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Every once in awhile, you run into an odd situation that makes you sure someone is wielding dark secrets against someone else in order to gain an advantage.

Take Keanu Reeves’ success as an “actor” as an example.

Or the popularity of the Teletubbies.

Or, for goodness sake, that time Julia Roberts married Lyle Lovett.

Closer to home, in our little cardboard world, you need look no further than the curious case of Wayne Cage to know that there were once clandestine forces guiding our fortunes.

Here, in case you’ve forgotten …

The Cleveland Indians selected Wayne Cage in the third round of the 1971 amateur draft out of Ruston High School in Ruston, Louisiana. He was a big, imposing kid with power potential and decent speed and seemed like a fair bet in that slot.

Cleveland sent Cage to the Rookie League CGL Indians, and he stayed there throughout 1971 and part of 1972, moving up to the Single-A  Reno Silver Sox later that second year.

In 1973, Cage broke out with 18 home runs for the Single-A Key West Conchs, and it looked like he was ready to climb the organizational ladder in earnest.

He was, but it was a slow ride.

1978 Topps Wayne Cage

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Cage spent 1974 split between Single-A and Double-A, then repeated those engagements in 1975.

The Bicentennial summer of 1976 brought a full season with the Double-A Williamsport Tomahawks, and then Cage spent all of 1977 with the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens.

He hit .301 with 13 home runs and 77 RBI for the Mud Hens that season, and it seemed like his time in the Majors was finally near.

That November, Cage turned 26 years old.

Apparently, the former numbers carried more weight for Topps than the latter as they decided to include Cage on a “ROOKIE 1ST BASEMEN” card (#178) along with Ted Cox, Pat Putnam, and Dave Revering in their 1978 set.

Cleveland did, indeed, give Cage his shot in 1978, and he made his Major League debut on April 22 of that year.

The “youngster” did OK in 36 games split between first base, designated hitter, and pinch-hitting duties. While he batted just .245, he did manage to hit four bombs in the course of 108 plate appearances.

Alas, that wasn’t good enough for a sixth-place team clawing their way to a 69-90 record, and Cleveland shipped Cage back to the farm, where he spent most of the season (77 games with the Portland Beavers).

1979 Topps Wayne Cage

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It was all good enough for Topps, though, and they graced collectors with an expressionless closeup of Cage in their 1979 set (card #150).

You can almost imagine the conversation, can’t you? After he stumbled into some secret laboratory at Topps headquarters during an Indians visit to Yankee Stadium?

“No, Wayne, there’s no need to call the New York Times. There is nothing — nothing — unusual about our gum. How about we give you a nice head shot in next year’s set?”

Cage wasn’t exactly thrilled — evidently– but he took the deal.

The next season, 1979, brought one more shot at the Indians. In 29 games with the Big Club, Cage managed just 61 plate appearances, hitting.232 with one home run. Most of the year (86 games) was spent with the Triple-A Tacoma Tugs.

Now, apparently, Topps was really hurting for bodies to fill their 726-card 1980 set or Cage had something really big on them, because they slotted him in card #208 for the new year. All in all, that 1980 card was probably Cage’s best, as it captured him in a fielding pose with a big smile on his face, blue sky brightening the whole thing to very un-Cleveland-esque levels.

Cage’s niche as a do-little-but-land-cardboard Major Leaguer was working out just fine for him, it seemed.

In 1980, though, the Indians never came calling at all. Instead, Cage spent the entire season with the Tugs.

1980 Topps Wayne Cage

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That, and perhaps the looming competition from Fleer and Donruss, was enough for Topps to finally drop Cage from its team, too.

Then, in March of 1981, the Indians cut ties with Cage after a decade-long courtship, sending him to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Rod Craig.

A week later, the Hankyu Braves of the Japan Pacific league bought Cage from the Mariners. He spent a couple of very powerful seasons — 31 homers in each — in Japan and then came back to North America to finish his career in the Mexican League from 1983-1984.

Cage never made it back to the Major Leagues, and he never made it into another major baseball card set. But for his troubles of appearing in 65 Big League games, Wayne Cage landed three Topps baseball cards, something lots of guys with more accomplished records were never able to do.

So, what was the big secret that Cage held over Topps’ collective heads four decades ago?

Maybe it did have to do with their gum.

Or maybe Sy Berger told him, in a moment of weakness, about the 1952 Topps ocean dump.

Or, perhaps, Oscar Gamble told him about the supernatural static that Topps summoned to effect that glorious 1976 Traded card of Oscar’s.

Or …

Well, maybe it was all just a consequence of timing and a weak Cleveland Indians team that nonetheless needed some wax-wrapped representation.

Whatever the case, Wayne Cage managed to gain cardboard immortality even when diamond glory eluded him.

May we all follow his lead and make the most of our own opportunities.

(Check out our other player card posts here.)

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