#TBT Norm Cash: Detroit Tigers slugger gone too soon (VIDEO)

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For baseball fans from the 1960’s who did not have an affinity for the Detroit Tigers, Norm Cash may be remembered for three things:

  1. Having a career year in the worst possible season to have a career year
  2. Bringing a table leg to bat during Nolan Ryan‘s second career no-hitter
  3. Tragically dying way before his time

Tigers’ fans remember him for so much more and he is known simply as “Stormin'” Norman Cash.

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Cash was requested for this feature by MCB reader @darb0484 on Twitter. This one’s for you, Bob.

Unlike much of the powerful nucleus that brought the Tigers close to the pennant many times during the 1960’s, and a World Championship in 1968, Cash was not a homegrown talent. The Texas-native was drafted not by a baseball team, but a football team. The Chicago Bears selected him in the 1955 draft, but he chose the diamond over the gridiron, signing a contract with the White Sox.

He spent a couple years in the minor leagues and served in the military in 1958 before making his big league debut as a White Sox in 1958. He played sparingly in two seasons (just four homers and a .245 average in 71 regular season games) with Chicago’s famed Go-Go Sox. He was held hitless in four at-bats in the 1959 World Series.

Following his team’s six-game Fall Classic defeat, Chicago shipped Norm to Cleveland in an eight-player trade, but the Indians immediately traded him to Detroit for Steve Detmer, who would go on to play just four more big league game. For the next 15-years, Cash would torment the fans and organizations of both the White Sox and Indians.

Cash arrived to a Tigers’ team in disarray. Trying to jumpstart a struggling team, the Tigers and Indians pulled off the only manager trade in baseball history with Joe Gordon coming to Detroit and Jimmy Dykes going to Cleveland mid-year. The turmoil didn’t help the young Tigers, who finished with 83 losses in sixth place, 26 games out of first.

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He put up decent numbers in 1960, but nothing like what happened one year later. In his second full-year in Detroit, Cash exploded for 41 homers, 132 RBIs and led the American League with a .361 average, 193 hits and a 1.148 OPS.

The Tigers came out of seemingly nowhere to win more than 100 games for the first time since winning the AL pennant in 1934. Unfortunately 1961 was also the year of the monster seasons for Yankees’ legends Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, who broke Babe Ruth‘s single-season home run record. That incredible team won 109 games and dampened a solid effort from both the Tigers and Cash.

It was an up and down decade for the Tigers after 1961. Cash wouldn’t approach those ’61 numbers again but he remained the premier Detroit power hitter, hitting 282 homers from 1961 through the end of the decade with a consistent OPS over .800. When the Tigers won it all in 1968, Cash was still firing on all cylinders, hitting 25 homers and ratcheted up his average in the World Series to .385 with a homer. His single with two out in the 7th inning of Game 7 started a three-run rally to break a scoreless tie and propelled the team to the title.

Cash was a fan and teammate favorite for his jovial and comical personality. This was seen when he came to bat in the ninth inning of a 1973 Nolan Ryan no-hitter at Tiger Stadium with a table leg telling the umpire, “I won’t hit him anyway.”

Cash hit the 30-homer plateau one more time in 1971 but his production greatly tapered off in the years following the 1972 AL East title. After 53 games of hitting .228 with seven homers in 1974, the Tigers released Cash and effectively ending his professional career.

He finished with a .271 average, 377 homers, 1,103 RBIs and 1,820 hits and holds several franchise records at first base. He was a four-time All-Star and Comeback Player of the Year in 1965 and 1971.

Though hailing from Texas, Norm called Michigan his home post-career. He played a few seasons with a professional softball team based in Detroit following his MLB release and provided color commentary on Tigers’ games in the first couple of seasons the team appeared on cable, in the early 1980’s.

In October 1986, a tragic mishap occurred on Beaver Island, located in the upper reaches of Lake Michigan, just below the Upper Peninsula. Cash, wearing his signature cowboy boots, slipped off a dock, hit his head and drowned.

He was laid to rest at Pine Lake Cemetery in West Bloomfield. Norm Cash was just 51 years old.

If you would like to see your favorite Tigers of the past featured here, please Tweet us @MCB_Tigers

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