25 Years Ago: The Death of Stormin’ Norman

As long as Norm Cash was on the team, the Tigers didn’t need a radio in the clubhouse. The happy Texan loved to croon country & western songs while he sat at his locker. With Cash on the club, his teammates were guaranteed a good time.

“Every day was Christmas for Norm,” teammate Gates Brown said, “He played hard on the field and off, and win, lose or draw, he was going to have fun after a game.”

Part of that fun was drinking, and Cash was a professional. The stories of his after-hour exploits are legendary and entertaining but Cash rarely let them interfere with his performance. Teammate Mickey Lolich recalls an incident where Cash crawled into the team hotel in Lakeland, Florida, during spring training.

“He didn’t sleep that night, he couldn’t have,” the former pitcher said in an interview in 2004. “[Manager] Mayo Smith suspected that [Norm] was hung over so he made him run a bunch of the first base drills, with pitchers running over to cover after Norm fielded the groundballs. We did that for about 20 minutes and Norm never missed a play. After that he winked at Mayo and the drills were over.”

Though he had a well deserved reputation as a jokester, when he was in the batter’s box, Cash was one of the most feared sluggers in the game. In 1961 the left-handed hitting first baseman had one of the finest seasons in Tiger history. That year he hit a league-leading .361 with 41 homers and 132 RBI. He paced the American League in on-base percentage and hits, walking 124 times. Amazingly, despite his monster season, Cash finished a distant fourth in Most Valuable Player voting, behind the Yankees “M&M Boys”, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, as well as Baltimore’s Jim Gentile.

That ’61 season was like a tin can around Cash’s leg – he never quite shook the expectations of that performance. In 1962 his average plummeted 118 points to .243 – the sharpest decline in baseball history. Cash was never a high average hitter again, batting no higher than .283 in a season. But he consistently beltred 20+ homers whuile being a big run producer for the Tigers in the middle of their lineup.

“Norm was the big gun in that lineup for a long time,” teammate Don Wert said. “He gave us a power threat from the other side to go with Willie [Horton] and Al [Kaline].”

Cash finished his career with 377 home runs, all but four of them with the Tigers. He blasted four mammoth homers over and out of Tiger Stadium. 25 years ago, in 1986, Cash died when he drowned in the waters off of Beaver Island in northern Michigan.

One of the all-time fan favorites of Tiger faithful, broadcaster Ernie Harwell gave Cash the nickname “Stormin’ Norman”, and few other labels have ever been more appropriate for the package.

“He might have gotten his nights and days mixed up now and then, but I’ve never known a ballplayer who got as much fun out of playing baseball,” recalled Detroit general manager Jim Campbell. “He was one of the greatest players to ever wear a Tiger uniform.”

2 replies on “25 Years Ago: The Death of Stormin’ Norman

  • Randy Wilson

    As a young boy that loved my hometown Detroit Tigers, I absolutely idolized Norm Cash.
    I dreamed of being a major league 1st baseman and worshipped #25 as my baseball hero.
    I even ruined 2 brand new white t-shirts that my mother bought me by writing the # 25 on the back w/a permanent marker. My mother was furious cause she couldn’t wash it out but her fury was worth it…in my mind I was Norm Cash – the best 1st baseman in baseball…

    Reply

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