- Tony Jackson, ESPNLosAngeles.com
- 0 Shares
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- On the day when he wore Dodgers apparel for the first time in four years, Eric Gagne didn't duck questions about his having been named in baseball's Mitchell report on performance-enhancing drug use. And while he didn't go into detail about exactly what he used and when, he did admit his legacy as the greatest closer in Dodgers history has been somewhat tarnished and his life irreversibly changed.
"It changed it a lot for a couple of years,'' Gagne said. "But now, you come to grips, where you know what, it is what it is. You have to accept it and just go on. You have to keep going and enjoy baseball, get people out and get back to basics.
"There are a lot of regrets.''
Even as he waxed nostalgic about his record run of 84 consecutive saves over a three-year period and Cy Young Award winning season of 2003, when he converted all 55 of his save opportunities, Gagne acknowledged those numbers have been called into question. He also conceded if he had it to do over again, he wouldn't have done the things that caused him to show up on the Mitchell report, even if it meant missing out on the euphoria he experienced during those seasons with the Dodgers.
"The whole time I was here, it was an unbelievable time,'' Gagne said. "The Mitchell report and everything is negative. I have said it 150 times, [that] it's always going to be on my resume for the rest of my life. People will second-guess everything I do, and if I have a good year, they will all second-guess. That is normal. I'm not expecting anything else. But for me, it's over. I have to go on. I can talk about it every day, but it doesn't matter. I still have to go out and pitch and perform.''
A dramatically slimmer Gagne reported to spring training with the Dodgers on Saturday as a non-roster player after signing a minor league contract with the club earlier this week. More than three years after he left as a free agent following his injury-plagued final two seasons with the Dodgers, in which he made a grand total of 16 appearances, he is now in the odd position of trying to earn a spot on an Opening Day roster that probably won't have more than two openings in the bullpen.
His contract contains an escape clause in the event he doesn't make the club, but Gagne didn't completely rule out the possibility of pitching in the minors.
"It just depends on where I'm at,'' Gagne said. "I have talked to [Dodgers general manager] Ned [Colletti]. We had a good talk, and it was very straightforward. I know all the guys they have in camp, all the guys in the bullpen, and I know spots might be open or not. I was in the Can-Am League [last year]. Triple-A will be like the big leagues. Everything is easy after that.''
After continuing to battle injuries while pitching for Texas, Boston and Milwaukee in 2007 and 2008, Gagne spent last season with the Quebec Capitales and described the Can-Am League as being akin to "a beer league.''
The important thing was he was finally healthy.
"It was good last year to experiment with stuff,'' Gagne said. "Can I throw 80 percent right here ... instead of throwing 100-percent, all-out effort? That was something I had always done. I learned how to control my emotions on the mound and how hard I throw. I'll probably be the same pitcher with the same stuff, but I don't need to throw as hard. I don't need to throw 95 or 96 [mph].
"It was fun. The main thing was that I had fun playing baseball again. When you get hurt, all you have to think about is getting back on the field and throw and throw and throw. That wasn't fun anymore.''
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
18hMike Fish and David Purdum