Gagne to give all, acknowledges 'regret'
Reliever admits to HGH use, plans to work hard in camp
PHOENIX -- Eric Gagne is back in blue, with the familiar No. 38 jersey, and he's apparently trying to come back to a clean slate.
Re-signed Friday -- after a three-year odyssey through Texas, Boston, Milwaukee and even independent ball in his Canadian homeland -- Gagne said he felt like he was back home when he walked into the clubhouse at Camelback Ranch-Glendale, even though his Dodgers' Spring Trainings were always held at Dodgertown in Florida.
Gagne, 34, is slimmer than when he left, saying his current weight of 231 pounds is only about seven pounds lighter than his playing weight with the Dodgers. He said he keeps the weight down to take pressure off his back, having had two disks removed in 2006.
Of course, there will always be the suspicions that Gagne's obvious weight loss is a telltale sign of something else. For along with the record 84 consecutive saves and a Cy Young Award came the distasteful revelation of performance enhancing drug use through the Mitchell Report.
Gagne didn't detail what he did back then when meeting with reporters Saturday, but he didn't deny it either.
"It is what it is and you've got to accept it," Gagne said. "I've got a lot of regrets and everything, but I have to keep going and just enjoy baseball. Get back to the basics and do what I love, play baseball.
"The whole time I was here was unbelievable. There's a lot of regrets. The Mitchell Report will always be negative, will always be on my resume the rest of my life. People will second guess what I did if I have a good year. That's normal. But for me it's over. I've got to go on."
Gagne opened up more about his past performance-enhancing drug use in an article published Sunday in the Los Angeles Times, during which he admitted to using human growth hormones during "part" of his first tenure with the Dodgers from 1999-06.
"I did [use HGH]," Gagne said. "I hate to talk about it. It just doesn't do anyone any good. But I thought it would help me get better when I hurt my knee. I just don't want that to sound as an excuse.
"I'm so ashamed. It wasn't smart. If I knew what I know now. ... I didn't need it. I regret it so much, just now maybe getting over the guilt. It was stupid."
Gagne was not sure his HGH use ultimately resulted in the numerous injuries that forced him out of the big leagues last year.
"I don't know how it reacts on your body like that," he told the Times, "but from what I've heard, it doesn't help."
Regardless of the circumstances, Gagne was special. Nobody else has come close to that record. He was adored by Dodgers fans and respected by teammates.
"I still don't believe it," he said of his three All-Star seasons with the Dodgers. "I pinch myself how crazy it was. I'm not trying to relive that. It's impossible. All I want is to get back to the big leagues and help this team win a championship. I want to be part of a celebration on the field with champagne. It's what I miss."
When it really was "Game Over" for Gagne in Los Angeles, it was not pleasant. He pitched two innings in an injury-filled 2006, watching from the sidelines as the Dodgers were swept by the Mets in a playoffs that were marred by Joe Beimel's hand injury suffered in a tavern accident.
"That was the worst," Gagne said of being sidelined. "People don't understand unless you go through it. You're paid all that money [$10 million that season] and you want to perform and you can't. Your body won't allow it."
Gagne said his body is ready again to perform.
"I know I've got something left, but I've got to prove myself," he said. "I've got a mountain to climb and I want to do it. I've put myself in a position to succeed. I'm in the best shape of my life mentally and physically."
He did that by pitching last season for the Quebec Capitales of the independent Can-Am League, first having rehabbed a slight tear of the rotator cuff that prompted his Spring release by Milwaukee. Instead of closing, Gagne was a starter in what he called a "controlled environment," throwing every five days without the abuse that relievers take in general, and he took in particular when at his peak, leading to two elbow operations, the back surgery and shoulder problems.
In 17 starts, Gagne went 6-6 with a 4.65 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 102 2/3 innings. He originally was a starter for the Dodgers before moving to the bullpen in 2002.
"Basically," he said of his Can-Am experience, "it was a beer league. Go out, have fun. That's hard to do when you are trying to compete and you're hurting."
Gagne said it won't be easy to make this club, and not just because his fastball is a lot closer to 90 mph than the 100 mph he used to touch. He knows the Dodgers have plenty of relievers and few positions available. He said he wants to play another three or four years, but concedes this is likely his last chance.
But he said he would consider going to Triple-A if he doesn't make the club out of Spring Training, even though his contract ($500,000 guaranteed, $500,000 incentives) includes an out clause.
"I was in the Can-Am League. Triple-A would be like the big leagues," Gagne said. "I talked to Ned [Colletti, Dodgers general manager] -- a good talk. He was really straightforward. I know all the spots that might be open, or not."
He said he'd like to play "three or four years, but I'll start with one day." He was never known to care much for Spring Training or to take it very seriously, usually limiting his game appearances to the minimum. But he said he's three or four weeks ahead of previous years in his training.
"That's what happens when you have to win a job," he said.
As for his return to the Dodgers? It's been a dream, years in the making.
"I've pictured this for five years, or ever since I left," Gagne said, who left Los Angeles after the 2006 season and apparently wrote off his two injured seasons with the Dodgers. "For me, it's like going back home. I never wanted to leave.
"I know everybody here. It's a comfortable environment. I played with these guys when they were kids and now they've come into their own. I felt this was the right time and the right place to be and I look forward to the challenge. When you come up a Dodger, they breed you to be a Dodger. My daughter's name is Bluu."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.