Norm Cash–Topps Company–1973 (No. 485)
The Detroit Tigers of the late 1960s and early 1970s remain a beloved team throughout Michigan and much of the Midwest. In 1968, the “Battling Bengals” came back from a three-games-to-one deficit to win the World Series over the St. Louis Cardinals. Four years later, an older Tigers team, featuring many of the same heroes from 1968, captured the American League East title before losing the playoffs to the eventual World Champions Oakland A’s.
One of the most colorful players on both of those teams–and certainly my personal favorite–was Norm Cash, who provided Detroit with just the right combination of polished glovework at first base, hefty power at the plate, and a keen sense of humor. This 1973 Topps card provides us with an especially appropriate image of “Stormin’ Norman,” since it shows him accompanied by two of his trademarks at the plate. He’s wearing a soft cap instead of a batting helmet and holding a bat that may or may not have been filled with cork. Fearless at bat, Cash was one of the final major leaguers to wear a cap at the plate, as part of a grandfather clause attached to the 1971 rule that made batting helmets a requirement for most hitters. (For those keeping score, Red Sox catcher Bob Montgomery was the last player in major league history to wear a soft cap at the plate.)
Cash admitted to using a corked bat at various times throughout his career, including his breakout season of 1961, when he batted .361. Of course, even if he was using cork during Detroit’s championship run in 1968, it didn’t do much to counter the effects of the “Year of the Pitcher,” a development aided by higher mounds, an ever expanding strike zone, and the emergence of larger, cookie-cutter stadiums.
Cash also made intriguing bat-related news during the 1973 season. With Nolan Ryan in the midst of throwing his second no-hit performance that summer, the free-spirited Cash decided to walk to the plate without a bat, instead carrying what appeared to be a strangely-shaped piece of wood. Legendary Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell described the item as a piano leg during his play-by-play of the game, but it was actually a table leg, taken from a piece of furniture in the Tigers’ clubhouse.
Cash had every intention of using the table leg; he actually saw one pitch from Ryan while holding the table leg in his hands. After that first pitch, not-so-amused umpire Ron Luciano (a colorful figure in his own right) realized what Cash was actually holding and told him to discard the makeshift stick in favor of a regulation bat. “I can’t hit him with a regular bat,” Cash argued with Luciano, before making his way back to the dugout to retrieve his regular bat. Even then, Cash could do nothing more than record a weak out to the infield, with Ryan eventually finishing his no-hit masterpiece.
Cash played one more season in the major leagues before calling it quits. Cash dabbled in broadcasting and played in a professional softball league, all the while spinning stories from his days with the Tigers. Then came tragedy. In October of 1986, the 51-year-old Cash slipped and fell off a dock while boating in northern Lake Michigan. He tumbled into the cold waters, could not keep himself afloat, and drowned. An autopsy determined that Cash was legally drunk at the time of the accident.
Cash has been gone for 22 years now, and the game of baseball is a little lesser for it. Even after all these years, I still miss Stormin’ Norman.