“They want to get to the bottom of it.”

Los Angeles Angels

For their first home game after Tyler Skaggs’s death, the Angels wore his uniform and beat the Mariners in a combined blowout no-hitter, before laying the uniforms around the mound. Skaggs’s widow and parents have now sued the Angels for negligence over the pitcher’s death.

Two days before the second anniversary of his death, Tyler Skaggs’s family struck in court. His widow, Carli, filed suit in the Texas county where Skaggs was found dead of an opioid overdose; his parents filed in Los Angeles. Texas law allows only a spouse to claim damages for wrongful death or negligence.

ESPN writer T.J. Quinn says both Carli Skaggs and her in-laws are suing the Angels’ former communications director Eric Kay, who admitted to buying the drugs for Skaggs, and Kay’s former boss Tim Mead. Skaggs died at 27 1 July 2019 of asphyxiation provoked by fentanyl in his system, on the night the Angels arrived in Texas for a road set with the Rangers.

“The crux of the lawsuit is that the Angels were negligent in allowing Kay, a longtime opioid abuser, to have access to players, and that Mead failed to properly supervise him,” Quinn writes.

Kay told U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents that he also had provided oxycodone for five other players at Skaggs’ request. No other players have been publicly identified. The lawsuit claims that the Angels had a culture that pushed players to play through injury and that the club knew or should have known about Skaggs’ use of opioids.

The Angels didn’t respond to Quinn directly when he contacted them, he added. But the team issue a statement saying the suits’ accusations “are entirely without merit . . . baseless and irresponsible,” promising a “vigorous” court defense.

In 2019, Angels Baseball hired a former federal prosecutor to conduct an independent investigation to comprehensively understand the circumstances that led to Tyler’s tragic death. The investigation confirmed that the Organization did not know that Tyler was using opioids, nor was anyone in management aware or informed of any employee providing opioids to any player.

The Angels alone? One of the worst-kept secrets of professional sports for decades, including baseball, has been teams pushing players to play through their injuries before those injuries are healed completely. Who knows how many teams either looked the other way or feigned ignorance when injured players turned or were turned to addictive substances to get back out there faster?

One of the worst-kept companion secrets, of course, is that players smart enough to know when they’re not quite healed up, insisting they’re not going to be fool enough to get back out there before they’re fully healed, often get dismissed as fragile hypochodriacs most politely—and as feline euphemisms for a woman’s vagina most impolitely.

Skaggs underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014. “[O]pioid abuse often begins after surgeries, when the drug may be prescribed to the patient,” wrote Halos Heaven‘s Jessica DeLine three months after Skaggs died. “Per the Mayo Clinic, opioids are highly addictive and your risk of addiction is increased after taking the drug for just a few days. Skaggs had TJ Surgery in 2014 and didn’t pitch at all in the 2015 season.”

DeLine cited an Outside the Lines report suggesting Skaggs and Kay had a shared opioid history of over four years: “Did Skaggs manage to keep this a secret from all his teammates over the years? Was his TJ surgery in 2014 an inciting event for his opiate abuse? That would seem to fit with the timeline Kay provided.”

“As the federal grand jury indictment made plainly and painfully clear, were it not for the fentanyl in the counterfeit pill provided by Angels employee Eric Kay, Tyler would be alive today,” said Skaggs family attorney Rusty Hardin in a statement following the lawsuit filings. “And if the Angels had done a better job of supervising Eric Kay, Tyler would be alive today.”

Maybe. Maybe not. We’ll never know for dead last certain.

What we should know is that this business of dismissing players injured in the line of play as mal-constructed vaginas should have ceased and desisted a very long time ago.

“Leaving it all out on the field” works both ways. Would you like a litany of players from most eras who left it all out on the field and had to leave it before their times thanks to injuries in the line of duty?

Dizzy Dean, Pistol Pete Reiser, Rex Barney, Monte Irvin, Herb Score, Ralph Kiner, Roger Maris, Wally Bunker, Jim Bouton, Sandy Koufax, Tony Conigliaro, Frank Tanana, Mark (The Bird) Fidrych, Pete Vuckovich, Joe Charboneau, the entire Oakland starting rotation of 1981-83, Bo Jackson, Eric Davis, Don Mattingly, Kirby Puckett, Darin Erstad, Nomar Garciaparra, Mo Vaughn, Jason Kendall, Justin Morneau, Grady Sizemore, Ryan Howard, Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Mark Mulder, David Wright, Prince Fielder, and Jacoby Ellsbury are just a few who should ring a few bells for having gotten their bells rung in various ways.

