Golden Baseball Magazine
One Great Year

This feature discusses a season in which a team finished much higher than they did in the immediate past or future or a player far surpassed any other year of his career.


Norm Cash

 

 


Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle


Jim Gentile

One Great Year: Norm Cash 1961
Norm Cash began his major league career with the Chicago White Sox in 1958 at age 23.
  • His minor league stats were good. He hit .290 and .334 in the Class B Three-I League.
  • After serving in the military in 1957, he hit .247 in 81 at-bats at the AAA level.
  • After appearing in 13 games as an outfielder with the White Sox in 1958, he saw action in 58 contests in '59, playing mostly at first base in the latter year.
  • In the two seasons, he got 27 hits in 112 at-bats for an uninspiring .241 average.
  • On December 6, 1959, Chicago GM "Trader Frank" Lane sent Cash along with Bubba Phillips and John Romano to the Cleveland Indians for Dick Brown, Don Ferrarese, Minnie Minoso, and Jake Striker. (In this instance, the words that are often used - "traded for two players and Cash" - have a different meaning.)
  • The fact that you may not recognize any of the names in the transaction except Minnie Minoso (who was 34 at the time) shows that this wasn't a blockbuster trade by any means.
  • But before Cash could play a regular season game for the Indians, he was traded to the Detroit Tigers on April 12, 1960, for 3B Steve Demeter, a seven-year minor leaguer.
  • Installed at first base, Cash had a solid 1960 season in his first year in the Motor City:
    Games - 121, Avg. - .286, RBI - 63, HR - 18, Runs - 64, Slg. % - .501.

Nothing Norm had done before prepared anyone for what he did in 1961 at age 26.

  • He went 1-for-4 in his first two games. His .250 average at that point would be his lowest of the entire season
  • With averages fluctuating wildly at the beginning of the season before players built up a large number of at-bats, he didn't fall below .300 after April 24.
  • Here are his month-by-month averages:
    April - .333
    May - .333
    June - .416
    July - .361
    August - .365
    September - .340
  • In the middle of August, Norm went three games in a row without a hit for the only time all season to drop his average to .351. But he got out of that little slump fast, going 20-for-34 to raise his average to .370.
  • As you'd expect from a left-handed hitter, he had a much better average against righties.
    Vs righthanders - .392
    Vs lefthanders - .269
  • His final numbers are mind-boggling. The bold numbers signify league-leading stats.
    Games - 159, Hits - 193, Runs - 119, RBI - 132, HR - 41, BA - .361 (tops in both leagues), OBP - .487, SLG - .662, OPS - 1.148
  • Norm finished 4th in the AL MVP voting. It was his bad luck that Roger Maris clouted 61 roundtrippers that season to break Ruth's record and Mickey Mantle smashed 54. The two Yankee sluggers finished 1-2 in the MVP race, and Jim Gentile of Baltimore came in 3rd, six points ahead of Cash.
  • The '61 Tigers finished 2nd behind the Yankees for the franchise's best finish since 1950.

How did a journeyman ballplayer suddenly produce one of the best seasons any hitter ever had?

  • One factor in his super year might have been his corked bat. In a Sporting News article in the mid-1970s, Cash explained how he made corked bats in his home woodshop. However, no evidence has been amassed to show that a corked bat provides a physical edge to a hitter. You gain in bat speed but lose bat mass.
  • Years later, Cash gave this explanation. Even at the time, I knew that (1961) season was a freak. Everything I hit seemed to drop in, even when I didn't make good contact. I never thought I'd do it again.
While Stormin' Norman, as Tiger radio broadcaster Ernie Harwell branded him, had some more good seasons, he never came close to matching his '61 success.

  • Here's Cash's numbers the rest of the career.

    Year Hits Bat.Avg. R RBI HR OBP SLG
    1961 193 .361 119 132 41 .487 .662
    1962 123 .243 94 89 39 .382 .513
    1963 133 .270 66 79 26 .386 .471
    1964 123 .257 63 83 23 .351 .453
    1965 124 .266 79 83 30 .371 .512
    1966 168 .279 98 93 32 .351 .478
    1967 118 .242 64 72 22 .352 .430
    1968 108 .263 50 63 25 .329 .487
    1969 135 .280 81 74 22 .368 .464
    1970 96 .259 58 53 15 .383 .441
    1971 128 .283 72 91 32 .372 .531
    1972 114 .259 51 61 22 .338 .445
    1973 95 .262 51 40 19 .357 .471
  • As you can see, he never hit above .300 again, never score or drove in 100+ runs, and never hit more than 40 HRs. The 118 points his average dropped from '61 to '62 is a major league record.
  • His 1962 season was not bad. Despite having just a .243 batting average, he scored 94 runs and drove in 89 with 39 HR.
  • In addition to 1961, when he made both All-Star games during the brief period when baseball had two Summer Classics each season, he made the AL roster in 1966, 1971, and 1972.
  • Norm's 373 HRs remains second only to Hall of Famer Al Kaline in franchise history although Miguel Cabrera will probably pass him in the next year or two.
  • Cash tragically drowned at the early age of 52.

Steve Treder, writing for hardballtimes.com, offers Norm Cash's 1961 season as a prime example of a fluke.

You look up “fluke” in the dictionary, and all they need to show is a picture of his 1961 baseball card. Norm Cash wasn’t really a hitter comparable to Mickey Mantle or Stan Musial or Ted Williams or Babe Ruth or Barry Bonds.
But Norm Cash really did compile a season in which he hit like those guys, not just sort of like them, but very comparable to their very best years. Cash actually did perform, for a single season, at a level quite consistent with the very best hitters in the history of baseball. It actually happened.

 

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One Great Year Archive - I
1899: Buck Freeman
1945: Chicago Cubs
1945: Roger Wolff
1950: Jim Konstanty
1951: Walt Dropo
1952: Bobby Shantz
1955-6: Herb Score
1996: Brady Anderson

One Great Year Archive - II
1912: Chief Wilson
1918: Scott Perry
1924: Sloppy Thurston
1950: Johnny Groth
1956: Johnny Kucks
1957: Von McDaniel
1962: Kenny Hubbs
1976: Mark Fidrych
1985: Danny Cox
1989: Jerome Walton

One Great Year Archive - III
1912-13: Washington Senators
1945: Disenfranchised All-Stars
1948: Gene Bearden
1951: Ned Garver
1954: Dusty Rhodes
1964: Wally Bunker
1970: Cito Gaston
1970: Wes Parker
2001: Bret Boone

 

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