Jim Wynn — the Astros’ first star — dies at 78

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Jim Wynn, the first big league star in Houston, passed away yesterday at 78 years-old. He had been in failing health for the past several years.

Wynn was nicknamed “The Toy Cannon” due to the fact that, while he was only 5’9″ and was slight of build, he hit monster home runs that even the cavernous Astrodome could not hold. He debuted with the Houston Colt .45s in 1963 and stayed with the franchise for 11 seasons. During that time he set nearly every single Astros batting record, with a line of .255/.362/.445 with 223 homers and 719 runs batted in. A patient hitter, he led the National League in walks with 148 free passes in 1969, on the way to an OPS+ of 166 and 7.1 WAR. He hit 37 homers and drove in 137 in 1967, both astounding totals given how pitcher-friendly his home ballpark was.

His long homers were the stuff of legend. On June 10, 1967 the Cincinnati native hit one completely out of Cincinnati’s Crosley Field, over the scoreboard in left-center and onto the highway outside of the stadium. On April 12, 1970 he became the first player to hit a home run into the upper deck of the Astrodome, sending a Phil Niekro knuckleball more than 500 feet down the left-field line.

Wynn’s time in Houston would end after the 1973 season when he was traded to the Dodgers for pitcher Claude Osteen and a minor leaguer. He would have a fantastic 1974 season in Los Angeles — by WAR it was his best, at 7.7 — hitting .271/.387/.497 with 32 homers and 108 RBI, helping lead the Dodgers to the NL pennant. He’d play one more year with the Dodgers before making stops with the Braves, Brewers and Yankees and calling it a career after 15 seasons in the bigs.

Wynn’s No. 24 jersey was retired by the Astros on June 25, 2005, and he was inducted into the inaugural class of the Astros Hall of Fame on August 3, 2019. He had been an Astros employee for several years.

Royals’ John Sherman optimistic about new ballpark, current team

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The first thing that Kansas City Royals owner John Sherman thinks about when he wakes up each morning is how the club, stuck in what seems like an interminable rebuild, will play on that particular day.

Not where they will play four or five years down the road.

Yet given the modest expectations for a team that lost nearly 100 games a year ago, it makes sense many Royals fans are just as interested – quite possibly more so – in the plans for a downtown ballpark than whether infielder Bobby Witt Jr. can double down on his brilliant rookie season or pitcher Brady Singer can truly become a staff ace.

That’s why Sherman’s second thought probably moves to the downtown ballpark, too.

“This is a huge decision, and I look at it as maybe the most important decision we’ll make as long as we have the privilege of stewarding this team,” Sherman said before the Royals held a final workout Wednesday ahead of opening day. “I’m probably as anxious as you to get moving on that, but it’s a complicated process.”

The Royals have called Kauffman Stadium home since the sister to Arrowhead Stadium, the home of the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, opened 50 years ago next month.

And while most stadiums are replaced because they have become outdated, the unique, space-aged look of Kauffman Stadium – built during an era in which teams trended toward impersonal, multisport concrete donuts for their homes – remains beloved by Royals fans and visitors alike.

The problem is that despite numerous renovations over the years, the very concrete holding the ballpark together has begun to crumble in places. The cost simply to repair and maintain the ballpark has become prohibitive.

So with the decision essentially made for them to build an entirely new stadium, the Royals revealed plans to build an entire development in the same mold of The Battery Atlanta, where the Braves built Truist Park, and the Ballpark Village in St. Louis, where the new Busch Stadium is merely the centerpiece of a whole entertainment district.

No site has been secured, but several of the most promising are in downtown Kansas City, where the Power & Light District along with T-Mobile Center have spearheaded a successful era of urban renewal.

Sherman has said that private funds would cover the majority of the stadium cost and the entire village, each carrying a price tag of about $1 billion.

But if any public funding will be used, as it was to build and maintain Kauffman Stadium, then it would need to be voted upon, and the earliest that it could show up on a ballot would be August.

“You look at Atlanta, they took some raw ground – they started with 85 acres – and that has been a complete home run,” said Sherman, who purchased the Royals in August 2019, shortly before the pandemic wreaked havoc on team finances.

“This is one of the reasons we want to do this: That’s helped the Braves become more competitive,” Sherman said of the vast potential for increased revenue for one of the smallest-market teams in baseball. “They have locked up and extended the core of their future, and the Braves are in a great position from a baseball standpoint.”

So perhaps the first two thoughts Sherman has each day – about performance and the future – are one and the same.

When it comes to the team itself, the Royals were largely quiet throughout the winter, though that was by design.

Rather than spending heavily on free agents that might help them win a few more games, they decided to stay the course with a promising young roster in the hopes that the development of those players would yield better results.

In fact, Sherman said, the club has been discussing extensions for some of the Royals’ foundational pieces – presumably Witt, who was fourth in voting for AL rookie of the year, and Singer, who was 10-5 with a 3.23 ERA last season.

“We’re having conversations about that as we speak,” Sherman said. “We have a number of young players that we’re trying to evaluate and we’re talking to their representatives about what might work.”

Just because the Royals’ roster largely looks the same, that doesn’t mean nothing has changed. The Royals fired longtime general manager Dayton Moore in September and moved J.J. Picollo to the role, then fired manager Mike Matheny in October and replaced him with longtime Indians and Rays coach Matt Quatraro.

Sherman said the new voices created a palpable energy in spring training that he hopes carries into the regular season.

“When we acquired the team, we had three primary objectives,” Sherman said. “One was to win more games; we’re working on that. The second was to secure the future; that’s what (the stadium) is. And the third was to do good in the community.

“But the first priority,” he said, “is really the on-field product. That’s what really lifts everything else up.”