They didn’t get hurt showing off slam-dunk techniques on the street, hauling a heavy side of deer meat up the stairs, trying to rip Manhattan-thick phone books apart with their bare hands, or staying too long on tanning beds, to name a few examples. (Those really happened. In order, to Cecil Upshaw, Clint Barmes, Steve Sparks, and Marty Cordova.)

Few players in any era took the abuse Ellsbury took for the multiple injuries he incurred playing baseball. As if a nine-figure Yankee payday could turn Clark Kent into Superman. Even before he became so ill-fated a Yankee, Ellsbury finally couldn’t wait to high-tail it out of Boston in free agency, where he’d been an often-injured Red Sox star with two World Series rings on his finger. Too many whisperings that he took too much of his sweet time recovering from injuries.

Thank God they also don’t all get hooked on opioids or other drugs out of surgery or because of doctors administering or prescribing them.

Uh-oh. Remember Denny McLain? Now, forget everything else you know about his post-baseball history, and maybe some of his career history, and think about this. McLain felt something pop in his shoulder during a 1965 start. By 1967-68, he’d hooked himself on cortisone. He used it practically the way most of us drink coffee at the breakfast table. Used to excess—and sound medical opinion has long since determined you should have no more than ten cortisone shots in your entire lifetime—cortisone can weaken the areas where it’s administered.

Now are you surprised that McLain’s shoulder was shot to hell by the time he ended up a very disgruntled Washington Senator in 1971? When, somewhat insanely, he was allowed to start 32 games anyway, and was charged with two more losses in one season (22) than he’d been charged with in his previous three? Or that he only got to pitch in twenty more games the following year before he called it a career?

Or that he eventually said, emphatically, “The name of the game back then was you gotta win one for the Gipper. [Fornicate] the Gipper!”

“The myth that baseball players were tougher and more resilient back in the day, that they were willing to endure anything for the sheer love of the game, is just that—a myth,” wrote Sridhar Pappu in The Year of the Pitcher four years ago. “In truth, they were victims of terrible medical advice, merciless management, and unforgiving fans who believed that a worn-out, hurting arm signaled a kind of moral weakness.”

The grief over Skaggs’s unexpected death was very real. So was the staggering joy when the Angels returned home following his death, memorialised him movingly (including the team all wearing his uniform number 45), and beat the Mariners with a combined no-hitter and a 13-0 final launched when his buddy Mike Trout smashed a two-run homer in the first inning.

But his widow and his parents may be out to prove that he and too many other players are still victims of terrible medical advice or practise, and merciless or at least ignorant management. In more ways than one.

Indictment in Skaggs death, but . . .

Los Angeles Angels v. Seattle Mariners

Wearing Tyler Skaggs’ jersey as his teammates did that night, Mike Trout walks in front of the center field fence displaying a memorial to the pitcher who died of an overdose in Texas last year. A former Angels media person is now indicted for giving Skaggs the drug that helped kill him.

Beckham Aaron Trout was born 30 July. His father, a baseball player of some renown, attended his son’s birth, returned to his team, and hit a 2-2 slider over the left center field fence. This morning, Jessica Trout tweeted a photograph for her husband’s 29th birthday, their new son proclaiming himself the best present ever.

In a career that would indeed qualify him as a Hall of Famer should it end after this season, and Los Angeles Angels fans aren’t the only ones who hope devoutly that that doesn’t prove the case, Mike Trout has shown among other things a genuine human decency and a penchant for rising to particularly heartfelt occasions.

Homering his first time up after fatherhood blessed him is just one. Last year, alas, Trout did it in the middle of soul-wrenching grief.

His teammate Tyler Skaggs died unexpectedly after the Angels landed in Texas to finish a pre All-Star Game road trip. When the team returned home, to face the Seattle Mariners, a wrenching pre-game memorial to the fallen pitcher was followed by Trout opening the scoring with a mammoth two-run homer in the bottom of the first.

That launched a 13-0 blowout and a combined no-hitter by Angels pitchers Taylor Cole and Felix Pena that electrified a game wracked in grief over Skaggs’s mortal demise. (“Absolutely incredible,” Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander tweeted. “Meant to be.”) His teammates, all of whom wore Skaggs jerseys for the game, laid those jerseys around the mound after the game, leaving only Skaggs’s number 45 behind the rubber exposed.

