Norm Cash

Norm Cash

LF, OF, RF, 1B, DH
Stormin' Norman
November 10, 1934
185 lbs
Major League Debut:
6-18-1958 with CHA

While the 1968 season came to be known as “The Year of the Pitcher,” 1961 could just as easily be referred to as “The Year of the Hitter.”  With the expansion Washington Senators and Los Angeles Angels joining the ranks of American League teams, baseball experienced a dilution in pitching talent that enabled the game’s top stars to compile some incredibly prolific offensive numbers.  In the junior circuit alone, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle combined to hit 115 home runs for the Yankees, with the former breaking Babe Ruth’s long-standing single season home run record.  Baltimore’s Jim Gentile hit 46 homers and knocked in 141 runs, in fewer than 500 official at-bats.  Harmon Killebrew homered 46 times and drove in 122 runs for the Minnesota Twins.  Rocky Colavito hit 45 home runs, knocked in 140 runs, and scored 129 others for the Detroit Tigers.  Yet, it could be argued that the sport’s finest all-around hitter in 1961 was Colavito’s teammate in Detroit, slugging first baseman Norm Cash.  The left-handed hitting Cash placed among the A.L. leaders with 41 home runs, 132 runs batted in, 119 runs scored, 124 walks, 354 total bases, and a .662 slugging percentage, while topping the circuit with a .361 batting average, a .487 on-base percentage, and 193 hits.  Although Cash never again even approached most of those extraordinary figures, he remained one of the American League’s top sluggers for another decade, ending his career as the fourth leading left-handed home run hitter in league history, behind only Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Lou Gehrig.  


Born in Justiceburg, Texas on November 10, 1934, Norman Dalton Cash starred in both football and baseball while attending Sul Ross State University.  Drafted by the Chicago Bears as a running back in 1955, the talented youngster chose instead to sign as an amateur free agent with the Chicago White Sox the very same year.  After two seasons of minor league ball, Cash spent 1957 in the military, before returning to Chicago’s farm system in 1958.  He made his major league debut with the White Sox later that year, appearing in four games in the outfield and singling twice in eight official trips to the plate.  Cash assumed a part-time role for the team the following year, seeing a limited amount of action at first base, before being relegated to bench duty during the season’s second half following the acquisition of Ted Kluszewski.  In just over 100 official at-bats, Cash batted .240, hit four home runs, and knocked in 16 runs.

The White Sox included Cash in an eight-player deal with the Cleveland Indians at season’s end that brought Minnie Minoso back to Chicago.  However, in a move that turned out to be a steal for Detroit, Cleveland dealt Cash to the Tigers for unknown third baseman Steve Demeter shortly before the 1960 campaign got underway.  Cash quickly established himself as the Tigers starting first baseman upon his arrival in the Motor City, hitting 18 home runs, driving in 63 runs, and batting .286 in his first full major league season.  Cash found Tiger Stadium’s excellent hitting background very much to his liking, learning before long how to use his quick, compact swing to take full advantage of the ballpark’s short right field porch.  The first baseman later became the first Detroit player to hit a ball completely out of Tiger Stadium – a feat he accomplished four times over the course of his career.

With the left-handed hitting Cash sandwiched between right-handed sluggers Al Kaline and Rocky Colavito in the Detroit batting order, the Tigers scored the most runs in baseball in 1961, compiling in the process a regular season record of 101-61.  Only the remarkable year turned in by the Yankees, who won 109 games, prevented Detroit from capturing the American League pennant.  In addition to leading the league in batting (.361), on-base percentage (.487), and hits (193), Cash finished sixth in home runs (41), fourth in runs batted in (132) and runs scored (119), and second in walks (124), total bases (354), and slugging percentage (.662).  Cash’s .361 batting average turned out to be the highest mark posted by any player during the 1960s.  His brilliant performance earned him a fourth-place finish in the league MVP voting, behind New York’s Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, and Baltimore’s Jim Gentile. 

