Eric Gagne’s admitted steroid use and Cy Young season earn him the closer’s role for the All-Steroids team.
In 2003, Mark Prior (18 wins, 2.43 ERA, 211 IP, 245 strikeouts) and Jason Schmidt (17/2.34/207/208) put up remarkably similar, Cy Young–caliber lines. Far and away the best starting pitchers in the National League that year, it was a shame only one of them could take home the famous award.
Despite the Cubs and Giants both winning their divisions, which usually boosts a pitcher’s Cy Young credentials, neither earned the hardware. As it happened, the 2003 Cy Young award went to a reliever, one whose team didn’t make the playoffs, one who had pitched less than half the innings of either starter, and whose paltry 4.3 WAR stood far below that of both Prior (5.9) and Schmidt (6.2).
Four years later, that reliever’s name appeared in the infamous Mitchell Report as an HGH user.
Eric Gagne broke in with the Dodgers as a starter in 1999. The young pitcher already had a checkered medical history, missing the entire 1997 minor league season for Tommy John surgery. His first three seasons in the majors were unremarkable. He went 11-14 with a 4.61 ERA, while struggling to stay healthy (just 101/151 IP in 2000–2001 after his 30-inning cup of coffee in ’99). To all observers, it seemed Eric Gagne lacked the durability to pitch in the major leagues.
But this was the Steroid Era; injury-plagued pitchers had alternative methods of prolonging their careers.
In 2002, Eric Gagne entered camp a different pitcher. Boasting a fastball that touched 100 mph, he took over the closer’s job and set about torching the NL in the ninth inning for three historic years. From 2002 to 2004, Gagne saved 152 games for Los Angeles, including a stretch where he converted a record 84 consecutive save chances.
Gagne, however, showed up a bit late to the HGH party. In 2005, the league banned the substance and began requiring all players submit to drug tests. The reliever immediately fell victim to myriad injuries, pitching only 13 innings before requiring the second Tommy John surgery of his career.
The following year, Gagne only managed two appearances for the Dodgers before again requiring season-ending surgery, this time on his back. After this second lost season, Los Angeles cut its losses and declined Gagne’s option, making him a free agent. The reliever played two more seasons split between Texas, Boston, and Milwaukee.
For the rest of his short career, Gagne’s HGH-filled past would haunt him. When looking into a possible trade with the Rangers to acquire the reliever, Boston GM Theo Epstein expressed reservations about Gagne’s durability, writing in an email to his scout Marc DelPiano “I know the Dodgers think he was a steroid guy. Maybe so. What do you hear on his medical?” DelPiano confirmed Gagne’s steroid use, expressing concern about the pitcher’s ability to stay healthy “without steroid help.” In the end, Epstein went for it, and the Red Sox did win the World Series with Gagne that year, despite the now HGH-free reliever being nothing but a liability for the stretch run and into the playoffs.
To his credit, Gagne came clean about his HGH use after his career completed its downward spiral. In a February 2010 interview with T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times, he admitted to using without offering up any flimsy excuses or hollow apologies for his behavior. He knows his place in history, how tainted his legacy has become. Gagne exhibited genuine remorse for his actions, telling the Times, “I will have to live with the mistake that I made for the rest of my life.”
The closer made a futile comeback attempt in 2009, playing for an independent league in his native Quebec to build up arm strength for a shot at the majors the following year. When his return to the game ended disastrously before the 2010 season even started (he was released in spring training), he took the last career option he had: closer for our All-Steroids team. It may be a far cry from the big leagues, but as he told Simers in the Times interview, “The only thing I know is baseball, and I just love it.”
More From the All-Steroids Team:
- C: Todd Hundley
- 1B: Phil Nevin
- 2B: Bret Boone
- SS: Rich Aurilia
- 3B: Ken Caminiti
- OF: Gary Matthews Jr.
- OF: Brady Anderson
- OF: Jay Gibbons
- UTIL: Jay Bell
- DH: David Ortiz
- SP: Edinson Volquez
- MRP: Brendan Donnelly
- SU: John Rocker
—Photo Gene J. Puskar/AP