Dave Cash

November 20, 2009

“You got a no-no goin’.” – Dave Cash to Dock Ellis, June 12, 1970

Since I started Cardboard Gods back in ought six, certain players from the era of my childhood have surfaced repeatedly. They are the highest gods in my cardboard heaven (even if, in the case of at least one of them—starts with an R and ends with an eggie—I’m determined to hold onto a coal of childhood hatred): Jackson, Yastrzemski, Fidrych, Aaron, Seaver…

It’s not just that they attained great heights on the field during the 1970s; there’s also something iconic about them, something that connects to me on a vital level, the mere mention of the name strong enough to make me feel the flicker of the kind of engagement with the world that I felt most strongly as a child.

That engagement waned as I grew older, but it always flared up again whenever I considered another player who has made numerous appearances on this site: Dock Ellis. Something about the late great Dock always brings back the primary colors of my childhood, brings back a feeling like anything could happen.

He was an adventurous soul, something recently attested to in brilliant fashion by No Mas and artist James Blagden, who created the animated video below that tells, with the help of Dock Ellis himself, one of baseball’s greatest stories.

I would have featured a Dock Ellis card today, but it seems that I’ve already exhausted my collection of its Dock Ellis cards. Fortunately, I have a 1978 card that shows Dave Cash yapping away on the Montreal Expos bench, something he apparently did since he entered the league a few years earlier as a teammate of Dock Ellis on the Pirates. Cash plays a small but key part of Dock’s story, jabbering in a mocking way at the pitcher throughout his historic effort, and in doing so stridently flaunting one of the most strongly held superstitions in a game rife with superstitions. In Dock’s retelling, Cash comes off as a likable, extroverted fellow iconoclast, someone who may actually have defused the building tension throughout the game by talking about the elephant in the room. If something is happening, why not talk about what’s happening? And if something has happened, why not tell the tale? Dock Ellis told the tale, and now, thanks to No Mas, the tale is being experienced by a whole lot of people in a great, new way.

(Apparently, major league baseball has the game on video, but has neglected to air it. There is a petition to get the game aired. I gladly signed it.)

Anyway, onto Dock Ellis and a misty June day in 1970:


(Love versus Hate update: Dave Cash’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)


  1. Dave Cash, was one of 3 very good/great second basemen the Pirates produced during the 1970’s (Stennett, Cash, and Randolph). It’s odd how things worked out in that none of the 3 were on the 1979 WS championsip team.

    Cash had a very odd career in that he was a part-time player up until 1973, then from 1974-1978 he was getting 700 P.A for 5 strait years, then in 1979 he was back to being a part time player. I don’t think there’s been a player in baseball history with that type of career arc.

    In retrospect the Expos’ decision to give Rodney Scott the second base job instead of Cash in 1979 might be the one single reason why the Expos aren’t in Montreal anymore. They lost the divsion in 79-80 by one game each year. Heck just giving Cash 30 more P.A. than Scott might have won it in ’79.

    Scott was terrible with his 70-OPS+ in ’79 and a 65ops+ in 1980. Yet the Expos gave him something like 650 p.a each year. Cash meanwhile had a 114ops+ in 1979 and was traded on November 27, 1979 to the Padres.

    If they Expos would have won in 79-80 who knows, maybe the win a W.S. one of those years and they build more of a fan base.

  2. Man, I knew you would love that Ellis short. That thing has shot around the internet like wildfire thanks to goofy baseball nuts like us.

    Dave Cash is interesting – he’s one of those really fine but not remarkable players that tend to get lost to history unless they play for a championship team or in a big media market (or both, like Willie Randolph).

  3. I know Bill Lee loved Rodney Scott as a player. Lee’s protest of the Expos release of Scott is what got Lee bounced out of the majors for good.

    I’d put Cash in or near the top five of second basemen of the ’70s, after Morgan, Grich, and Randolph and somewhere in the mix with Frank White (who didn’t start hitting homers until the ’80s) and Davey Johnson.

  4. Even when Frank White found his power, he still never figured out how to get on base enough. He was always an exceptional defensive player, though.

    Lou Whitaker only played 2 seasons in the 70s, otherwise I’d put him in the mix.

    I think Cash fits in that top 5, or close to it.

  5. Picking a player like best 2b per decade is kind of arbitrary, what’s the difference between 1970-1979 and 1975-1984? There both 10 year spans, it just one ends in a “0” and the both have “7” as the third digit.

    Rod Carew and Davey Lopes have to be brought up as far as best 2b of the 70’s. Frank White really didn’t play that much in the 70’s. I think he only had 2700 P.A. But taken as a whole there were only 26 guys with at least 2500 P.A. and played at least 50% of their games at second.

