Lane’s Cash Deal Might Have Been More Damaging than Colavito Trade
Vince Guerrieri | On 13, Apr 2016
To this day, former Indians general manager Frank Lane is known as “Trader” for his almost pathological need to have transactions.
He’s most notorious for dealing Rocky Colavito to the Tigers in 1960, but just five days before that – 55 years ago this week – he pulled the trigger on a deal that might have been worse.
Norm Cash was a two-sport star in his native Texas and was drafted out of Sul Ross State College in Alpine by the Chicago Bears. But he opted for baseball and signed with another Chicago team, the White Sox.
Cash was a backup on the 1959 pennant-winning Go-Go Sox team managed by former Tribe manager Al Lopez and led by former Indians hurler Early Wynn. That off-season, Cash (along with Bubba Phillips and John Romano) was involved in the seven-player deal that returned Minnie Minoso to the White Sox. Also joining the Tribe were Dick Brown, Don Ferrarese and Jake Striker.
At the time, Cash was an outfielder – and Lane viewed him with some value as an alternative to Colavito. “If Rocky keeps asking for more cash, he’ll find Cash in right field,” Lane was quoted as saying.
Cash acquitted himself well in spring training, demonstrating the ability to hit for power – as a left-hander, something particularly prized in a lineup full of righties. “Norm Cash was tossed in by the White Sox to sweeten the pot, and now (manager) Joe Gordon is wondering if he may not turn out to be the major prize of the deal,” Plain Dealer Sports Editor Gordon Cobbledick wrote.
Lane told the Plain Dealer that the Tigers and the Orioles had inquired about Cash, but Tigers General Manager Rick Ferrell said that Lane called him and left him confused, saying he wasn’t sure if Lane was offering cold cash or Norm Cash.
Lane wanted Steve Demeter, a right-handed bat who happened to live in Cleveland in the off-season, and the deal was done. Five days later, Lane dealt Colavito to Detroit as well, for batting champion Harvey Kuenn.
Kuenn never amounted to much for the Indians and Demeter amounted to even less, playing in a total of four games in a Tribe uniform.
But in 1961, the Tigers, led by Colavito and Cash, hit a franchise-record 180 home runs and led the majors in runs scored with 841 runs (remember, this is the year that Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris accounted for 115 home runs by themselves for the Yankees). The Tigers won 101 games, but were left in the dust by those same Yankees. (The Indians went 78-83, finishing in fifth place in an American League that now had ten teams.)
Colavito hit a career-high 45 home runs and batted in 140 runs. Cash hit 41 home runs and led the American League with 193 hits and a .361 average. Cash’s 1961 performance was an aberration – aided by his own admission by the use of a corked bat. He never again batted higher than .283 in a season (he hit .243 in 1962, and the 118-point drop remains the largest by a batting title winner in major league history) or drove in 100 runs.
But he remained the Tigers’ everyday first baseman until 1974 and was the only American League hitter with more than 20 home runs each year from 1961 to 1969. When he retired, his 373 home runs in a Tiger uniform (he had 377 overall) were second only to Al Kaline.
And none of them came in a Cleveland uniform.
Photo: 1960 Topps baseball card