'Manager' Gagne back in Dodgers camp
Former All-Star closer is working on new niche with Team France
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- On any given day at Camelback Ranch, you never know how many former Cy Young Award winners you'll find.
On Wednesday, before Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke threw bullpen sessions or Orel Hershiser took the microphone, 1993 American League Cy Young Award winner Jack McDowell (now a Minor League manager) pitched batting practice to Dodgers prospects in preparation for their game with the French National Team, which is managed by 2003 National League Cy Young Award winner Eric Gagne.
That's right, manager Eric Gagne.
Now 38 and living in North Scottsdale, the Quebec native and popular Dodgers closer is getting serious about resuming his career in baseball. He was pitching coach for the team in the World Baseball Classic last year and now is literally calling the shots as manager.
"I call all the pitches," he said. "It's my job to teach them to play the game right. I love it."
The team is in Arizona to face higher competition with a June qualifier in Prague for the Europe Cup. That led Gagne to reunite with the Dodgers one more time.
"I called DeJon [Watson, VP of Minor Leagues] and Ned [Colletti, general manager] and they said yes right away when I asked if we could play here," said Gagne. "That was really cool. It's a dream come true for the kids, and for me. They've never seen a field like this. They're trying not to pinch themselves. And it's a great experience for me, compared to the last time I was here."
The last time literally was the last time. Gagne, the "Game Over" record holder of 84 consecutive saves, signed back with the Dodgers in 2010 as a non-roster invitee.
But his body showed the effects of two elbow operations, back surgery and shoulder problems. He had just made a three-year odyssey through Texas, Boston, Milwaukee and even independent ball in his Canadian homeland. And there was the stain of admitted performance-enhancing drug use.
A month after his signing, the Dodgers reassigned him to the Minor League complex. He instead asked for his release and went home.
Gagne said he was pleased that the past didn't stop the Dodgers from helping him in the present.
"I was really happy when they said I could come back with the [French] team," he said. "A lot of things that happened, I don't really understand. Of course, you always worry about everything, about how people feel. People say they don't care what other people think. It's not true. I'm just glad they welcomed me back."
Gagne said he would be glad to be welcomed back in a coaching role. It could be as a guest, which the Dodgers have done for Shawn Green, Eric Karros, Rick Rhoden and others, or something more substantial.
"Things change, but from the outside looking in, it seems like they're trying to get back to the old Dodger ways, and that's really comforting to see," he said after being greeted by Watson and Tommy Lasorda.
"Through coaching, I've learned I really do have that passion for the game back -- to the point where I still throw bullpens," Gagne said. "It's good to throw again, but I also do it to demonstrate to the kids what I want them to do in a controlled environment. I can't come back and compete. But I can use the visuals for them.
"I remember watching Orel pitch. I remember watching Pedro [Martinez] throw the changeup in Montreal. I want the kids to watch me to learn and see what I'm trying to tell them. Sometimes coaches don't relate. It's one thing to tell them and another thing to show them and make them understand visually. Good coaches adapt to every personality."
While home, Gagne drives the carpools, travels the continent with his 10-year-old for hockey competitions and, when the French team calls, lends the expertise he soaked in during a 10-year career that, at its height, made him a legend in Los Angeles.
"These guys work hard and want to get better," Gagne said of Team France. "They see higher levels of competition and want to improve. This is like a dream for them, coming here. They have a lot to learn and I have a lot to teach. But I was wondering if I could teach. I didn't know if I could be a good coach.
"Now I'm open to making this my career. It sounds kind of dumb, but it's one thing to pitch and another thing to teach. I have to find a way to explain the stuff to the kids and make them understand. You learn to be patient. They're learning, and I'm still learning.
"A lot of these guys have real jobs. Our second baseman, Lou Piquet, owns a bar and has to take two weeks off to play. Some work with the association, giving clinics, so they're sort of self-sufficient. They all play for the love of the game. They don't even have ESPN Europe anymore, so they can't watch any baseball. But I looked around the other day and about 10 of them were wearing Dodgers caps. I don't know if it's because of me or just because the Dodgers are so international, but it was cool to see it."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.