July 10, 2010

Great Pirates In History: Dave Cash

With the Cliff Lee trade to Texas, Pirates WFC Blog staff plans to publicly and annoyingly consider a move south over the next two months. Imagine the synergy of a team that has Cliff Lee, Josh Hamilton and a WFC Blog. I am a man now, so I can no longer carry the burden of being the main blogger in a championship push. I'll keep you posted.

In today's installment of Great Pirates in History, we salute an underrated player who, at a young age, was a major contributor to three consecutive playoff teams including the 1971 World Champions.

Dave Cash is the archetype of a player who is largely absent from the game now, but who was common from the 1960s to the 1980s. These men were always second basemen or shortstops. On defense they were unspectacular but reliable, not Gold Glovers but still possessing slightly above average range and good fielding percentages. On offense they virtually no power but made great contact and would hit between .270 and .300 with few walks and strikeouts. They were good bunters and great hit and run men. They weren't big time base stealers but had the speed to go first to third on a single and score from first on a double.

Today, a player of that skill set would be expected to play three or more positions and would still only be a part time player, but in the 1970s it was considered a coup to have a middle infielder who didn't hit .220 or make 30 errors. So in their heyday these men were valuable starters who would hit first or second in a lineup. Examples from the National League in the early 1970s are Glenn Beckert, Felix Millan, Ted Sizemore, and of course our man Dave Cash.

Replacing A Legend
Dave Cash was drafted in the fifth round in 1966 out of high school in Utica, New York. Good times in Central New York. He had his breakout prospect year in '67 when he hit .335 for the Pirates' A team in Gastonia of the now defunct Western Carolinas league.

Cash continued to hit as he moved up through the minors, but of course the Pirates had some guy named Bill Mazeroski at second. He caught a break when Mazeroski was hurt for the second half of 1969, and he earned a late season call-up by hitting .291 at AAA Columbus. Starting the last 18 games of the season, the 21-year-old Cash acquitted himself well by hitting .279/.371/.361 with only one error in the field.

With Mazeroski back in 1970, Cash returned to Columbus. But in late May, Maz was hitting below .200 while Cash was hitting .313 in Triple A. It is hard to replace a legend, but the time had come. Cash was called up and proceeded to hit .314 the rest of the way while splitting time with Mazeroski, who hit .229. The Pirates won the NL East, returning to the playoffs for the first time since the '60 World Series.

The World Series
The uneasy timeshare returned for 1971. Cash hit .289/.349/.354 and seemed to have taken the everyday job from Mazeroski. But yet another second baseman, Rennie Stennett, was called up in the second half of the season and proceeded to hit .353. Cash moved to third base in September. Of course, an excess amount of talent is to be expected on a team that would go 97-65.

Come playoff time, Cash's superior defense and solid hitting won out. He started at second for all eleven postseason games and collected 12 hits while scoring seven runs. Like the rest of his career, it was a steady but not spectacular performance - and one that helped the Pirates win the World Series.

Every championship team has its superstars. The '71 Bucs had Stargell and Clemente. But the current Brewers have Braun and Fielder and will never win a thing. It is the Dave Cashes, the players who might be the seventh best hitter in the lineup but are still above average contributors, who separate the champions from the .500 clubs.

1972-73 And The Departure
To start the 1972 season, the Pirates had two second basemen who were capable of hitting .300 and a third guy who was a Hall of Famer.

Maz reached the end of the line that year, but the other two men put up identical numbers. Cash hit .282 and Stennett .286. Cash played superior defense but Stennett was three years younger. By now Richie Hebner was himself a .300 hitter at third base, and apparently neither second sacker had the arm to play at shortstop. The Pirates rolled right along and went 96-59. They would have been the franchise's only 100 win team if not for a spring training strike that wiped out seven scheduled games.

Come crunch time, manager Bill Virdon once again turned to Cash to start in all five playoff games. This time, the Big Red Machine was too much. Cash drove in four runs but hit only .211 in the series. The Pirates, gone but not forgotten, lost the NLCS 3-2.

1973 brought one of those inexplicable down years for a solid team. The Pirates still had their World Championship team largely intact but nonetheless slumped to 80-82. Cash joined in with his worst year in Pittsburgh, hitting just .271/.328/.342 - though he had the best defensive year of his career.

Rennie Stennett had an even worse year - a bona fide bad one - hitting .242/.265/.358. Nonetheless, for some reason the Pirates decided Stennett had won the second base job. Cash was traded to the Phillies that offseason for pitcher Ken Brett.

For his Pirate career, Cash hit .285/.338/.365 while playing excellent defense and helping the team to three playoff appearances and a World Championship.

The Rest Of The Story
Finally given an everyday job in Philadelphia, Cash flourished. He played in 162, 162 and 160 games for the Phillies from 1974-76 and got MVP votes each year while putting up two 200 hit seasons. He had another great year for the Expos in 1977 and was basically done as a hitter after that. For his career he hit .283 with 1,571 hits.

Despite Cash's success, the Cash-Brett trade appeared to be working out as Brett was a solid back end starter while Stennett hit well from the second base spot. But infamously, the Pirates made one of their worst trades ever by sending Brett, Dock Ellis and Willie Randolph for pitcher Doc Medich. Yep, three All-Stars for one guy who would go 8-11 in his only Pirate season.

To me, the 1971 World Champion Pirates have been strangely neglected in this city. I hear a lot about the '60 and '79 teams, a little less about the current team, and nothing about the '71 squad. Hopefully the Pirates remedy this during next year, the 40th anniversary season.

Dave Cash played hard and well and was the leadoff hitter for the 1971 World Champion Pirates team. For those contributions, he is truly a great Pirate in history.

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