Although many observers attributed the gaudy offensive numbers posted by several of the game’s top players in 1961 to league expansion, which resulted in a dilution of pitching talent, Cash later admitted to using an illegal corked bat throughout the campaign.  The slugger revealed that he drilled a hole in his bats, which he subsequently filled with a mixture of sawdust, cork, and glue.  Yet, Cash also firmly believed that he received a significant amount of good fortune en route to compiling easily the greatest season of his career.  Looking back on the 1961 season, Cash said, “It was a freak.  Even at the time, I realized that.  Everything I hit seemed to drop in, even when I didn’t make good contact.  I never thought I’d do it again.”   

Cash didn’t come close to repeating his exceptional performance the following year, posting a batting average of just .243.  His 118-point drop in batting average still represents the largest ever by a batting champion.  Nevertheless, Cash knocked in 89 runs, scored 94 others, and finished among the league leaders with 39 home runs and 104 walks, compiling in the process a very respectable .382 on-base percentage.

Cash never again batted any higher than .283, reaching the .270-mark only four more times in his 12 remaining years with the Tigers.  Yet, he continued to post outstanding home run totals, surpassing 30 homers three more times, while hitting more than 20 long balls six other times.  Cash also knocked in more than 90 runs two more times.  He had two of his best years in 1966 and 1971, batting .279 in the first of those campaigns, while also hitting 32 homers, driving in 93 runs, and scoring 98 others.  Cash finished second in the American League with 32 homers in 1971, while also placing among the league leaders with 91 runs batted in and a .531 slugging percentage.  He made the All-Star Team and finished 12th in the league MVP voting both years.  Although Cash performed less effectively for the Tigers during their 1968 world championship season, batting just .263 and driving in only 63 runs, he hit 25 home runs and made key contributions to Detroit’s seven-game World Series victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.  Cash batted .385 during the Fall Classic, with one home run and five runs batted in.  

A solid fielder as well, Cash possessed sure hands and outstanding quickness around first base.  He led all A.L. players at his position in putouts, assists, and fielding percentage at various times, placing 17th on the all-time list with 1,317 assists at first base.

Yet, Stormin’ Norman, as he came to be known by the fans of Detroit, gained most of his notoriety due to his proficiency as a home run hitter.  Once asked by Tigers pitcher Mickey Lolich why he never hit for a high average after 1961, Cash responded to his teammate, “Jim Campbell (Detroit’s general manager) pays me to hit home runs.  I can get hits if I want to…just watch tomorrow.”  Lolich revealed that Cash subsequently went 3-for-4 the next day.

Known for his hard-living, candor, sense of humor, and self-deprecating nature, Cash was extremely popular with his teammates, the media, and the fans of Detroit.  Longtime Tigers roommate Al Kaline said, “When you mention Norm Cash, I just smile.  He was just a fun guy to be around and a great teammate.  He always came ready to play."

Cash exhibited his sense of humor on one particular occasion when he found himself about to be tagged out while trapped between first and second base.  Stopping in his tracks, he formed a "T" with his hands to call time-out.

Cash displayed his ability to laugh at himself when he said of his 1,091 career strikeouts, “Pro-rated at 500 at-bats a year – that means that, for two years out of the 14 I played, I never even touched the ball.”

As for his honesty, Cash said of his exceptional 1961 campaign, “I owe my success to expansion pitching, a short right-field fence, and my hollow bats.”

Released by the Tigers in August 1974 after batting just .228 in 53 games with the club, the 39-year-old Cash announced his retirement shortly thereafter.  He left the game with 377 home runs, 1,103 runs batted in, 1,046 runs scored, a .271 career batting average, and a .374 on-base percentage.  In addition to leading the American League in batting in 1961, Cash finished second in the junior circuit in home runs on three separate occasions.

After retiring from baseball, Cash signed with the Detroit Caesars, a professional softball team, and played two seasons (1977-1978).  He also served as a broadcaster for ABC’s baseball broadcasts in 1976, before becoming an announcer for Tigers cable broadcasts from 1981 to 1983.  Cash drowned in an accident off Beaver Island in northern Lake Michigan in October 1986, when he slipped while aboard a boat, fell, and struck his head.  His body was discovered about 11 a.m. in 15 feet of water off Beaver Island.  Cash was one month shy of his 52nd birthday at the time.

By Bob_Cohen
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