Dodgers can't let Gagne rush back from latest injury
Posted: Wednesday April 12, 2006 12:27PM; Updated: Wednesday April 12, 2006 5:44PM
From 2002 to '04, Eric Gagne pitched 82 1/3 innings per season, but in 2005 he managed only 13 1/3 innings and is on the DL to start this year.
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The downward spiral could hardly have started at a more optimistic moment. It was a picture-postcard scene that would never be the same again. How quickly the most genuine of hopes can become naive.
It was Feb. 24, 2005, the beginning of spring training for the defending National League West champion Los Angeles Dodgers. It began during a game of pepper, a throwback to baseball's days of purity and promise. And it humbled All-Star reliever Eric Gagne, the rock of the Dodgers franchise.
Barely 13 months ago (though it seems like a lifetime of doctor visits has passed since then), while playing that carefree game of pepper, Gagne's left spike stuck in the ground. His knee popped. Slightly, but perceptibly.
That's how innocuous it all was. Though the initial diagnosis of a mild sprain brought relief to the Dodgers faithful, it was the first tear in the fraying of Gagne's career. You don't have to be a Dodgers fan to wonder if that's really the way it should unravel for a team's best and most popular player. There's a cruelty to it, like bullying Bob Costas for his wallet and tearing up his prized 1958 Mickey Mantle.
What happened to Gagne and the Dodgers on that day was bad luck. What's happened since ... well, there has been some more bad luck. Where good fortune was expected, the Dodgers have had bad, and where bad fortune was called for, the Dodgers have had worse. With an unlucky 13,666 (sorry, 1,366) collective days on the disabled list in 2005, the Dodgers have been a black cat, walking under a ladder, smashing into a mirror.
But there has also been recklessness, or at least a few miscalculated gambles. If there's a lesson to be learned from the Dodgers and Gagne (who has begun the 2006 season the same way he began '05 -- on the disabled list) it's that you can't simply hope a turnover of personnel or a turn of the calendar will improve your luck. The law of averages won't help you if you keep committing the same crimes.
Every year, injuries will hit a certain percentage of previously healthy players and a higher percentage of the worn-and-torn. Unless your name is Earl, no amount of karma is going to change that. Despite this, the Dodgers entered this season with age or health questions at every single position in their starting lineup except catcher. There was no way the team was going to avoid digging deep into its bench and farm system to get through the season. As it happens, free-agent signees Kenny Lofton and Nomar Garciaparra didn't even make it through Opening Day before going on the disabled list.
In contrast, one area in which the Dodgers did emphasize health and youth during the offseason was in their bullpen, with the acquisitions of Danys Baez, Lance Carter and Tim Hamulack and the promotions of Hong-Chih Kuo (admittedly, with two Tommy John surgery skeletons in his closet) and Franquelis Osoria. But it was here that the Dodgers, as a team, committed a second crime of incaution -- or rather, perpetuated one from 2005.