He featured an electric, speedy fastball and a slow curveball that was able to keep hitters off-balance.
In 2003, he had one of the best seasons by a reliever in MLB history.
However, the hard throwing right-hander had a short-lived career.
You want to be as dominant as possible and you want to put some doubt in the hitters’ heads. That’s what I’m trying to do every single time I’m on the mound. -Eric Gagne pic.twitter.com/olh6wpjoCK
— Baseball Quotes (@BaseballQuotes1) February 2, 2018
What ever happened to Gagne, and why was his time in the league so short?
An Unknown Prospect
Gagne was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 30th round of the 1994 MLB Draft.
The Dodgers then signed him as a free agent the next season.
Gagne was forced to work his way through the minors without being touted as a well known prospect.
He also underwent Tommy John surgery in 1997 to repair a tear in his elbow.
This culminated to Gagne making his major league debut in 1999 as a starting pitcher.
He performed well in 1999, posting a 2.10 ERA in five starts.
However, his first two full seasons in the league were less than spectacular.
Serving primarily as a starting pitcher, Gagne posted ERAs of 5.15 and 4.75 in each year.
The next season, the Dodgers closer Jeff Shaw retired and opened the door for Gagne.
In honor of Eric Gagné's birthday:
If you went to Dodger Stadium and heard "Welcome to the Jungle" …
… you knew what time it was. pic.twitter.com/b9C1Fjd3iD
— Dodgers Archive (@DodgersArchive) January 7, 2021
Gagne Becomes The Premier Closer
When Gagne became a closer in 2002, he wasted no time in asserting his dominance.
In 2002, he had a 1.97 ERA with 52 saves.
This earned him an All-Star appearance and resulted in a fourth place Cy Young award finish.
He returned in 2003 with an even better season.
In 77 games, Gagne posted a minuscule 1.20 ERA with a league leading 55 saves.
He won the Cy Young award, becoming one of just nine relief pitchers to win the honor.
Today in 2003, Eric Gagne is named winner of the NL Cy Young Award. Gagne converted all 55 save opportunities that season and struck out 137 batters in 82.1 IP. It is the 9th Cy Young awarded to a Dodger pitcher and 2nd to a Dodger reliever along with Mike Marshall in 1974. pic.twitter.com/e6eQeqyvTg
— Dodger Cards (@dodgers_cards) November 13, 2020
In 2004, he would follow it up with yet another solid season in the back of the Dodgers’ bullpen, being elected to his third straight All-Star game.
However, this would be the peak for Gagne as injuries would begin limiting his time on the field.
He was only able to appear in 14 games during the 2005 season before undergoing Tommy John surgery.
After having the surgery, Gagne missed the rest of 2005 and much of 2006.
He made two appearances in 2006 but was shelved due to injury for the rest of the season.
During his final seasons in the league, Gagne would bounce around to different teams and never find the same level of success.
His struggles continued as he posted a 6.75 ERA with the Boston Red Sox in 2007 and a 5.44 ERA with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008.
Ultimately, a shoulder injury forced him off the Brewers in 2008, being the last time Gagne ever pitched in the MLB.
Gagne finished his career with a 3.47 ERA and 187 saves in a very abbreviated career.
Gagne Since Retirement
Since his final year of playing in the majors, Gagne has tried to make a comeback into baseball.
This happened multiple times in the years after his retirement until he finally retired in 2017.
— Long Island Ducks (@LIDucks) May 5, 2017
Following this, he served as a pitching coach for different minor league organizations including the Arizona League Rangers.
He has also since been heavily critiqued for his use of performance enhancing drugs during his career.
This came after he was named in the Mitchell Report as a user and later admitted to it in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
He also claimed that 80% of his Dodger teammates were using steroids as well.
While it was a short peak, Gagne’s career was truly a remarkable one.
He leaves behind a steroid-scarred legacy of having one of the best relief pitcher seasons amidst an era of heightened offense.