    Here’s a list of the top OPS+ at second for the 70’s with at least 2500 P.A.:

    Carew: 142
    Morgan: 140
    Grich: 125
    Johnson: 118
    Jorge Orta: 112
    Davey Lopes: 108
    Ron Hunt: 103
    Phil Garner: 102
    Dave Cash: 95
    Rennie Stenett: 88

    Here’s Runs Created:

    Morgan: 1106
    Carew: 985
    Grich: 645
    Cash: 623
    Lopes: 603
    Orta: 500
    Fuentes: 484
    Millan: 482
    Sizemore: 458
    Stennett: 437

    This is just measuring offensive no defense or base running.

  6. Rodney Scott might have been a nice guy but I can’t see why Bill Lee made such a fuss, he was a horible major league player. He wasn’t a good hitter and he wasn’t a good fielder, the only thing he had was speed but this is baseball not a track event. Here’s his lines from 1979, 1980:

    1979: .238/.319/.294
    1980: .224/.307/.293

    And they had this guy bat SECOND and gave him 1300 P.A. in two years. All time dumb move. They win the division in ’79 & ’80 if they just bat him 8th!

  7. that video is awesome.

    i think it’s been mentioned before on this site, but cash is one of the members of the all-moolah team, which also includes don money, bobby and barry bonds, norm cash, curt schilling, brad penny, and others.

    this site stretches it a bit — http://tinyurl.com/ybftggk — but beware that it features that one name that drives josh crazy…

  8. Man, how did I forget Davey Lopes? With Carew, don’t forget he spent ’76-’79 as a full-time first baseman.

  9. The ludicrousness of using the decade as a framing tool has been brought up before in various discussions here–can’t argue with it. I use it just for the fun of it.

    I forgot about Lopes, too. I think Cash was a better fielder, but Lopes was a more potent offensive player and (without looking, just going on memory) maybe the highest percentage base-stealer among the perrenial league leaders of his day.

  10. To me, while decades aren’t particularly meaningful, they’re still *some* sort of frame. We use them to frame popular culture, so why not to compare baseball players?

    Obviously, they’re problematic, but this is all just for shits and giggles anyway.

  11. The decade thing is just for fun you’re right. I think it hurts players who come up during the middle part of a decade in relation to the National media. Jack Morris stays on the HOF ballot because he lead the 80’s in wins. If he came up in 1985, he probably wouldn’t even be on the ballot.

    Willie Randolph and Frank White suffer overall in peoples’ perception because they came up mid-decade. Willie would be the best second baseman 1976-1985.

    Blankemon, good point on Carew I forgot he was a first baseman by 1976. Here’s his 1970-1975 numbers: .341/.400/.440, 536 runs created, 137ops+

    Orta was a good hitter but he no business playing second. Garner and Hunt split a lot of time at third base.

    Here’s a list of WAR (which accounts for defense and base running) for second basemen from 1970-1979:

    Morgan: 69.9
    Grich: 43.3
    Carew: 30.5 (1970-1975)
    Lopes: 28.4
    Cash: 20.8
    Randolph: 18.8 (1975-1979)
    D. Johnson: 17.2 (1970-1978)
    R. Stennett: 9.6
    J. Orta: 8.8 (1972-1979)
    F. White: 8.7 (1973-1979)
    L. Whitaker: 7.6 (1977-1979)

    Morgan is out of this world and Grich really should be in the HOF with Whitaker.

  12. I’m not sure why Grich gets such little HOF love. While he was always underrated, he still was considered a star in his day. I think it’s that .266 career BA.

  13. Stennett was on the ’79 Pirates, so he did get a ring. But he had just one AB in the Series, went to the Giants the next year and was done for good by ’81.

  14. (C)ertain players from the era of my childhood have surfaced repeatedly. They are the highest gods in my cardboard heaven (even if, in the case of at least one of them—starts with an R and ends with an eggie—I’m determined to hold onto a coal of childhood hatred): Jackson, Yastrzemski, Fidrych, Aaron, Seaver…

    It’s not just that they attained great heights on the field during the 1970s; there’s also something iconic about them, something that connects to me on a vital level, the mere mention of the name strong enough to make me feel the flicker of the kind of engagement with the world that I felt most strongly as a child.

