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Dodgers Welcome Eric Gagne Back To The Jungle

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Eric Gagne made a name for himself -- not to mention a great deal of money -- by closing out games for the Dodgers, often in dominant fashion.  Six seasons removed from getting one of the best three-year stretches by any reliever in history, the Dodgers are returning the favor, offering Gagne relief in the form of a minor league contract.  Gagne will make $500,000 if he makes the club, with $500,000 more incentives based on games pitched and games finished, per Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports.

Gagne, who saved 152 games from 2002 to 2004 with the Dodgers, including 84 straight and a Cy Young award in 2003, electrified Dodger Stadium.  Hearing Slash play the first few chords of "Welcome to the Jungle" as the left field bullpen gate opened was one of the coolest things going, as Dodger Stadium would rock with excitement.  Vin Scully, a man with six decades worth of experience watching baseball, would often laugh at how silly Gagne made batters look.  Gagne was that special.

This is not that Eric Gagne.

Anyone expecting Gagne, now 34 years old, to return to any kind of his former glory is sure to be left disappointed.  Even if Gagne makes the club -- a long shot with 31 other pitchers in big league camp (Ken Gurnick of MLB.com reports that Gagne has an out clause in his contract should he not make the club) -- he is no longer the dominant pitcher he once was.  I can't help but think of Orel Hershiser and Don Sutton, who returned to the Dodgers after years away, only to end their careers with a whimper.

However, Gagne isn't yet in his 40s, like Sutton and Hershiser were.  Perhaps he should look no further than the last two seasons, when ex-Dodgers Chan Ho Park and Jeff Weaver made a return to Los Angeles, and more importantly a return to good health as they found success with their old club.


From BGrobocop on YouTube

Gagne was released last season in spring training by Milwaukee, when according to Gurnick, Gagne had "a slight tear in his rotator cuff that he rehabbed without surgery." He made 17 starts for Quebec in something called the Can-Am League last season, putting up a 4.65 ERA and 1.383 WHIP.

If Gagne makes the Dodgers, he will be the seventh former Cy Young winner to come back to the team of his former glory.  Here is how the previous such pitchers have fared:

Pitcher Team CYA Year(s) Return Yr(s) Age IP W-L ERA+
Fergie Jenkins Cubs 1971 1982-83 39-40 384.2 20-24 103
Mike Flanagan Orioles 1979 1991-92 39-40 133.0 2-7 103
Orel Hershiser Dodgers 1988 2000 41 24.2 1-5 33
Tom Glavine Braves 1991, 1998 2008 42 63.1 2-4 76
Greg Maddux Cubs 1992 2004-06 38-40 574.0 38-37 104
Randy Johnson     D-Backs 1999-2002 2007-08 43-44 240.2 15-13 120

Much like the multitudes of non-roster players invited by the Dodgers to spring training, health is a big factor.  Might Gagne, who came up through the Dodger system as a starting pitcher, be suited for a role as swing man, grabbing the baton from Park and Weaver? It's very unlikely, but it sure will be fun to root for Gagne give it a try.