On July 1st, 2019, young Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs was found in his hotel room dead, having choked on his own vomit in the night with fentanyl, oxycodone, and alcohol in his system. Only 27 at the time and 12 days from his 28th birthday, the Angels were in Texas to play their division rivals, the Rangers. Skaggs was 7-7 with a 4.29 ERA to that point, working to become a key part of the Angels rotation. His death sent a shock through the Angels organization and baseball, sparking a two and a half year saga that finally concluded yesterday, February 17th, criminally. The Skaggs family still pursues a civil suit against the Angels for negligence.
In a trial spanning eight days, Eric Kay, the former communications director for the Angels, was found guilty by a jury with a minimum of 20 years in prison. In the trial, four major-league players, Matt Harvey, Mike Morin, Cam Bedrosian, and C.J. Cron testified, all admitting to using opioids that Kay supplied. Harvey, under legal protection, admitted to supplying some to Skaggs as well. Harvey’s testimonies highlighted that opioid use was common in the Angel clubhouse, with snorting of the crushed pills commonly used. None of the players above will face legal punishment, although Harvey is likely to face suspension once the current MLB lockout concludes, a mark that has the potential to end his career.
With the criminal case concluded and the civil suit ongoing, the death of Tyler Skaggs reflects a nature of professional baseball that is often overlooked. The road from draft day to “The Show” is oftentimes a long, painful, exhausting, and lonely one. Many players try, and many fail to make it even close to the Major League level, the minor leagues often hosting some of the poorest conditions the players will encounter. Those who do make it will often then face a new constant pressure to stay in the Majors, for failing to meet expectations means another trip to the minors that may never end. Many will do anything to stay in the Majors, often to their own harm. Skaggs’ death once again shows that anyone can become entrapped by addiction. It is for the best we all remember this solemn fact and not judge those who fall into it.
May you rest in peace, Tyler Skaggs (1991-2019), and your family reach the closure it deserves.