Norm Cash had the greatest season of his career in 1961, but it was completely overshadowed by Roger Maris‘s 61 HR. Cash led the AL with 193 hits and a .361 batting average, 37 points ahead of the runner-up, teammate Al Kaline (they were only the eighth pair of AL teammates to finish one-two in a batting race). Only 12 players have topped his .488 on-base percentage that year, and none since. He had 132 RBI (fourth in the AL), 41 HR (sixth), eight triples (fourth), 119 runs (fourth), 11 stolen bases, 124 walks (second), a .662 slugging percentage (second, ahead of Maris), and 354 total bases (second). He finished fourth in the MVP voting, behind Maris, Mickey Mantle, and Jim Gentile.
Ironically, the season that was overlooked at the time was the apex of his career. All the performances cited were career highs. He dropped to .243 in 1962 and the 118-point drop is a record for a batting champ. Even on his own team, he was overshadowed by his roommate, Al Kaline. But although he never hit above .283 for the rest of his career, he was consistently one of the best first basemen in the majors. He hit 30 or more homers five times and 20 or more eleven times, including nine straight years (1961-69), and twice led the league in HR percentage (1965, 1971). He won TSN Comeback Player of the Year honors in 1965, finishing second in the AL in HR (30) and third in slugging (.512), then won the award again in 1971 when he hit 32 HR and slugged .531.
Cash never went on the DL, although some years he missed 20-40 games with minor injuries. His batting averages were actually well above average in the pitching-dominated late 1960s, and he walked frequently. Cash was a good fielder and at various times led the AL in putouts (1961), fielding average (1964, 1967), and assists (tied 1965, led 1966-67).
Cash was drafted in the 13th round by the NFL’s Chicago Bears but he opted for baseball, beginning his career as an outfielder in the White Sox system. After missing 1957 for military service he made it to the majors briefly in 1958. He converted to first base and spent all of 1959 in the majors, although he played just 58 games in Chicago’s AL championship season. In the off-season, he was sent to Cleveland in the deal that brought Minnie Minoso back to Chicago, and then was picked up by Detroit in the most lopsided deal in their history: he was traded straight up for third baseman Steve Demeter, who had just five more at-bats in his ML career.
The genial, self-deprecating slugger tied two offbeat records. On June 27, 1963, he had no fielding chances at first base. And in the third inning of Game Six of the 1968 World Series, he had two hits as the Tigers scored 10 runs. He batted .385 for the Series, with five RBI and five runs, and hit a homer in Game Two. He also started the Series-winning rally in Game Seven with a two-out, seventh-inning single, and scored the first run of the game on Jim Northrup‘s triple. In the 1972 LCS, Cash was part of the Tigers’ “Over the Hill Gang”. He homered in Game One in a losing cause and drove in the tying run of Game Four with a 10th-inning walk as the Tigers came from behind to force a fifth game.
Cash’s 375 HR as a first baseman rank third in the AL, and his 377 HR overall were 30th all-time at the end of the 1980s. He and Kaline combined to hit 647 HR as teammates, the fourth-best AL total and eighth-best overall. His total of 317 hits and walks in 1961 is the 23rd-best in ML history; only seven people have bettered it, and only Wade Boggs has done it since Cash. He is seventh in lifetime assists among first basemen (1317) despite not being in the top ten in games at first base. Cash drowned in 1986 when he slipped on a boat, fell, and struck his head.