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.