Congratulations to Houston Colt .45s/Astros Icon Jimmy Wynn! His beautiful autobiography is now available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Border’s, McFarland Publishing, and any other national retail distributing source that is available to you and, as someone who was privileged to working with him on “Toy Cannon,” I can only hope you also have a chance to read the story of this fine man’s growth as both a ballplayer and human being during one of the most difficult periods of change in American history.
Bob Hulsey of Astros Daily asked me only yesterday what I had learned about Jimmy Wynn that I didn’t yet already know from the experience of helping him with his autobiography. The answer to that one is easy. It wasn’t so much the details of what happened to him, and these included numerous stories of what went on with the club behind quasi-closed doors. It was all about fresh contact with what it must have been like to walk around in the shoes of Jimmy Wynn, a young gifted black baseball player, coming of age and finding his way through the segregated society that still dominated Houston, Texas, and the South, in general, through the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s.
Some of you are too young to remember, but Houston was still a place in the early 1960s which barred blacks from eating in certain restaurants, attending certain movie theaters, enrolling in schools which also accepted whites, or living in certain neighborhoods.
“Certain” was a buzzword for racial prejudice as a way of life and segregation still cast its ugly face upon our city like a clutching hand from the ignorant past at the same time Houston was attempting to bolt into the future as the home of NASA and a brand new major league baseball team.
At the same time Houston was embarking upon this ambitious and bold future “blast-off,” most local schools, from kindergarten to college, remained segregated. Wrap your minds around the incongruity of that thought for a minute. Then allow your thoughts to come back to young Jimmy Wynn in 1963.
This is the Houston that greeted Jimmy Wynn and other black players as they made their way to the big leagues with the Colt .45s during those earliest of years. Black players couldn’t simply go anywhere they wanted in Houston without running into the ugly wall of racial separation. The bathrooms and drinking fountains were even separated by “white” and “colored” section signs back then.
For many of us whites who grew up with segregation, but who weren’t taught to hate others for the color of their skin, those embarrassing memories of how Houston used to be are ones we’d sooner put away and not think about too often, but that isn’t possible. We have to remember and stay vigilant that nobody, no race or particular religious or facist-based ideological dominated society, ever tries anything like that again.
For people like Jimmy Wynn, who grew up in non-segregated Cincinnati, in the bosom of a loving family that taught him to love, not hate, coming of age as a ballplayer and a young man during one of the great periods of social change in America, especially in the South, was an eye-opener that could have blown him away early, had it not been for the long distance loving support of his father, in particular, and of a manager in Tampa named Hershell Freeman.
In “Toy Cannon,” Jimmy Wynn touches all the bases of his statistical, distance homer, and other field achievement records, but he does something even more. He allows us to walk a little deeper and truer in his own shoes as he comes of age in an era in which the other concomitant pressure on young people trying to make it in the world, especially among young males, was where they stood on the Viet Nam War.
Jimmy Wynn didn’t leave home to fight the battles of Selma, Alabama or Southeast, Asia, but that’s the world he walked into. The issues of the world wouldn’t leave him alone to simply work on becoming a big league baseball player. They even followed him into the clubhouse and directly affected the most important decisions in his life.
“Toy Cannon” is a tighter walk through the life of a talented young northern black man, coming of age in racist Houston. To hear Jimmy tell his story, we almost go through it “as him,” seeing the things we had to learn the hard way – and coming out the other side with a wisdom that only comes to those who are willing to learn from their painful experience.
God Bless You, Jimmy Wynn – for all you so willingly now give of yourself to others!