On the same morning Jess Trout helped her new son tell his father who was the best present ever, the news broke out of Texas that former Angels media relations employee Eric Kay was indicted by a federal court for distributing at least the fentanyl that contributed to Skaggs’s overdose death last year.

The Tarrant County, Texas coroner’s report revealed alcohol, fentanyl, and oxycodone in Skaggs’s system when he died, but, as the Los Angeles Times reports, an affidavit on behalf of the criminal complaint against Kay suggested the fentanyl presence was the likely specific cause of the asphyxiation that killed Skaggs. The Angels themselves said in a formal Friday statement that they hired a former federal prosecutor to help the team investigate their pitcher’s death.

We learned that there was unacceptable behavior inconsistent with our code of conduct, and we took steps to address it. Our investigation also confirmed that no one in management was aware, or informed, of any employee providing opioids to any player, nor that Tyler was using opioids.

As we try to heal from the loss of Tyler, we continue to work with authorities as they complete their investigation.

The statement contradicts Kay’s statement last October that team officials knew there was an opioid issue involving at least five Angels while he denied providing the fatal pills to Skaggs, a fun-loving and popular teammate who seemed to shield his issues with the drugs effectively enough until his death. (How effectively? His widow, Carli, told the Times two months ago her husband didn’t behave like an addict.)

Skaggs underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014, missing the entire 2015 season rehabbing. “Keep in mind,” wrote Halos Heaven‘s Jessica DeLine, “opioid abuse often begins after surgeries, when the drug may be prescribed to the patient. Per the Mayo Clinic, opioids are highly addictive and your risk of addiction is increased after taking the drug for just a few days.”

Two years after that rehab season, Skaggs went to the old disabled list for 98 days with a strained oblique, followed by missing three months in 2018 with hip adductor muscle problems. “If he wasn’t prescribed any opiate after his Tommy John surgery,” I wrote last October, “who’s to say the pain of those injuries instead didn’t lead him to opiates’ doors?”

Kay’s remarks in his statement last fall practically accused the Angels of covering up. “I felt and continue to feel that it is time for everyone to stand up and take responsibility for their respective roles in this,” the statement began.

Nothing anyone does will ever provide closure for the Skaggs family. I can’t, the Angels can’t, and the courts can’t, regardless of what happens there. But at least I can help them “know”‘ instead of “wonder.” My hope is that there is some peace in that for them.

Recent Angels history says the team’s administration didn’t necessarily suffer drug issues gladly or sympathetically. When talented but drug-recovering outfielder Josh Hamilton signed a big free agency deal with the Angels, but saw his Angels service and performance disrupted by injuries, he relapsed infamously while watching a Super Bowl game.

As required by MLB’s drug agreement, Hamilton didn’t waste any time reporting his relapse to the Angels. They rewarded him for his forthrightness by running him out of town before sundown on the first unoccupied rail they could find. Right back to the Texas Rangers from whence he’d come in the first place. Barely caring either that Hamilton manned up or that they looked grotesque punishing him.

Angels owner Arte Moreno paid Hamilton’s entire remaining salary just to get him out of sight. Then, insult-to-injury: then-Angels manager Mike Scioscia demanded Hamilton apologise publicly when the Rangers next came to town. Don’t think there aren’t Angel personnel fearful that, if Moreno could exile a Hamilton, he might be liable to hang those aware of Skaggs’s ultimately fatal struggle.

Kay’s attorney, Michael Molfetta, said last fall that blaming Kay alone for the Skaggs tragedy was shortsighted and misguided. “When all the facts come out,” the attorney continued, “I think that what happened is a tragedy. What happened is very sad on many levels. But to say it’s any one person’s fault is not right.”

Barring any plea bargain, Kay’s trial is liable to bring at least a few such facts forward. It won’t be pleasant. It surely won’t assuage the Skaggs family’s loss and grief. But it may not leave the Angels—to whom Mike Trout plighted his baseball troth for life, and for the equivalent of a tiny island republic’s economy—smelling pleasant, either.

“When stuff comes out,” said Trout, after the Skaggs toxicology report was made public last fall, “you want to know if it’s true.” If the Angels’ administration really does have any responsibility, even if it was mere knowledge upon which the team didn’t act, Trout may not want to know.

