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What is it about nice people that attract total idiots?Nice people are martyrs. Idiots are evangelists.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Mitchell Page

In 1977 I learned about the wide world of baseball on AM radio. That summer my whole life was built around the 1 o'clock game, the 3:00 game, the 7 o'clock game, and the 9:30 game. Along with the concurrent heavy consumption of Pepsi, ho-hos, and chips, and pouring over of the week's Sporting News. Fortunately I enjoyed a plethora of teams, and could listen (depending on time of day) to games on WABC New York, WBZ Boston, WSB Atlanta, KMOX St. Louis, WGN and WMAQ in Chicago, WJR Detroit, WLW Cincinnati, WBAP Dallas, WTMJ Milwaukee, and the very rare glimpse of WBAL Baltimore. Fortunately, I say, because my beloved Oakland A's went that year from a hard charging team that finished just 2 1/2 games back to a team that fell one rain out behind the expansion Seattle Mariners for last place.

But it was the first time I got to really follow the team, and I loved every minute and exhorted them to fight for every run. The names that emblazoned themselves across my mind that year were hardly household names (excepting Vida Blue), and basically forgotten by even today's A's fans. Rob Picciolo. Jeff Newman. Wayne Gross. Rick Langford. Jim Tyrone.

The unquestioned star of that team, though was rookie outfielder Mitchell Page. He hit .307, easily the best on the team, and no mean feat in the Coliseum. He had 21 HRs (second on the team to the much lighter-hitting Gross) and 75 RBIs, to go with 42 stolen bases. When you needed the big hit, your choices were Page first, and then Gross. He came in second to Eddie Murray in the rookie of the year voting, a vote that I will forever claim was due to east-coast bias. (Don't bother showing me the stats or the subsequent career, I won't listen.)

It broke my heart that he never reached such heights again, with nagging injuries taking their toll, as well as substance abuse problems that were revealed when he was released as Cardinals hitting coach after the 2004 season. Perhaps if he'd been introduced to steroids he could have bounced back like Mark McGwire did, but I'm glad he didn't if that's the price.

He coached in Kansas City, St. Louis, and Washington, from whom he was on leave of absence and doing some roving scouting.

Today, as I watch my first A's spring game on MLB, the crawler announced that Page had died. Age 59, cause of death not determined.

"I saw him during the winter, at the fall league," said Cardinals first-base coach Dave McKay. "He was doing really well. He was feeling great, bought a home, went from the ballpark to working on his home. He was going to church, spending a lot of time at church and doing all the right things. I was really happy for him. He was feeling good. I thought it was great. I saw him probably about four or five times.
"He was a pretty sharp guy. Really good head. I played with him. He was into video, watching what guys were doing. It's just really sad. His life was straightened out, he was heading in the right direction, it seemed like. I was really glad that he was going to church and becoming a Christian".

Cards Manager Tony LaRussa added, "He didn't have an easy life. He was a good man, a knowledgeable man, a real good teammate. It's a shame."

It really is. I've never stopped missing those days. 98 losses never dimmed the fact that that was MY team. And now our leader, our fallen leader, is fallen for good. God bless you Mitchell. I hope yours is the last eulogy I'll type for a few months- I'm getting all too sick of death.

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