Brawling, clowning, kicking high and spacing out — here’s a look at 10 offbeat Tigers worth remembering
Published: April 2, 2013
Some guys just like to have fun. Norman Dalton Cash was one of them.
A power-hitting lefthander from Texas, the player affectionately known as “Stormin’ Norman” spent nearly his entire 16-year big league career as a Tiger.
A first baseman who could field as well as hit, Cash had a breakout year in 1961, when he led the American League with a .361 average, hitting 41 home runs. Only afterward did he reveal that the feat was accomplished with the assistance of bats illicitly lightened by a mixture of cork, sawdust and glue. He even demonstrated his technique for Sports Illustrated — after his retirement, which came in 1974.
In fact, he once summed up his career by saying, “I owe my success to expansion pitching, a short right-field fence, and my hollow bats.”
What he’s most remembered for, though, were his playful antics. Like the time he attempted to steal second base and got caught between the bags. Trapped by the opposing players, he put his hands in the shape of a T in an attempt to extricate himself from the predicament by calling a time out.
It didn’t work, but it made for one hell of a story. It’s also said that there was at least one time when, after being on second base at the start of a rain delay, he could be found trying to occupy third once play resumed.
The crowning moment of his career as a prankster came on July 15, 1973, when Nolan Ryan, then an ace for the California Angels, had a no-hitter going with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
That’s when Cash stepped up to the plate. His bat wasn’t corked that day; in fact, at that moment he didn’t hold a bat at all. Instead, he had the leg of a clubhouse table in his hands. When the ump told Cash he had to get a real bat, he reportedly said, “Why not? I won’t hit him anyway.” Then, using a regulation bat, he proceeded to pop out with a weak fly to left, giving Ryan a no-hitter and earning himself an indelible place in baseball lore.
Cash met an untimely death in October 1986, when he drowned in an accident off Beaver Island in northern Lake Michigan. He was only 51. According to press accounts from the time, then-Tigers President Jim Campbell had this to say about Stormin’ Norman: “Norm was a well-liked, free spirit. He was everybody’s friend, and along with it one of the great players to ever wear a Tiger uniform.”
In the history of baseball, nobody earned the description “infamous” quite like Ty Cobb, who played with the Tigers from 1905 to 1926. Nicknamed “The Georgia Peach,” the ballplayer may as well have earned the moniker for his sweet swing (his career batting average remains a baseball record: .366) as for his heart of stone. He was known as a bigot with a short temper and a penchant for sadism. One local sportswriter described his style of play as “daring to the point of dementia.” A later Tiger player said Cobb regarded the game as “something like a war,” recalling that “every time at bat for him was like a crusade.” Cobb inspired fear in his opponents and hatred in his teammates. His reputation as a dirty player was well-known — his contemporaries described how he’d sharpen his cleats in the dugout, then slide feet-first into a bag with those razor-sharp spikes aimed high. Given his thirst for blood and spurred soles, it’s hardly surprising his career record for stealing home (54 times) still stands. It’s also not a shocker he retains the dubious honor of committing more errors (271) than any American League outfielder.
Some say that the tales of Cobb’s violence were amped up by ambitious sportswriters who wouldn’t let facts get in the way of good copy. But some unflattering accounts of Cobb’s behavior are undeniable, and illustrate an almost sociopathic personality that traded in violence that was completely out of proportion to the perceived insult. In 1907, when a black groundskeeper greeted Cobb too familiarly during spring training in Georgia, an infuriated Cobb attacked him; when the groundskeeper’s wife intervened, Cobb began choking her. The conflict only ended when the catcher knocked Cobb out cold. In 1908, when a black laborer complained about the ballplayer walking on freshly poured asphalt, Cobb attacked the man, earning a battery charge. Perhaps most famously, in 1912, while playing against the Highlanders in New York, Cobb was so incensed by one remark from a heckler that he bounded into the stands and attacked the man. The crowd protested, as the man had lost all of one hand and most of the other in an industrial accident. Undeterred, Cobb reportedly yelled, “I don’t care if he got no feet!”
Novelist W.A. Berger, in his recent book of historical-inspired fiction The Purples, included Cobb in a scene. One of the Jewish gangsters, attending a ballgame at Navin Field, gets Cobb’s attention and asks, “Is it true you hate Jews?”
With a big smile, Cobb replies, “I hate everybody!”
It rings true.
It is not just baseball lore that a no-hitter was once thrown by a pitcher flying high on LSD. The story of that peculiar exploit has been around for decades.
If you were to guess which big league pitcher actually accomplished that psychedelic feat, Mark “The Bird” Fidrych might naturally come to mind. It is, after all, not too far-fetched to think a guy who would hold conversations with baseballs might be tripping his brains out on some powerful purple microdot.
But you would apparently be wrong. For the record, it was former Pittsburgh Pirates hurler Dock Ellis who, after his playing days were over, copped to being on acid the day in 1970 that he pitched a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres.
Fidrych is described this way on the jacket of Doug Wilson’s new book The Bird:
“Lanky, mop-topped, and nicknamed for his resemblance to Big Bird on Sesame Street, Fidrych exploded onto the national stage during the Bicentennial summer as a rookie with the Detroit Tigers. He won over fans nationwide with his wildly endearing antics, such as talking to the ball (and throwing back the ones that ‘had hits in them’), getting down on his knees to ‘manicure’ the mound, and shaking hands with just about everyone from teammates to groundskeepers to cops during and after games. Female fans tried to obtain locks of his hair from his barber and even named babies after him.”
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