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04/13/12 7:59 PM ET

Wynn lit up Astrodome thanks to Robinson

HOUSTON -- As one of the most beloved players to have put on an Astros uniform, Jimmy Wynn still gets applause to this day. Wynn was recently honored outside Minute Maid Park during the Astros Walk of Fame ceremonies and was thrilled fans still took time to talk to him and get his autograph.

"They haven't forgotten the old-timers and what they did," Wynn said. "That's the most important part of being an Astro, not only playing baseball but loving the fans and getting the fans involved with the ballclub. It makes me feel good they still cheer for me. It brings a smile to my face."

Wynn brought smiles to the faces of countless Astros fans for more than a decade as the pint-sized outfielder with the powerful swing that allowed him to challenge Hank Aaron for the home run title one season. Despite his 5-foot-9 frame, "The Toy Cannon" was the most prolific home run hitter in the first half of the franchise's 50-year history and had his No. 24 retired by the club in 2005.

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Wynn's contributions on the field are even more appreciated when you consider the racial barriers he had to overcome early in his career. As the first prominent black player with the Houston franchise, which began as the Colt .45s in 1962, Wynn thrived despite playing in an era in which racial prejudice was common.

"There were a whole lot of hurdles," he said. "I would have to thank my mother and father and guiding me on the right path and keeping a smile on my facing and understanding what life is all about. I give all the blessings to my mother and father and, of course, to God."

And, of course, Wynn says he wouldn't have even had a chance to play professional baseball had it not been for Jackie Robinson, the man who broke baseball's color barrier in 1947. Wynn never met Robinson, but he remains grateful for his contributions to this day.

"It means a great deal," he said. "I wouldn't be where I am now. I'd be washing dishes or something, who knows? I know I wouldn't be playing baseball if it wasn't for him."

Wynn played 11 of his 15 seasons in the Major Leagues with the Astros, hitting 223 of his 291 career homers with the Astros. He hit 97 homers in 678 games in his career at the Astrodome, which had massive dimensions in the outfield in its early years.

"The power he generated and the kind of player he was, he's just a gentle giant," former Colt .45s/Astros third baseman Bob Aspromonte said. "He generated more power and more excitement in games. He hit a lot of home runs in that dome stadium, which was massive. The place we played was very difficult to hit a ball out of. And after he got done playing, he's done so much to help others."

A three-time All-Star, he was named the team's Most Valuable Player in 1965 and two years later made the All-Star team for his only time with the Astros. During the '67 season, Wynn hit three homers in a game at the Astrodome and also hit one of the longest home runs in the history of Crosley Field in Cincinnati, which is his hometown.

Wynn and Hank Aaron were in a neck-and-neck race for the National League home run title that season, but Wynn's 37 homers finished second to Aaron's 39. The 37 homers were an Astros single-season record that stood until Jeff Bagwell eclipsed it in 1994.

Former Astros general manager and president of baseball operations Tal Smith, who was the farm director for the club when Wynn was acquired in a draft from Cincinnati, pointed out that Wynn hit 15 homers in the Astrodome in '67 and 22 on the road that season. He would have probably hit about 44 homers had the dome's dimensions played more fair.

"I think the power numbers he put up playing in the Astrodome speak for themselves," Smith said. "He just had tremendous power, and people say tremendous power for his size. Size shouldn't have anything to do with it. He just had tremendous power."

Wynn, who retired in 1977 after stints with the Dodgers, Braves, Yankees and Brewers, remains an active member of the Houston community and works closely with the Astros community affairs department and Astros in Action Foundation.

Brian McTaggart is reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.