    Josh, this speaks to something I’ve been thinking about recently. I picked up Bill Simmons’s Book of Basketball</i. recently and it led me to other books on hoops. One of them was Free Darko's Macrophenomenal Almanac. It’s sort of like a scouting profile of some NBA stars if the scouts were those kids that sat at the table of the cafe in high school that was the intersection of the geek set and the stoner set. Anyways, they have a manifesto and part of it is the theory of liberated fandom. Part of this theory is actually old-fashioned Grantland Rice stuff. Ya know, “It’s not whether you win or lose. It’s how you play the game.” But it isn’t meant in the way Rice intended. He was talking more about sportsmanship. They’re talking more about playing with style.

    I mentioned Fidrych in a recent post at my larval blog, but Reggie had the same je ne sais quoi quality about him as well. He was entertaining both when he homered and when he struck out. His tenure in New York was soap operatic enough that ESPN eventually made a miniseries about his first year there. Too, he was more outspoken than today’s players. But I’m not sure if he would be as iconic today, when strikeouts and home runs are more common than they were in my youth.

    Seaver and Aaron were in the inner circle of inner circle HOFers. Yaz, well we were part Polish and we were Red Sox fans. If I could hold a seance and talk to my dad, he was probably his favorite player of all time.

  15. I wonder if Bobby Grich is the most underrated player ever? Lots of sabernerds (or wish-I-was sabernerds like myself) know about Blyleven, but even among the Jamesian crowd you don’t hear Grich’s name as much as you should, I think. Grich and Singleton are similar, I think in that both had the walks-and-power combo that hid their value. (Thanks to playing APBA, I loved ’em both.) Grich got some recognition when he tied for the lead in homers in ’81, but that was a strike year so it was a bit diminished, but I thought the guy was absolutely fantastic and I wish I heard his name more.

  16. Sb1902,

    Being “underrated” is a subjective thing but I think Grich is the most underrated player in Baseball history.

    The thing that hurt Grich is he spent almost all of his career in pitcher’s parks, Memorial/Big A. Second basemen tend to be a little underrated overall as well. I think Grich would have gotten in the HOF if he played in a hitter’s park like Wrigley or Fenway or even in a neutral park like Busch.

  17. The Doc Ellis no hitter is one of those great moments that makes you proud to be a baseball fan. Every area of interest for me has a Doc Ellis no-hitter; a fascinating achievement that is also quite bizarre but in the end a great moment. You can’t argue with a no-hitter. As a Beatles fan, it’s the Beatles going to India to study with the Maharishi. You may laugh at this sideshow, but they wrote some of their best songs in India on this excursion. As a constitutional lawyer, it’s something Justice Harry Blackmun did. Josh — or anyone else reading this — can you name Justice Blackmun’s bizarre baseball moment as a Supreme Court Justice?

  18. Not sure if this is what you’re looking for, psychsound, but Blackmun was, along with Burger, one of the “Minnesota Twins”–two conservative justices from Minnesota who voted in virtual lockstep for a number of years. What’s interesting about Blackmun is how liberal he grew over the course of his tenure, eventually writing the majority opinion in Roe. It’s hard to think of another modern justice who underwent such a stark transformation.

    PS on the Oyez website (sorry, can’t add link from iPhone), there’s a pretty fun game matching Justices with their baseball equivalents. Some connections are kinda tenuous (Scalia and Pedro, e.g.), but a fun distraction for anyone who spends a lot of time thinking of these two worlds.

  19. Though, much as it pains me, I can see a resemblance between Nino and Pedro–two stridently self-confident flamethrowers who think the world is against them and are always ready for a fight.

  20. Now unlike Senor Medich, who actually obtained a medical degree, or Messrs. Gooden, Erving, and Halladay, who merely operated in their athletic theatre(s) of choice with unparallelled surgical precision, Dock Phillip Ellis was very clearly “Dock.”

    As in a Doberman’s ears. As in “Of the Bay.” As in what happens to your salary if you fuck up one too many times.

    Even as a kid I was aware of this anomaly, just as I was aware of my father being mildly disdainful of his outspoken rhetoric, self-absorbed quasi-iconoclastic behavior, and, primarily, his wearing of hair curlers.

    I recall Dock as bigger than life, just like the rest of the early-70’s Pirates. I recall him somehow putting together a good season for the hated Yankees after coming over in that trade, (for M.D. Medich, as it were… along with ‘throw-in’ Willie Randolph). And even though his achievements in pinstripes are ovelooked today in a haze of Catfish and Sparky memories, it just may have been Ellis who put that ’76 team over the top.
    (You think Ken Brett would have won 17 games?)

