If 41-year-old Eric Gagne hopes to pitch in the big leagues again, he’ll have to go through the independent leagues first. As Chris Cotillo of SB Nation reported on Friday, the former Dodgers closer and 2003 NL Cy Young winner inked a deal with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League.
The Ducks are among the more well known independent teams and have been a landing spot for several notable players looking to make a comeback. Most recently, Dontrelle Willis pitched for them in 2013. But it’s hardly a guaranteed stepping stone back to the big leagues. Especially for a guy who hasn’t appeared in the big leagues since 2008.
Gagne reportedly started setting his sights on a full-scale comeback over the winter while preparing to pitch for Canada in the World Baseball Classic. Gagne impressed enough to make Canada’s roster, and then looked more than capable in his one WBC appearance, striking out two and walking one over 2 1/3 scoreless innings against Colombia.
He seemed to get the Dodgers attention again while throwing a bullpen session in preparation for the WBC. There were even rumors the Dodgers and at least two other teams were considering offering a minor-league deal following his WBC outing. That opportunity never came, but Gagne seems determined to give his comeback a real shot.
Gagne has remained active in baseball, but probably not enough to really help his cause. He helped to coach France’s national team during the 2013 WBC qualifiers. He also made one-time appearances in Canadian independent ball in both 2015 and 2016. But he hasn’t been close to being tested in several years. In fact, the last time Gagne appeared in more than one game during a season was 2009, and that was also independent ball in Canada.
The bottom line is Gagne is a long, long way removed from his prime. While he might be able to gear up for one or two outings here and there, now he’ll be forced to prove he can do it consistently and in a competitive environment.
It makes for a fun story anyway, and pitching for Long Island is about the best possible spot if he’s looking for attention. But he’ll be fighting an uphill battle for as long as his comeback lasts.
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