms.
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Written by Stephen C. Jordan, 2010. Jordan is Editor of (Pastime Post). Jordan has written articles for several publications including the Portland Press Herald and the Sporting News. He is the author of Bohemian Rogue: The Life of Hollywood Artist John Decker (Scarecrow Press, 2004) and Hollywood’s Original Rat Pack: The Bards of Bundy Drive (Scarecrow Press, 2008).
Tags: Baseball, Cincinnati Reds, Houston Astros