The Runner Sports

Jose Altuve Polishes Memories Of Astros’ Toy Cannon, Jimmy Wynn

Entering Sunday’s (May 8) games, who’s second in the American League in home runs (9, tied with Toronto’s Josh Donaldson), doubles (14), and leads the League in slugging (.658), total bases (79), and OPS (1.064)? It’s not a power hitter…or, is it? It’s Houston Astros second baseman (and leadoff hitter) Jose Altuve.

Altuve also entered the weekend leading all MLB position players in WAR (wins above replacement) at 2.3, second only to the Cubs’ pitcher, Jake Arrieta (2.4).

The Long (Ball) and Short of It

The 5’6″, 165-pound Altuve is on a power tear that might bring to mind another Mighty Mouse-with-a-bat who also wore Astro orange from 1963-73, Jimmy Wynn aka “The Toy Cannon.” Actually, Wynn wore Colt .45s colors until the 1965 season, when the Astrodome was finished, and the Colts were re-named “Astros.”

Second baseman Altuve, possessor of two straight 200-hit seasons, led the Majors in hits (225) and batting average (.341) in 2014, now seems to be adding “power hitter” to his resume.

Through games of May 7, Altuve has hit 9 home runs, 2 more than Astros’ clean-up hitter, Colby Rasmus, and 3 away from Majors leader Nolan Arenado (Colorado), but the latter has 8 inches and 40 pounds on Altuve (and hits in thin-air Denver, where half his homers have been hit). Altuve’s career home run high (reached last year) of 15 appears to be on its way to being shattered.

Altuve has a team-leading .317 BA, 28 runs scored, and leads the Majors with 10 stolen bases (with one caught-stealing), and is 6 RBIs behind teammate Rasmus with 19.

In fact, as lead-off hitter, 6 of Altuve’s 9 homers have been clubbed to start a game. While that would seem to get the Astros off to a great start in any given game, Crush City has limped to an 11-20 start, leading many to consider a nickname change to Crutch City.

Altuve did not start Saturday’s (May 7) home game with Seattle, due to a sore left index finger he jammed in Thursday’s game with the Mariners, but did enter the game in the 7th as a pinch-runner, and stayed in at 2B after Marwin Gonzalez drew the start.

Three For the Taking

Altuve started Friday’s (May 6) game, though. It was his 26th birthday, and in one at-bat, he took first on 3 balls. The ump didn’t stop him, and the Mariners didn’t protest. Happy birthday, Jose! He came around to score, ultimately, in the Astros’ 6-3 win over Seattle.

Whence the Power?

A third of the right-handed Altuve’s dingers have, indeed, gone the other way, a new and interesting wrinkle to his growing arsenal of talents.

Adding a noticeable leg kick just before he swings seems to help him stay with the pitch deep into the hitting zone (as well as gain leverage and launch angle), and with his quick hands and wrists, no field is off limits, even over a wall (or train tracks).

Watch Altuve hit a 418-footer over Minute Maid Park’s train tracks, last week, for his 6th leadoff homer of the year

“I try to go to home plate with a purpose, with a plan, and not get out of it,” Altuve said recently. “I’m putting myself in good hitting counts and getting good pitches to hit. I would like to keep hitting homers, but I’m not going to go out there and try to do it. Because I feel like the moment I start trying to hit the homers, I’m going to stop hitting.”

Wynn’s Above Replacement

Jimmy Wynn, whose tape-measure shots were so numerous (and impressive in the canyonesque Astrodome), he acquired the nickname “The Toy Cannon” in his 11 years as the Astros’ 5’9″, 170-pound center fielder.

Watch: brief video of Wynn’s recent recollection of Dome’s opening

On the back of a seat in the now crumbling Astrodome, a depiction of a black cannon marked the spot where Wynn launched a moon shot on April 12, 1970.

Watch Wynn hit prodigious Crosley Field (Cincinnati, 1967) homer over scoreboard and into freeway traffic

The right-handed hitting Wynn, now 74, was the first player to ever hit a home run into the upper deck of the Dome, punishing a Phil Niekro pitch down the left field line. During a late-1980s Astrodome renovation, the seat was given to Wynn, who still proudly displays it in his living room.

Video: 5 weeks after crushing at Crosley, this Wynn tape-measure job (465 ft) at Pittsburgh’s old Forbes Field (call by Harry Kalas)

Literally days after Wynn’s long-distance Dome dinger, third baseman Doug Rader (“The Red Rooster”) nearly hit Wynn’s cratered seat, landing in the same row, just a few to the left. Another reupholster job was due, this time with the picture of a red rooster to mark Rader’s laser shot.

Related: Personal Astrodome Memories + Its Future

Wynn accumulated 291 home runs in his career (223 with Houston), to go with 964 RBIs, in a 15-year career also spent with the Dodgers (1974-75), Braves (1976), and splitting 1977 with the Yankees and Brewers, after his Astros tenure.

Wynn’s best Astro year was 1967. He made the National League All-Star team, and finished the season with 37 homers (two behind Hank Aaron), in a stadium much larger than Aaron’s Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. That year, 15 of Wynn’s homers were Dome-ers, while 22 were hit on the road.

Taking nothing away from Aaron, the Dome’s outfield wall was 16 feet high, compared to Atlanta’s 6 feet; the Dome’s left and right field fences were 340 feet from home plate vs. 330 at Fulton, and CF, 406 to 402.

Wynn’s #24 was retired by the Astros on June 25, 2005.

Time to Move Him to the 3-Hole?

If Altuve stays on this pace (with his current 120 ABs), and using Wynn’s 1967 numbers of 594 ABs, 37 homers and 107 RBIs as a comparison, the Astro second baseman projects to hit 45 homers and reach 95 RBIs this season!

Maybe it’s time Altuve got his own Wynn-like moniker.

Anyone interested in painting a “Toy Bazooka” poster, and taking it to a game?

Don’t worry….people will know who you mean.

Brad Kyle

Brad Kyle

Brad Ramone with (L-R) Dee Dee, Johnny, and Joey Ramone, backstage at Houston's Liberty Hall, July, 1977.

Johnny, the Ramones' influential guitarist, who passed away in 2004 at 55, was an avid baseball and New York Yankees fan since childhood. He even once ranked baseball above rock'n'roll in a personal Top 10 List!

Like Johnny, my love for rock is only equaled by my love for baseball and my hometown Houston Astros, present and past!

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Brad Kyle