Friday, January 12, 2018

The Rare Breakout Season

TRIVIA QUESTION:   When Norm Cash hit 41 homers in 1961 for Detroit, teammate Rocky Colavito led the Tigers with 45. Cash only eclipsed the 40 homer mark once. How many times did Colavito crack the 40 home run barrier? 

When the Yankees sent Roger Maris to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1966 they got little in return for the man who broke Babe Ruth's single season home run record only five years earlier. The Cardinals shipped third baseman Charlie Smith to New York for Maris. Maris went on to help the Cards win two NL pennants and a World Series. Smith was little help to the rebuilding New Yorkers . 

There are times when a great player has a good season and then there are times when a good player has a great season. Such was the 1961 season for the Detroit Tigers slugging first baseman, Norm Cash. He had a true break out year in 1961 but never again reached anywhere near the level of that wonderful season.

Cash came up with the Chicago White Sox in 1958 and only played in a few games. In 1959 he showed only a little promise in 58 games by batting .240 and hitting only four homers, so the Sox shipped him to the Indians along with Bubba Phillips and John Romano for Dick Brown, Don Ferrarese, Minnie Minoso and Jake Striker. Cleveland didn't think enough of Cash to keep him at the start of the 1960 season sent him to the Tigers for Steve Demeter.

He immediately showed promise in 1960 with the Tigers in tiny Tiger's Stadium where he batted .286 and belted 18 home runs. Stormin' Norman was off to a good start. He was also one of the more fun players to be around according to teammates.

As the Tigers prepared for the 1961 season, they were retooling. They added Billy Bruton from the Braves and brought up some young players who helped out including Jake Wood who starred and led the league in triples with 14. Also a couple of youngsters made their debuts and they would become Tiger stalwarts over the years. Dick McAuliffe and Bill Freehan were introduced to the fans in 1961.

Steve Boros was going strong in 1961 and with Rocky Colavito (2.90 45 HR) and Al Kaline (.324 19 HR) manning the outfield, all the Tigers needed was an improved effort from their first baseman. And boy, did they ever get it.

Cash didn't get his first home run until game five of the 1961 season when he belted a deep drive off Gary Bell, but it wasn't long before he was rivaling Colavito for the long ball and swinging past Kaline in the hit parade.

When the dust had settled on the 1961 season Cash led the league with an amazing .361 average (and he didn't get leg hits), he belted 41 homers, led the league in hits with 193, Intentional walks 19, OPS 1.148 and On Base Percentage .487 while slugging .662. He scored 119 and drove in 132 RBI. Now that's a season to remember.

The Tigers finished in second place winning 98 games and it was thought they were on their way. But that is where Cash's string ended. It wasn't that his career was a bad one. He just never came close to those numbers again. He averaged 24 home runs the rest of his career but never hit over .280, most of the time lingering around .260 in an era where batting average meant a lot more than it does today.

Norm Cash left us too soon. He was killed when he slipped and fell near Lake Michigan at age 51. 

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