Gagne's perfect season nets Cy Young

Updated: November 14, 2003, 10:30 AM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Eric Gagne of the Los Angeles Dodgers became the first relief pitcher in 11 years to win a Cy Young Award, easily beating San Francisco's Jason Schmidt for the National League honor.

Dodgers closer Eric Gagne is a worthy Cy Young award-winner. He was so dominant this season -- his numbers were absolutely mind-boggling.

My goodness, he had 100 more strikeouts (137) than hits allowed (37) in 82.1 innings pitched (an average of 1.7 strikeouts per inning). He didn't blow a save all year ... except for the All-Star Game! We might never see another season like this from a closer.

I'm of the mindset that, all things being equal, a starter should get the Cy Young award. But this is the classic example of their being an exception to the rule, because there's no question that Gagne deserves the award this year.

I'd like to make a suggestion to MLB for the future, though: let's establish a new award for setup men. Baseball has changed since the days when the Cy Young was established. The setup role has become such an important part of today's game, so let's recognize the top setup guys in each league with their own hardware.

In fact, to eliminate the debate over whether a closer or starter should win the Cy Young, MLB could give separate pitching awards to the top starter, closer and setup guy in each league. Then, voters could choose the Cy Young from those three award-winners.

For awards in general, the commissioner's office needs to identify the criteria involved for each one (and clarify the eligibility issues, such as for rookie of year). I'd like to see a clearer definition so all voters have the same criteria in mind in reaching a decision.

Gagne, who converted all 55 of his save opportunities, received 28 of 32 first-place votes and 146 points in balloting released Thursday by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

It was just the ninth time a reliever won a Cy Young, the first in the NL since San Diego's Mark Davis in 1989.

"We haven't seen a lot of relievers win that award, so I was a little worried," Gagne said during a telephone conference call.

Schmidt was second with two first-place votes and 73 points. Chicago's Mark Prior got the other first-place votes and was third with 60 points.

Gagne, a 27-year-old right-hander, was 2-3 with a 1.20 ERA and had 137 strikeouts and 20 walks in 82 1/3 innings.

He was converted from a starter to a reliever after the 2001 season and had 52 saves in 2002.

"I knew I had the mental attitude to be a closer, it was just a matter of doing it in the major leagues," Gagne said.

"As a starter, you have to be more relaxed, you have to control your emotions more."

He is the only pitcher to reach 50 saves in more than one season and has converted 62 consecutive save chances dating to 2002, a major-league record.

"I don't really care about the streak," said Gagne, the first reliever to win a Cy Young since Oakland's Dennis Eckersley won the AL award in 1992.

He is just the second Canadian to win a Cy Young, following Ferguson Jenkins of the Cubs in 1971.

Gagne failed to hold a lead just once this season -- he allowed a two-run, go-ahead homer to Hank Blalock of Texas in the eighth inning of the All-Star game.

"For me, the All-Star game doesn't count," Gagne said.

Because he was 18 days shy of being eligible for arbitration and his contract was automatically renewed by the Dodgers in March, Gagne doesn't get a bonus added to his $550,000 salary.

He figures to earn $3.5 million or more next season.

"I'm not bitter. That's the business side of it. There's no hard feeling," Gagne said. "Now, it's going to be a different story."

NL Cy Young Award Voting
Player 1st 2nd 3rd Total
Gagne, L.A. 28 2   146
Schmidt, S.F. 2 17 12 73
Prior, Chi. 2 11 17 60
Ortiz, Atl.   2 3 9

Schmidt, 17-5 with a league-leading 2.34 ERA, gets $75,000 for finishing second.

Prior, 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA, gets $100,000 for winding up third.

Prior, who is getting married Saturday, thought Gagne deserved to win.

"To do what he did and to not blow a save, especially in the situations he was put in, one-run games a lot of times, and to rattle off 50-some odd straight saves, is unbelievable,'' he said.

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press