The Maddoning crowd

2019-10-16 JoeMaddonAngels.jpg

Shown here during his years as Mike Scioscia’s consigliere, Joe Maddon returns to the Angels as their new manager—right in the middle of a further storm over Tyler Skaggs’s death.

Rarely have warnings about being careful what you wish for proven this prescient. If Joe Maddon really wished to return to the Angels he served three decades plus, and as their manager, yet, he couldn’t have picked a worse time to get his wish.

Amidst the thrills of the two League Championship Series a bomb exploded a couple of days ago. There was more to Angel pitcher Tyler Skaggs’s shocking death in Texas before the All-Star break than just an accidental overdose. Too much more.

Now Maddon will take the Angels’ bridge. It may have been a done deal from the moment the Angels pinked first year manager Brad Ausmus, which just so happened to be almost the precise moment in which Maddon learned he wouldn’t be returning as the Cubs’ manager once his contract expired at season’s end.

And if it was bad enough the Angels just had a second straight losing season and a third in four, despite having the best all-around baseball player on the planet, even that was nothing compared to the firestorm now erupting around Skaggs’s death.

“When stuff comes out, you want to know if it’s true,” said Mike Trout when autopsy results made public in early September showed how Skaggs died. “Obviously, if I knew I would definitely have said something or did something.”

Nobody has any reason to disbelieve Trout. But he may not like what transpires further. Especially after signing the gigabucks contract extension making him an Angel for life before spring training ended.

This is what we know so far: Skaggs, the likeable pitcher who was a clubhouse and fan favourite, was an opioid addict. For just how long seems unknown just yet. Also unknown for dead last certain at this writing is what manner of pain led Skaggs to the stuff in the first place. His family hired a Texas legal wolf to get to the bottom of it all. The digging is getting very disturbing.

What we also know so far is that the Angels’ communications director, Eric Kay, himself an opioid addict, knew about Skaggs’s issue with the drugs, procured them for the pitcher, and often used them with him. Kay has also told agents with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration that five more Angels, so far unnamed, use opioids and that there were other team officials aware of Skaggs’s issue with them.

The Angels deny such knowledge. And Kay issued a statement this past weekend concurrent to his denial that he provided the actual pills that provoked Skaggs to overdose accidentally and asphyxiate in his sleep in a Texas hotel room in early July:

I felt and continue to feel that it is time for everyone to stand up and take responsibility for their respective roles in this. Nothing anyone does will ever provide closure for the Skaggs family. I can’t, the Angels can’t, and the courts can’t, regardless of what happens there. But at least I can help them “know”‘ instead of “wonder.” My hope is that there is some peace in that for them.

But four Angels past and incumbent—pitchers Trevor Cahill, Matt Harvey, Andrew Heaney, and Noe Ramirez—have been interviewed and questioned by federal agents. NBC Sports says those four aren’t suspects, just witnesses. So far.

And ESPN’s T.J. Quinn says the Angels may face heavy sanctions from baseball’s government if it’s proven any team officials knew about Skaggs’s problem but didn’t speak up to the commissioner’s office about him using substances banned by baseball. The sanctions could include up to a $2 million fine against the Angels and the officials in question banned from baseball for life if proven.

An Angel spokeswoman, Marie Garvey, issued a statement on Tuesday in which she said the team had no knowledge that Kay provided Skaggs opioids:

We have never heard that any employee was providing illegal narcotics to any player, or that any player was seeking narcotics from him. The current and former employees that are being accused of knowing this behavior have categorically denied that assertion. The Angels maintain a strict, zero tolerance policy regarding the illicit use of drugs for both players and staff. Every one of our players must also abide by the MLB joint drug agreement.

There could be a reason why any Angels officials who did know about Skaggs’s problem, if they did know, were loath to speak up and out. A few years ago, then-Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton—a recovering substance abuser whose Angels seasons were throttled by injuries—had a relapse while watching a Super Bowl. Hamilton didn’t flinch. He reported it to the team and to baseball’s government immediately. That’d teach him.

It wasn’t enough then for Angels owner Arte Moreno. Never mind that Hamilton could have tried to run and hide but didn’t. For his forthrightness Hamilton was run out of town on the proverbial rail, right back to the Rangers from whence he’d come, with Moreno paying Hamilton’s entire salary just to be rid of him.

