In this article, we discuss Tyler Skaggs, Eric Kay, and MLB’s drug (+ more) problem. If these topics are sensitive to you, please do not continue to read.
Only July 1, 2019, Tyler Skaggs, an MLB pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels, died of a drug overdose. On February 18, 2022, Eric Kay, a former staff member of the Los Angeles Angels, was convicted of providing the drugs that led to Skaggs’ death. And these two men represent only the tip of the tragic iceberg that looms underneath the surface of MLB.
We learned during the trial that Skaggs was far from the only member of an MLB team to suffer from drug addiction. We also learned that Kay wasn’t the only dealer. However, based on how MLB has approached this situation - and situations before this - it seems likely the league will be content to act as if they were. Perhaps pitcher Matt Harvey, who also testified to taking drugs as well as giving drugs and contact information for dealers to Skaggs, will be suspended once the lockout ends, but his career was in freefall anyway.
This isn’t just Skaggs’ problem. Or Kay’s problem. Or even the Angels’ problem. The testimony that was heard showed that drug addiction occurs with other players on other teams. Further, we learned that teams at least sometimes know about it and do nothing.
After Matt Harvey’s testimony, former Mets manager Terry Collins held an interview where he openly discussed Harvey’s problems with drugs and other illnesses. It seems unlikely he received Harvey’s permission to discuss these topics. He claims that they tried to get Matt help, but the only instance he could cite was one time sending him to team psychologists because he was depressed - which may have been wholly unrelated to the drug use.
But even if Collins and the Mets did try to get help for Harvey, Collins certainly doesn’t have his best interests at heart now. It doesn’t serve Matt Harvey at all to discuss his health issues in an open forum like that. Collins also eschewed any opportunity to publicly reach out and offer assistance to Harvey in favor of criticizing his ability or desire to take responsibility for his own health crises. It was a disgusting display, and one MLB will almost certainly completely ignore. And in ignoring it, they send a message to all players that making their health issues public to their coaches is more likely to cause them to be exposed for a few more minutes of fame than to receive any kind of sympathy or help.
It can be easy for us to sit here and look at pro baseball players and assume they have everything, but MLB has shown time and time again that the owners - and therefore the teams - view players less as people as more as investment opportunities that talk back. We see this in the way they have approached the CBA negotiations. We see this in how they have treated minor league players and teams. We see this in how they treated front office staff during the pandemic. We see this in how they handled the steroid problems of the 90s and 00s. And now we see this in how they handle the long-known but rarely-discussed drug addiction issues that certainly go beyond the handful of men who testified in court over the past weeks.
In the wake of Skaggs’ death, several initiatives were undertaken to honor and memorialize him. Those were all well and good. For any out there who think that imprisoning Eric Kay will honor Skaggs, that is simply wrong. The best way to remember Tyler Skaggs isn’t to put another man in prison; it is to make a concerted effort to ensure that no more people suffer his fate. If MLB truly wanted to work in Tyler Skaggs memory, they’d work hard to make sure players were better supported in their mental health issues and that those players didn’t see their personal stories bandied about by other people for personal clout. But that would cost more money.