Gagne apologizes for 'distraction'

Gagne apologizes for 'distraction'

PHOENIX -- Brewers closer Eric Gagne made his first comments on Monday since his name appeared in the Mitchell Report, apologizing to teammates for the distraction but saying little about the contents of the Report or about performance-enhancing drugs.

Speaking without a script behind the clubhouse at Maryvale Baseball Park, Gagne made two statements that lasted about 60 seconds each, first in English and then in French for Canadian television crews. He never mentioned the Mitchell Report in his comments in English, though he did reference it in French, and he did not answer any questions on the issue.

"I'm here to let you guys know that I feel bad for my family, what they had to go through, and all my friends and especially my teammates here in Milwaukee," Gagne said in English. "I think that's just a distraction that shouldn't be taking place. I'm just here to help the Milwaukee Brewers get to the World Series and get to the playoffs, and that's all I really care about.

"Since 2004, Major League Baseball has done everything in their power to clean up the game, and I think they've done a great job. Right now, I just want to go forward. Major League Baseball is ready to go forward, and hopefully all the fans are ready to do that.

"Right now, I'm just looking forward to pitching for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008, to do good, have fun and enjoy the game. It's sad, everything that happened, and I think right now we're looking forward to playing baseball in '08."

Before his comments, Gagne made it clear that he would not go into further detail. More revealing comments could lead to legal ramifications, since the Canadian-born Gagne is in the U.S. on a year-to-year work visa.

Major League Commissioner Bud Selig was in Madison, Wis., on Monday and told The Associated Press that he is still reviewing cases in the Mitchell Report. The Brewers do not know whether to expect the league to levy punishment against Gagne, said assistant general manager Gord Ash.

"We have not received any guidance from Major League Baseball on the matter," Ash said.

The Brewers and Gagne agreed to terms on a $10 million, one-year contract on Dec. 10, three days before former Sen. George Mitchell released his Report on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. According to the Report, Gagne received two shipments of human growth hormone in 2004 -- when he pitched for the Dodgers -- from former Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski. Then-Dodgers teammate Paul Lo Duca acted as an intermediary, according to the Report.

Over the weekend, Lo Duca issued a written statement in which he apologized for "mistakes in judgment."

After Gagne made his statement, he thanked reporters and walked with Brewers media relations director Mike Vassallo back into the clubhouse, where he addressed the team before its first formal workout of Spring Training.

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"I am more than satisfied," Brewers manager Ned Yost said when asked about Gagne's closed-door comments. "It's a done, dead issue, as far as I'm concerned."

Brewers GM Doug Melvin believes that Brewers fans will back Gagne.

"I think if he's performing well, they will," Melvin said. "I haven't heard much about it on my winter caravan stops around [Wisconsin]. I don't get many questions about Eric or the Mitchell Report. I get more questions about the depth of our starting pitching than about steroids. There were some towns where I didn't get any questions at all about the Mitchell Report.

"I think a lot of people know that there is a drug program now that wasn't in place before, and so they are moving forward. There is always going to be talk and speculation."

Derrick Turnbow, who was briefly anointed the closer before the Brewers inked Gagne, knows the feeling. Turnbow was the first Major Leaguer cited for performance-enhancing drugs, when in 2003, while in a training camp for the U.S. Olympic team, he tested positive for a substance related to androstenedione that was banned under international rules but not by Major League Baseball. Turnbow acknowledged taking an over-the-counter nutritional supplement that he said led to the positive test. He was surprised to be named in the Mitchell Report for that past incident, and on Monday expressed support for Gagne.

"We don't look at any teammates differently than any others," Turnbow said. "He will work hard and do his job, just like we do, and it's something he has to deal with on his own.

"He should be good for us. He has a great track record, and if he pitches well, he'll help the team a lot. It's tough to lose a guy like Coco [Francisco Cordero], but Gagne definitely has the track record."

After the team's workout, a different Gagne appeared. He met with a smaller group of scribes in the clubhouse, leaning up against his locker while wearing a backwards Brewers camp and answering "baseball only" questions.

There was plenty to talk about. Gagne was the game's best closer from 2002-04, converting 152 of 158 save opportunities, including a record 84 straight. He made three All-Star teams and won the 2003 National League Cy Young Award.

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But since the end of 2004, he has undergone three surgeries and has been dogged by elbow and back injuries. Gagne inked a one-year contract with the Rangers for 2007 and pitched well, compiling 16 saves and a 2.16 ERA. Then came a midseason trade to the Red Sox, and a new role working the innings in front of Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon.

Gagne didn't take to the change. He said he was actually throwing with more velocity, but a 6.75 ERA with Boston didn't show it. The Red Sox, though, won the World Series.

"It doesn't matter how hard it was over there," Gagne said. "It was really stressful. If I had to do it over again, I would do it over again in a heartbeat. ... When I was in there, it was hard because you are searching for, 'What is the answer? Why am I not pitching like I was pitching two weeks ago?' And I think it was a little bit of trying to impress everybody, trying to do too much, and I got out of my routine a little bit. I don't know if the role had anything to do with it, but I really wanted to be a closer this year."

Yost spoke with Red Sox manager Terry Francona over the winter, and came to the conclusion that Gagne's second-half woes were, in fact, tied to his new setup role. Closers thrive on repetition and routine, Yost believes, and Gagne should have success back in that role with the Brewers. Gagne said he only considered suitors who were offering the chance to close.

At the end of the day, he also spoke vaguely about the Mitchell Report. Gagne was asked to characterize the mood of his offseason.

"It was stressful. Real stressful," he said. "It was hard, but now it's back to baseball. That's what I'm happy about. Back on the field, just to get with the guys and talk baseball and the way I approach hitters and stuff like that. That's really what I'm all about. That's what I like about baseball."

How did he keep such a low profile?

"Just change your phone number," Gagne joked. "Pretty simple. Change your phone number and don't talk to anybody. I've got four kids, so that's easy."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.