Sunday, March 11, 2012

Norm Cash

Norman Dalton Cash (November 10, 1934 - October 11, 1986) was an American first baseman in Major League Baseball who spent almost his entire career with the Detroit Tigers. An outstanding power hitter, his 377 career home runs were the fourth most by an American League left-handed hitter when he retired, behind Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig; his 373 home runs with the Tigers rank second in franchise history behind his teammate Al Kaline (399). He also led the AL in assists three times and fielding percentage twice; he ranked among the all-time leaders in assists (4th, 1317) and double plays (10th, 1347) upon his retirement, and was fifth in AL history in games at first base (1943). He was known to fans and teammates during his playing days as "Stormin' Norman."

Cash was born in Justiceburg, Garza County, Texas, and attended (what was then) Sul Ross State Teachers College, where he was All-Lone Star Conference in football as well as playing baseball; he was drafted by the Chicago Bears as a running back in 1955, but declined to play pro football. After signing with the Chicago White Sox in 1955, he spent 1957 in the military. and made his debut with the team in 1958, seeing limited play as an outfielder and pinch hitter. He appeared in 58 games for the 1959 pennant-winners, but the midseason acquisition of Ted Kluszewski left him on the bench, and he was hitless in four pinch-hitting appearances in the World Series. In December of that year he was traded to the Cleveland Indians in an eight-player deal that brought Minnie MiƱoso back to Chicago, but the Indians general manager Frank Lane traded Cash to Detroit for Steve Demeter, who would play only four more games; both Chicago and Cleveland were haunted by Cash for the next 15 years, as he won a batting title and a World Series ring in a Detroit uniform.

He enjoyed his breakout season in 1961, leading the AL with a .361 average and 41 home runs (6th in the AL), 132 runs batted in (4th), 119 runs scored (4th), 124 walks (2nd) for a .488 on base percentage (1st), and 354 total bases (2nd) for a .662 slugging average (2nd); but his season was overshadowed by the 61 home runs of Roger Maris, and teammate Rocky Colavito finished with more home runs and RBI. Still, his .361 average would be the highest by any major league player in the 1960s. The Tigers finished 101-61 for their best regular season record since 1934, and scored the most runs in baseball, though they finished second in the AL, eight games behind the New York Yankees; Cash was 4th in the MVP voting.

Cash was a career .271 hitter with 377 home runs, 1103 RBI, 1046 runs, 1820 hits, 241 doubles, 41 triples, 43 stolen bases, a .374 on base percentage, and a .488 slugging average in 2089 games. He holds Tigers career defensive records at first base in games (1912), putouts (14,926), assists (1303), and double plays (1328), having broken the marks set by Hank Greenberg and Rudy York.

Cash summed up his success as follows: "I owe my success to expansion pitching, a short right-field fence, and my hollow bats." Later in his career, Cash claimed he used a corked bat in 1961, even showing Sports Illustrated how he made one. On July 15, 1973, as Nolan Ryan was working on his second career no-hitter, Cash went to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth (after striking out his previous three at bats), holding a table leg from the clubhouse instead of a regulation bat. The stunt drew immediate action by the umpire, who ordered Cash to use a legal bat. Cash popped out using a regulation bat to end the game. Ernie Harwell, the Tigers' announcer, had called it a piano leg in his broadcast, leading to the more popular version of the prank.

No comments: