The sudden death of Mitchell Page

For much of his life, Mitchell Page battled addiction. He drank too much. He was a heavy smoker. Back in 2007, he took a leave of absence from his job as hitting instructor for the Nationals, taking time off for what were described as “personal reasons.”

According to Cardinals coach Dave McKay, Page had straightened out his life. He saw Page last fall, and Page looked great. He had just purchased a home and was spending a lot of his time with church-related activities. All seemed well.

On Saturday, Mitchell Page died in his sleep. He was just 59 years old. No cause of death has been established.

So what happened? We may not know for awhile, but I suppose it’s possible that Page’s body just gave out. He lived a hard life, battling the bottle for years. Whatever the reason, all that matters now is that Page is gone at a young age, short of his 60th birthday. His death is all too reminiscent of the story of former Dodgers standout Willie Davis, who died suddenly last year after apparently overcoming his own demons.

At one time, Page looked like a star in the making. He made his debut in 1977 for a strange band of Oakland A’s. No longer the dynastic A’s of “Mustache Gang” lore, the franchise had been ravaged by free agency.

They still had a bevy of big-name players, but most of them were past their prime: Dick Allen, Willie Crawford, Manny Sanguillen, Earl Williams, Doc Medich, Joe Coleman, Stan Bahnsen, Dave Giusti. It was a like a “who’s who” of baseball, but about five years after the fact. The ’77 A’s also had some classic 1970s characters, including Rodney “Cool Breeze” Scott, Rich “Orbit” McKinney and the inimitable Dock Ellis.

Page stood out as one of the few bright spots on a team that lost 98 games. As a 25-year-old rookie, he took over the starting left field job and hit 21 home runs, stole 42 bases, and drew 78 walks. His OPS of .926 should have won him the American League Rookie of the Year, but that honor went to Eddie Murray, the first-year DH for the Orioles. Murray would have the far better career—a Hall of Fame ledger at that—but Page was the better player in 1977.

Page also became a popular player with Oakland fans. He always seemed to have a smile on his face, whether in the outfield or on the basepaths. A’s broadcaster Monte Moore dubbed him “The Swingin’ Rage,” a wonderful nickname that caught on in the Bay Area.

The A’s hoped they could rebuild their team around Page, but he never equaled his rookie year success. He had a productive year in 1978 but he lost some of his patience at the plate and began to fall out of shape, which affected his speed and defensive ability. By 1981, he was back in the minor leagues. By the end of the 1984 season, after a brief stint with the Pirates, he was out of baseball—at the age of 32.

Still, Page had something to offer. He eventually returned to the game in the 1990s, initially as a minor league hitting coach. He then became a coach with the Royals before finding his true calling as a hitting instructor with the Cardinals, a job in which he thrived.

Page knew how to work with videotape in breaking down his hitters’ swings, diagnosing flaws that needed correcting. He also had the kind of outgoing personality that helped him get through to players of a later generation, young Cardinals who didn’t remember him as a player. He was passionate and smart, always a good combination.

Some Cardinals fans called Page the best hitting instructor in the team’s history, but he lost the job because of his drinking problems. Some players noticed alcohol on his breath at the ballpark, and he also fell out of touch with some of his hitters. Immediately after the 2004 World Series, Tony LaRussa informed him that he was out as hitting coach. Page accepted the firing and entered himself into a 28-day stint in rehab.

He later became the Nationals’ hitting coach and did good work there, too, but his tenure was cut short by additional personal problems. In 2010, he returned to the Cardinals as a minor league hitting instructor, but the job lasted only through spring training.

When I saw that Page was 59 at the time of his death, I was somewhat surprised. He always looked older to me, with deep lines through his face indicating that he was in his sixties. But the timeline checks out. If he was in his mid-twenties in 1977, he would have been in his late fifties by now.

Sadly, that span of years wasn’t long enough.

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Bruce Markusen is the manager of Digital and Outreach Learning at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He has authored seven baseball books, including biographies of Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda and Ted Williams, and A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, which was awarded SABR's Seymour Medal.
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Anna McDonald
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Anna McDonald

Thanks for this. I never knew why he was fired in 2004, it’s sad to hear.

JT Jordan
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JT Jordan

I played ball with Mitchell’s son in High School- Mitchell came out to work with us for a little bit, and he was a fun guy to be around.  Very, very nice man.  RIP, Mitchell.

Tom
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Tom
Mitchell is one of my all time favorite A’s players. I attended many games during that late 70’s stretch and, in ‘77 especially, he was the shining light for a team Finley had allowed to deteriorate dramatically from the glory days. Glad Sporting News gave him the Rookie award that year at least. MLB voting for the “official” one should have gone his way as well but I think an anti-Finley bias among some writers could have cost Page. Purely by the numbers, frankly, it shouldn’t have been close. Page clearly had the better year, Murray obviously the better career.… Read more »
Jack Morrow
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Jack Morrow
I saw him play in person in a few games in ‘77, ‘78, and ‘79, and again in ‘81, just after he’d been sent down to Tacoma.  He hit the hardest home run shots seen that year at Renfrew Park in Edmonton, and those of us who saw him wondered why he wasn’t still in the majors. I thought he deserved the Rookie of the Year award in ‘77, but Eddie Murray played for a team that was in a 3-way pennant race until the last weekend of the season, while Mitchell Page played for a bad team that was… Read more »
Debbie Page
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Debbie Page
Hi, my name is Debbie.  I am Mitchell’s baby sister.  I just wanted to thank each of you for sharing your fond memories of my big brother.  I was so proud of him when he admitted publicly that he was an alcoholic and checked himself into rehab.  Sure he may have fallen off the wagon a few times, but by the mercy and grace of God he never failed to rise up.  Mitchell was in one of the best places of his life at the time of his death.  He was active in his church and was in the process… Read more »
Debbie Page
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Debbie Page
Hi, my name is Debbie.  I am Mitchell’s baby sister.  I just wanted to thank each of you for sharing your fond memories of my big brother.  I was so proud of him when he admitted publicly that he was an alcoholic and checked himself into rehab.  Sure he may have fallen off the wagon a few times, but by the mercy and grace of God he never failed to rise up.  Mitchell was in one of the best places of his life at the time of his death.  He was active in his church and was in the process… Read more »
todd
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todd

mitchell was my favorite player.  after finley gutted the a’s, he was a shining star on a pretty bad team.  my wife was nice enough to let me name our youngest son mitchell after my fav player.

P.J.
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P.J.

I had fun watching Mitchell play ball. A more innocent time. He played for the love of the game. He will missed.

Glemon Silva
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Glemon Silva
Mitchell Page became a big star player during winter ball in Veenzuela. Not only was he a great player on the field, but off the field he knew how to treat baseball fans. Specially kids that became such big fans of his approach and enthusiasm. One time during a game at Minute Maid Park against the Cardinals in Houston, I had taken my children to the game. We were located very close to the Cardinals dugout. As we are taking our seats, I noticed Mitchell Page standing right there. I could not stop the excitement of seeing him again right… Read more »
Pam
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Pam

Debbie, I knew your Brother through AA. He was a wonderful man that spoke of his love of the Lord. He and I attended the same meeting. I found him to be a kind, gentle person. I recently hugged and congratulated him on a sobriety chip he had received. He was proud of his sobriety. I regret not getting to know him better. He always had a smile and a “hello” for me when I saw him. He will be missed.

Kevin Mc
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Kevin Mc

Mitchell Page was always one of my favorite players growing up, even though I was a NY Yankee fan. RIP Mitchell you will be missed.

Freda Stevens
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Freda Stevens

I grew up with Mitchell and his family, we go back as far as elementary school. Mitchell was a wonderful person and will definitely be missed. Mitchell was a kind, caring and giving individual. I have many fond memories of the good times shared with Mitchell and his family. Thank you for being in the Stevens family life.

jimmy sexton
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jimmy sexton

my friend and teammate it has been a long time since i last saw mitch we played at oakland together and with pittsburgh in the minor leagues and winter ball in the domincon mitch was always smiling and all the years we played together i never saw mitch drank was shocked to hear of his problems , i want to thank you mitch for being my friend was a joy to play so many games with you , and laugh and be young foolish boys at times , always remember you mitch jimmy sexton

Jim Grab
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I met Page in Florida. He owned a condo in the same unit we were in. I came out on the front walk one day and I heard this guy shout up to me “Hi.” We started walking towards each other and he put out his hand and said “‘m Michell Page” as we shook hands. As we talked he told me that he was the batting coach for the Nationals who had their training field in a good rock throw of the condo’s If I had been a great sports fan I would have known who he was at… Read more »
james
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james

didn’t know who the guy I was hanging out with until now,at the palm beach kennel club in west palm beach florida ,I was young,now 58 years old,i would handicap the races simulcast from southern and northern California horse races and he would take my advise and bet,often wondered what happened to him smoked yes dranked hmmm I didn’t see that in him,went on for at least 2 to 3 seasons

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