Actors are often told to “break a leg” as they go on stage. Detroit Tiger Norm Cash took this literally but it involved a table leg.
On Sunday, July 15, 1973, Cash and the Tigers hosted the California Angels. Nolan Ryan started for the Angels and was opposed by Tigers hurler Jim Perry. By the end of the afternoon, the 41,411 at Tiger Stadium not only witnessed history, but one of baseball’s great comical moments as well.
Through seven innings, Ryan held the Tigers hitless with 16 strikeouts and four walks as the Angels held a 1-0 lead. However, California broke the game open with a five-run top of the eighth inning on three run-scoring singles.
In the bottom half of the inning, Ryan retired the Tigers in order, which included his 17th strikeout.
Three outs away from his second career no-hitter, Ryan retired Mickey Stanley and Gates Brown. The popular Cash became the final hope for Detroit. Like the rest of the Tigers, he couldn’t figure out Ryan, striking out twice and grounding out.
Cash then showed that professional athletes can never take themselves too seriously. He strolled to the plate with not a bat, but a leg that he broke off from a locker room table. Home plate umpire Ron Luciano told Cash he couldn’t use the leg. The Tigers slugger apparently responded that he had as much chance hitting Ryan with the leg than a bat.
I wonder if Ryan was more upset than humored at Cash’s antics. Pitchers prefer to be in a routine, and Cash upset the rhythm. But Ryan was not phased and induced Cash to pop up for the final out and Ryan’s no-hitter in the Angels 6-0 victory.
Cash was known as a prankster throughout his career, but his humor reached an apex on that Sunday afternoon in Detroit. Since Ryan threw a record seven no-hitters, Cash may have come up with a good idea: Using any tools available to try to hit the Ryan Express.