Adding insult to injury: Hamilton’s forthrightness didn’t impress then-manager Mike Scioscia one degree, Scioscia all but demanding that Hamilton owed the Angels a public apology, if not a perp walk. All Hamilton did was his absolute duty under baseball’s drug agreement when he relapsed. And his reward for doing his duty and shooting straight was orders to be out of town before sundown.

If you think that didn’t scare the living you-know-what out of anyone else working for the Angels, I have a fully-operating California bullet train to sell you for a song. Maybe a short medley. The scared may have included Kay and his boss/mentor Tim Mead, now running the Hall of Fame, but then the Angels’ vice president for communications.

We know that Kay’s mother, Sandra, claims her son told Mead about Skaggs’s opioid issues a few years prior to Skaggs’s death. We know Mead once visited Kay in the hospital with Kay’s mother present, and that Kay checked into a rehab program this past July. (Coincidence? Convenience?) We know Sandra Kay claims to have talked to Mead about Skaggs’s drug issue and that Mead denies the conversation.

“Keep in mind,” says Jessica DeLine, a writer for the SB Nation blog Halos Heaven, “opioid abuse often begins after surgeries, when the drug may be prescribed to the patient. Per the Mayo Clinic, opioids are highly addictive and your risk of addiction is increased after taking the drug for just a few days.”

Skaggs underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014, during his first Angels season after two with the Diamondbacks, and missed the entire 2015 season recuperating and rehabbing from it. It’s entirely possible that things happened for him just as the Mayo Clinic describes: he may have been prescribed one or another opioid (oxycodone and fetanyl were found in his system after his death) after the surgery and he got hooked.

In 2017, Skaggs spent 98 days on the disabled list with a strained oblique; in 2018, he spent three months on the DL with hip adductor muscle issues. If he wasn’t prescribed any opiate after his Tommy John surgery, who’s to say the pain of those injuries instead didn’t lead him to opiates’ doors?

“Someone is lying here,” DeLine writes, “and it’s either Tim Mead . . . or Sandy Kay. What would be the reasons either of them would lie? Sandy’s benefit would perhaps be to shift blame away from her son and onto the Angels. Mead’s reasons should be rather obvious.”

Skaggs’s death shocked baseball. The Angels were thoroughly waylaid by it. They went public with their grief. The Rangers in Texas allowed them to postpone the opening game of their pre-break series out of respect and even laid Skaggs’s number 45 on the back of their home mound, in the Angels’ uniform font style, out of further respect.

The Angels took two of three from the Rangers, lost two of three to the Astros, then returned home after the break to host the Mariners. What they did to open that series shocked baseball even further.

Wearing Skaggs jerseys and numbers one and all in tribute, pitchers Taylor Cole and Felix Pena combined to pitch a no-hit, 13-0 blowout against the Mariners in which Trout himself, emergent as a team leader over his friend’s death, opened the carnage with a two-run homer in the bottom of the first. When the game ended, the players left their jerseys on the mound surrounding Skaggs’s number 45 as a final tribute.

The news of opioids in Skaggs’s system the night he died came forth not long after that game. Now the possibility of the Angels administration sleeping at the switch while their pitcher battled such an addiction, and one of their P.R. people looks to have abetted him, stains their familiar logo halo.

That’s what Maddon is walking into right off the bat after signing a reported three-year contract to manage the team for whom he served as Scioscia’s longtime (and 2002 World Series-winning) consigliere on the bench before starting his own mostly successful managing career.

And Maddon has his own unfortunate small history of being caught with his pants down over comparable troubles. He looked almost entirely clueless in his responses when Cubs shortstop Addison Russell was exposed as a domestic abuser by Russell’s former wife last fall. Nobody with brains suggests Maddon condones domestic violence, but his tepid response at first, upon Russell’s exposure, was a terrible look for the man who shepherded the Cubs to their first World Series win (2016) in over a century.

Now Maddon has to think about more than just bringing a club together under a new bridge commander and thinking about percentages and execution on the field. He has to think about the potentials around disturbing revelations that may or may not prove to have been true involving the death of a popular pitcher and its continuing effects on his new players.

He may even have to think about the ramifications if it should turn out that any Angel players, other than the four current or former pitchers interviewed by federal agents, knew Skaggs had a serious addiction problem and did or said nothing to intercede before it was too late. Especially if the Manfred administration comes to appear more interested in making players do a Pittsburgh drug trials-like perp walk than in making real moves to solve a too-real, too-dangerous issue.

And those will still be nothing compared to the additional anger and grief Skaggs’s widow and family will suffer.