Jimmy Wynn was 25 and in the midst of a 1967 season when he would hit 37 home runs and drive in 107 runs. This was extra impressive, with Wynn playing his home games in the spacious Astrodome with the Houston Astros.
John Wilson, writing for the Houston Chronicle, started referring to Wynn as the “Toy Cannon” that summer. Legend has it, Wynn initially thought the moniker was a belittlement of his stature (5-9, 160 pounds), but soon was convinced it was praise for amazing power in a small frame.
The legend of Wynn has been chronicled often in Houston in recent seasons, as Astros second baseman Jose Altuve has become the ultimate weapon in a baseball machine. He’s listed at 5-6 and 168, although the height is liberal and the weight is conservative.
A half-century after “Toy Cannon” became a nickname of lore, there are undersized hitters doing amazing things in this age of super-velocity for pitchers.
There were dramatic examples of this at Target Field on Wednesday night, with Eduardo Escobar batting third for the Twins and Mookie Betts leading off for Boston. Escobar is listed at 5-10 and Betts at 5-9. It’s a better guess that both are 5-8.
Escobar has joined Eddie Rosario in attempting to carry an otherwise impotent Twins lineup. Betts served a 10-day stay on the disabled list and yet is Mike Trout’s main rival as the American League’s MVP to this point.
Eduardo has an astounding 32 doubles, and a total of 46 extra-base hits and 48 RBI. Mookie is batting .340 with 55 runs scored, 18 home runs and 38 RBI.
Terry Ryan was watching as a scout for Philadelphia. He was the Twins general manager and made the trade on July 28, 2012, that sent lefthander Francisco Liriano to the White Sox for pitcher Pedro Hernandez and Escobar, then 23 and serving as a lightly used utility infielder in Chicago.
A reporter offered this smart-aleck aside to Ryan on Wednesday: “This is what everyone expected Escobar would become when the trade was made, right?”
Ryan smiled and said: “Call your guy in Chicago. He said Escobar would be more than a utility infielder … that he would become an everyday player.”
The Chicago guy was Billy Milos, a Twins scout then and today. Milos was home Wednesday after watching a game in Chicago.
“That’s awesome that he said that, but Terry made that trade,” Milos said. “All I said was that Escobar was a good-looking player; that he was a utility player then but could develop into more than that.
“No one … I mean no one … could see Eduardo as the hitter he is today. He swung hard even as a backup infielder. I’m sure he was told by some people to cut down on his swing, but he kept swinging hard and now we’re seeing the results.
“Eduardo’s always been driven. You could see that back in Chicago, how much he wanted to play and to get better.”
Roy Smalley is very informative on hitting in his role as an FSN analyst for Twins games. In a conversation Wednesday, Smalley said:
“Escobar’s leg drive into the ball is as good as there is. He’s been perfect mechanically, getting all that torque to his left side. And all these guys — Eskie, Mookie, Altuve — might be small in height, but they are rocks in strength.”
Dustin Pedroia was the first of this generation’s mighty mites, winning the MVP in his second full season as Boston’s second baseman in 2008. He is 5-8 tops, and has been running into injury problems lately in what was looking like a Hall of Fame career.
There have been suggestions that in this age of constant, 97-mile-per-hour fastballs that players of smaller stature can benefit from a naturally quicker stroke. Smalley was a 6-2 switch hitter, and buys the theory to a degree.
“If I’m taller and have to extend my arms farther to get to the ball, it might be more difficult to be on time,” Smalley said. “That hitting display Escobar put on Tuesday: going down to his shoes to hit a breaking ball from Chris Sale for a double, and then turning around 98 [mph] from Joe Kelly for another double. … He’s getting there awful quick and with great drive.
“Hitting with power is all about extension. And if there’s less movement required with your arms to get the big end of the bat to the ball efficiently, that can be an advantage, I’d guess.”
Whatever the reason, baseball in 2018 has become a Land of Well-Fit Toys.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. firstname.lastname@example.org