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Sox scout almost quit after giving up on Gagne

MLB.com @scottmerkin

CHICAGO -- The White Sox 1994 Draft book shows the following on Eric Gagne: "Liked his fastball projection. Solid mechanics with loose wrist. Raw 18-year-old from Quebec with erratic velocity ranging from 81 to 87 mph. Projected in the 10th round."

That analysis came from John Tumminia, a scout of 32 years with the White Sox who will be retiring after this season and moving into a consultant role. But that enthusiasm over Gagne not being shared by some of the others involved with that Draft for the White Sox almost caused a premature end to Tumminia's career.

CHICAGO -- The White Sox 1994 Draft book shows the following on Eric Gagne: "Liked his fastball projection. Solid mechanics with loose wrist. Raw 18-year-old from Quebec with erratic velocity ranging from 81 to 87 mph. Projected in the 10th round."

That analysis came from John Tumminia, a scout of 32 years with the White Sox who will be retiring after this season and moving into a consultant role. But that enthusiasm over Gagne not being shared by some of the others involved with that Draft for the White Sox almost caused a premature end to Tumminia's career.

2018 Draft order | 2018 Draft: June 4-6 | All-time Draft picks

"I was going to quit over this. Oh, yeah. I was young and I believed in him," said Tumminia of Gagne, who was in his coverage area. "I said, 'Well, maybe I should quit.' I thought maybe I wasn't a good enough scout.

:: 2018 Draft coverage ::

"After the first day, I was distraught. I really, really liked this kid."

Gagne was selected in the 30th round by the White Sox as a draft-and-follow, a process which no longer exists. The right-hander from Montreal ultimately ended up as a pick who got away.

As part of the draft-and-follow process, the White Sox had until the following May to sign Gagne, and they didn't. He eventually caught on with the Dodgers as a free agent on July 26, 1995, and became one of the greatest closers in the game for a short period of time.

From 2002-04, Gagne saved 152 games. He saved 84 straight from Aug. 28, 2002, to July 3, 2004, and won the National League Cy Young Award in '03.

"He had three years with the Dodgers that were absolutely phenomenal," said Duane Shaffer, who is a Major League scout with the Padres but was running the White Sox Draft when they drafted Gagne. "Probably as reliable as any closer has ever been. When you save 84 straight games, that's amazing. That's a half of a season of saves."

Video: LAD@ANA: Gagne extends his save streak to 84 games

"My whole family knows this story, and they are happy I didn't do amateur stuff after that," Tumminia said with a laugh. "He had everything that the White Sox believed in at the time as far as clean arm action, good mechanics, easy delivery. And he had a little bulldog in him."

According to Tumminia, the White Sox tried to sign the righty, but offered considerably less than Gagne wanted.

"When I was driving up to Canada, I knew I was not going to sign him," Tumminia said.

After working as a starter in 48 of his first 58 games for the Dodgers, Gagne made the seamless transition to closer via 52 saves and a 1.97 ERA over 77 appearances in '02. There's no guarantee he would have developed in the same way or been used in the same manner by the White Sox, but he certainly could have made a difference with the same extraordinary level of closing success.

In 2002, for a .500 White Sox team, Keith Foulke, Antonio Osuna and Damaso Marte split the closer's role, with a combined 32 saves. Tom Gordon, Marte and Billy Koch produced 34 saves for an 86-win squad in '03, and it was Koch, Marte and eventually Shingo Takatsu who combined to notch 33 saves for a team with 83 wins in '04.

But Gagne and the White Sox were never meant to be.

"That's one that got away," said Tumminia, adding he later met Gagne, who thanked him for drafting him.

"It's been 24 years now. It was a long time ago, but I know that the guys in the room had interest in him, the guys who saw him, or we would not have taken him in the Draft at all. So there was something there that was good," Shaffer said. "I know we gave it a shot, and I'm sure our offer wasn't even close to what he was looking for. When you are in the 30th round and it's a high school kid, you don't have a lot of money sitting there for him."

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Read his blog, Merk's Works, follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin, on Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Chicago White Sox