One of the first hobby treasure troves I uncovered a couple years into my collecting journey was a shiny white shoe box jammed full of 1979 Topps baseball cards.

A local dealer was sorting through them as I approached her table at a Saturday flea market, and I was mesmerized. This was about 1984 or 1985, and the 1979s seemed so — exotic.1979 Topps Mitchell Page (#295)

They came from an era when there was only one set issued each year.

They looked clean and uncluttered compared to the cards I was pulling from packs at the time.

And, most importantly, I didn’t have any 1979 Topps cards at the time.

So I asked Beulah — the dealer — if I could look through them, but she said she wanted to sort and price them first. Well, my dad overheard this conversation and decided to cut it off at the pass.

“What will you take for the whole box?” he asked.

Beulah was incredulous but shot him a price. I don’t remember what the number was, but I do remember walking on air with my new gold mine held gingerly in front of me as we made our way back to the car. It was winter and already nearly dark outside, but a few beauties caught my eye even in the dank light of the city and the interstate as we made our way out of town:

  • All-Star cards with their extra blue (NL) or red-brown (AL) banners stacked above the player name
  • Record Breaker cards with their squared-up portraits and red, white, and blue banners
  • League Leaders featuring the best each circuit had to offer in 1978
  • Team prospects showing the best young players on each franchise
  • All-Time Record Holders showcasing the all-time single-season and career leaders in a variety of statistical categories

This last really stood out because some of the players featured had played in the 1800s, and their pictures looked ancient. But all of these “special” cards were a valuable lesson for a young fan in learning who was who among the best in the game.1979 Topps All-Time Stolen Base Leaders - Lou Brock

Of course, the other way that Topps let you know who was a good player or who might become a great player was the massive block of statistics on the back of each card. Though the 1979 Topps card backs are fairly readable, even my 12-year-old eyes had trouble making them out in the dark backseat of our car.

It was a different story when we got home, though.

Once I had my treasures spread out on the bedroom carpet, I devoured the promising numbers on the back of George Brett‘s card (#330) and the 19 lines — two for 1964 — on the back of Lou Brock‘s pasteboard (#665). I didn’t just stick to the stars and superstars, though, because I really didn’t know who was who at that point.

Especially in the forgotten world of 1979.

So I started pouring through all the cards, back-up, looking for anything that stood out.

Tom Burgmeier (#524) was old but uninspiring.

Dan Schatzeder (#124) had an impossible name.

Tom Hutton (#673) had hit .203 for the Montreal Expos in 1978 and never smacked more than five home runs in a season.

I was beginning to think that maybe I did know who all the big names were after all when I thumbed across card #295, Mitchell Page.

1979 Topps Mitchell Page (#295) -- backAccording to Topps, Page had played two seasons in the Major Leagues before 1979, hitting 21 and 17 home runs in those campaigns. His lifetime average stood at a respectable .296, and he had had success in both scoring (142) and driving in (145) runs.

How had I not heard of him?

I flipped the card over and found a sort of goofy-looking, lanky guy in big Seventies glasses leaned over his knees in the Oakland A’s dugout. My mind started clicking through everything I knew about baseball, and it made some connections:

  • Here was a guy named Page who (obviously) had great baseball talent
  • At 6’2″ and 205 pounds, he was lanky.
  • With his specs, pensive expression, and engaged posture, I imagined that Page was in the middle of some wise baseball tale.
  • “Mitchell” is pretty close to “Satchel.”
  • Satchel Paige was a Negro League legend famous for his baseball talent, longevity, lankiness, and baseball wit and wisdom.
  • I assumed Satchel Paige spelled his last name P-A-G-E.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this, but just in case …

Was Mitchell Page the Son of Satchel Paige?

As it turns out, of course, Mitchell Page was not Satchel Paige’s son.

But in that moment in the darkness of winter and the bright light of baseball card discovery, I was sure that he was.1948 Leaf Satchel Paige

I was positive that Mitchel Page would turn into the hitting equivalent of Satchel, with the benefit of a full career spent in the Majors.

He would continue (or resume) the power barrage with which he began his career and which garnered him second place, behind Eddie Murray, in voting for the 1977 American League Rookie of the Year Award.

I had uncovered a future Hall of Famer right there in the confines of my new shoe box full of gems.

Of course, today I could just hop over to Baseball-Reference.com to verify my suspicions, but I had no such luxury in the mid-80s.

What I did have was my budding collection, which included Mitchell Page cards from 1981, 1983, and 1984. They told me that he hadn’t quite been able to live up that early-career promise.

Even though he reached 17 homers again in 1980, his tallies in the surrounding years were anemic — 9, 4, 4, 0 — and, by the time the 1984 season rolled around, he was taking the field less than 60 times each year.

Strangely, none of my other cards mentioned Mitchell’s “famous father” either.

I was befuddled, a1984 Topps Michell Pagend I returned to that 1979 Topps Mitchell Page card time and time again in the coming years, always wondering what went wrong. And I kept my eyes and ears open for any Page sightings as the Eighties careened toward the Ninties.

But he just … disappeared, at least from my worldview.

Thirty-plus years ago, my baseball acumen wasn’t keen enough to pick up on the fact that Page was already 25 years old when he debuted with the A’s in 1977. That’s darn near a senior citizen in phenom years, and the chances he would get much better, or even keep up his pace, were slim.

This lesson about making assumptions was one I was slow to learn, and that deficiency kept me coming back — to Mitchell Page … to Ron Kittle … even to Wally Joyner, who was 24 when he broke onto the Major League scene.

Fortunately, I was older and wiser when Kevin Maas became Babe Ruth over the span of 133 at-bats in 1990. He was already 25 during that 1990 season, and I knew it couldn’t last.

But I hoped it would.

And even then, I thought there might be a wink of a chance I’d see old Mitchell Page on a Big League diamond again.

 

 

 

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