When Eric Gagne said he was considering a comeback attempt, no one thought it would happen. Turns out that Gagne may prove to be right after all.
One of the best closers of his time is in the middle of a comeback attempt that shouldn’t be possible. Somehow, though, Eric Gagne is making a return more and more probable, especially after his performance in the World Baseball Classic.
Gagne, who hasn’t pitched in the Majors since 2008, pitched for Team Canada in the 2017 World Baseball Classic against Colombia. In his outing, he pitched 2.1 innings, struck out two and gave up one hit. His fastball hit 93 miles per hour at the beginning of his appearance, but slowed down as he went along. That is still quite impressive for the 41-year-old who hasn’t played in the Majors in almost a decade. Even more impressive was his effectiveness over a 2.1 inning span, which is longer than his usual outing was at the height of his career.
While many thought Gagne’s comeback was impossible, he has made strides to at least get looks. He knows what it takes to pitch effectively in the Majors, and that could be an advantage if he signs a minor league deal. His resume could intrigue teams, as well. He is a former All Star and even won the National League Cy Young Award in 2003. Not to mention his 84 consecutive saves, a Major League record. Before 2007, he converted 161 of 168 saves in his career.
Gagne’s career started going south after elbow and back problems limited his playing time and ability. Gagne never recovered his form after his Tommy John surgery in 2005. After leaving Los Angeles, Gagne spent some time with Texas, Boston and Milwaukee. He signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers in 2010, but was released and never made another big league appearance.
It has been done before.
While a comeback is improbable, it wouldn’t be the first time a former All Star pitcher recovered from elbow injuries to make a comeback. In 2001, former Reds All Star pitcher Jose Rijo successfully came back after not pitching in the majors since 1995. He was the first MLB player to play a game after receiving a Hall of Fame vote since Minnie Minoso. He would spend two seasons in Cincinnati after making his comeback, posting a 5-4 record with 50 strikeouts in 94 innings pitched over 44 appearances.
While he never truly returned to form, Rijo was still able to squeeze out two more seasons and be a productive member of a major league squad. Times are different now, however. Gagne will be trying to make a comeback during an era where a youth movement has occurred. He will be going up against players nearly two decades younger than him. Also, Gagne will have been out of Major League Baseball for eight full seasons while Rijo was only out for five.
Any way you look at it, this comeback is improbable at best. He may get some looks from scouts, but he would require time in the minors before being able to take on big league hitters. Baseball is full of surprises, though. As Yogi Berra said, it ain’t over ’til its over. Gagne isn’t about to give up on his chances, which is the sign of his love for the game. If he makes it, it would be a great story. For now, it seems just a bit less improbable.