    And of couse I recall the anticipation when he finally washed up on the desiccated shores of Shea Stadium during the long miserable summer of ’79 , his “stuff” long gone, his competitive fire long doused…
    I don’t know what it was I expected, maybe some excitement? outrageous antics? showmanship? acid-drenched no-hit hijinks? (though I doubt I was
    aware of the particulars…)

    Let’s just say that had the term “*…Meh…*” been invented at the time it would have summed things up admirably. And would suffice nicely as well to describe the John Pacellas and Pete Falcones of the era, lurching gracelessly about NL pitchers mounds hither and yon, all summer long…

    The epilogue of 1979 had a somewhat happy denoument, though, at least in Dock’s case. I forget if Josh has expounded upon the circumstances, but somehow or other the Mets ended up selling Ellis to the first place Pirates with a week and a half left in the season, (ostensibly for a bag of broken bats and a pop-up toaster).

    Though crippled, washed-up, and ineligible for the post-season, Dock appeared in three games, the last of his career, and one would like to think of his final moments in major league ball as happy ones….

    The prodigal son, all but finished, back in black (and gold)… out of the limelight perhaps, nattily dressed, not in uniform, but in street clothes, but STILL, somehow, a tiny part of that 1979 World Championship Priate Team…

    Maybe dancing a few carfully measured, but still funky steps on the home dugout roof after Game 5, long after the grounds crew had swept away the evening’s roar, and departed…
    Sharing a celebratory rail of Peruvian flake in the clubhouse with Dave Parker and Mike Easler perhaps, or a toot from a 24K spoon/necklace medallion with the Pirate Parrot…
    And perchance a final sip of champagne-laced backwash, all the sweeter given his exile, fall, and return…

    Dock probably didn’t get a ring to match his one from ’71, but he was THERE somehow, and somehow that’s enough to make me happy. Good for him, and God bless.

    Josh, can you reprint the name of his biography again, and is does it come recommended? Cheers.

  21. Harry Blackmun’s contribution to the baseball world is that he wrote the majority opinion in Flood v. Kuhn, which upheld baseball’s anti-trust exemption. This was Curt Flood’s case against MLB. Wikipedia summarizes the case here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flood_v._Kuhn

    What made the case strange was that Blackmun was a big baseball fan and he opened the opinion with a list of his favorite all-time players. This consumed seven pages of the court ruling and was a much-criticized tactic, to say the least. These are Blackmun’s favorites, forever immortalized in the law books:

    “Then there are the many names, celebrated for one reason or another, that have sparked the diamond and its environs and that have provided tinder for recaptured thrills, for reminiscence and comparisons, and for conversation and anticipation in-season and off-season: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Tris Speaker, Walter Johnson, Henry Chadwick, Eddie Collins, Lou Gehrig, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Rogers Hornsby, Harry Hooper, Goose Goslin, Jackie Robinson, Honus Wagner, Joe McCarthy, John McGraw, Deacon Phillippe, Rube Marquard, Christy Mathewson, Tommy Leach, Big Ed Delahanty, Davy Jones, Germany Schaefer, King Kelly, Big Dan Brouthers, Wahoo Sam Crawford, Wee Willie Keeler, Big Ed Walsh, Jimmy Austin, Fred Snodgrass, Satchel Paige, Hugh Jennings, Fred Merkle, Iron Man McGinnity, Three-Finger Brown, Harry and Stan Coveleski, Connie Mack, Al Bridwell, Red Ruffing, Amos Rusie, Cy Young, Smokey Joe Wood, Chief Meyers, Chief Bender, Bill Klem, Hans Lobert, Johnny Evers, Joe Tinker, Roy Campanela, Miller Huggins, Rube Bressler, Dazzy Vance, Edd Roush, Bill Wambsganess, Clark Griffith, Branch Rickey, Frank Chance, Cap Anson,
    Nap Lajoie, Sad Sam Jones, Bob O’Farrell, Lefty O’Doul, Bobby Veach, Willie Kamm, Heinie Groh, Lloyd and Paul Waner, Stuffy McInnis, Charles Comiske, Roger Bresnahan, Bill Dickey, Zack Wheat, George Sisler, Charlie Gehringer, Eppa Rixey, Harry Heilmann, Fred Clarke, Dizzy Dean, Hank Greenberg, Pie Traynor, Rube Waddell, Bill Terry, Carl Hubbell, Old Hoss Radbourne, Moe Berg, Rabbit Maranville, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove. [Footnote 3] The list seems endless.”

  22. ramblin’ pete:
    Beautiful. Thanks for writing that elegy for Dock.

    The bio is called Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball and I highly recommend it. It was a collaboration between the master storyteller Dock and future US poet laureate Donald Hall.

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