Cash had just two full big-league seasons under his belt.
In his first he was as a utility player for the 1959 American League champion Chicago (“Go-go”) White Sox where he appeared in just 58 games while batting .240 with 4 home runs and 16 RBI’s.
After that campaign he was traded to Cleveland but on the eve of the 1960 season he was traded for perennial minor leaguer Steve Demeter in what became one of the most lopsided deals in major league history.
With the 1960 Tigers Cash showed great promise when he hit .286 with 18 homers as a platoon player. For the 1961 season Manager Bob Scheffing right out of the gate named Cash his starting first baseman.
Little did he know that the Texan with the marvelous sense of humor would remain at first for the next 14 seasons and become one of the most popular players in Tiger history.
In his first at bat of the ’61 season Cash hit a single. And by the lend of May the man who that season would be named “Stormin’ Norman” by Tiger announcer Ernie Harwell, was hitting .33 with 10 homers. And then over a six month stretch between June 8th and June 27th Cash went 30 for 61 hitting .492 with 12 homers.
Along with fellow Tiger sluggers Rocky Colavito and Al Kaline leading the way, the Tigers were in a pennant chase with the Yankees until the Bengals collapsed in the first week of September. (By the way, Cash and Colavito ended up with more total RBI’s then Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle during their home run chase that same year.)
At the end of the season, Cash finished with a Cobb like .361 average, 41 home runs, 193 hits and 132 RBI’s. He led the majors in on base percentage with .487, and among active players in 1961 only Mickey Mantel ever exceeded that figure.
However Stormin’ Norman never even came close to that season again as he never hit above .283 again.
Cash later said of that ’61 season: “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.”
Mickey Lolich once asked Cash why he never hit for a high average after that season.
“He told me, `Jim Campbell pays me to hit home runs,'” said Lolich, referring to the team’s general manager in those years. “Norm then said, `I can get hits if I want to, just watch tomorrow.’ The next day he went 3-for-4.”
Cash later admitted that in the ’61 season he had used corked bats and stated he did it in other years too. However as pointed out by writer Steve Treder, “there is no good evidence that corking a bat actually provides physical benefit to a batter; the advantage gained in bat speed is counteracted by the advantage lost in bat mass. It might provide the psychological benefit of a placebo effect, of course.”
Although booed heavily at times by fans still expecting another `61 performance, Cash became one of the most popular Tigers ever. His four homers over Tiger Stadium’s right field roof were legendary and Cash was a key figure in the 1968 World Championship season. In the World Series he led the Tigers in batting with a .385 average.
Certainly Norm Cash’s ’61 season was one of a kind.
But then Stormin’ Norman was one of a kind.