It’s been almost a decade since Eric Gagne took the field in an MLB game, but his participation in Dodgers spring training and the upcoming World Baseball Classic has him thinking about a return.
Eric Gagne hasn’t pitched in a major league game since 2008, but the former All-Star closer and 2003 Cy Young Award winner is reportedly considering making a comeback. According to MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick, the right-hander has been thinking about returning to the field at age 41.
Gagne’s re-engagement with baseball isn’t coming completely out of the blue. He’s currently serving as a guest instructor at Dodgers spring training and will be playing for Team Canada during next month’s World Baseball Classic. Per Gurnick, he has already thrown bullpen sessions for the Diamondbacks and Padres and is planning to continue throwing alongside his other duties.
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While Mariano Rivera is widely acknowledged as the greatest closer of all-time for his consistent reliability over his 19-year career, there was a brief span in which even he was overshadowed by Gagne. From 2002 to 2004, Gagne was virtually indomitable at the back-end of the Dodgers bullpen, racking up a league-high 152 saves while blowing only six chances. He converted a staggering 84 consecutive save opportunities from August 28, 2002, to July 3, 2004. That stands as an MLB record, and one that’s difficult to imagine being broken anytime soon.
Gagne flamed out as quickly as he burst into stardom, however. He would collect only 35 more saves over the next four seasons as he bounced around between the Dodgers, Rangers, Red Sox and Brewers. He posted a 4.28 ERA over that period, compared to the 1.79 mark he mustered during his incredible ’02-’04 run. A barrage of injuries, necessitating multiple elbow and back surgeries, cut his career short after the 2008 campaign at the age of 32.
2007’s Mitchell Report on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball also notably included Gagne’s name. He has since admitted to using human growth hormone (HGH), although he claims it was to help him heal from a knee injury. Either way, it tarnished Gagne’s image and put his impressive career accomplishments into doubt.
It appears he now wants a fresh start and a new chapter. Gagne believes his past health woes are behind him, saying, “I feel great. It’s almost scary.” The righty reports that his fastball has eclipsed the 90-mph mark and he is also regaining confidence in his once-baffling changeup, according to Gurnick.
That’s all well and good, but Eric Gagne getting back into a big league game after nearly a decade away still feels like a serious long-shot. There are a few players in their 40s still having success, but it’s uncertain how the extended lay-off would affect Gagne. Would he benefit from not having all the extra mileage a pitcher his age would typically possess, or have the injuries simply taken their toll? Would it quickly become clear that the game has just passed him by?
Some of those answers might makes themselves known at the World Baseball Classic. If Gagne turns in a solid showing there, it’s possible a team takes a flyer on him with a minor league deal. Color me skeptical, but this would be one of the more intriguing comeback cases to watch if it moves forward.