MLB

Angels Pitcher Tyler Skaggs Tragic Death a Year Ago Changed MLB Policy in 2020

A year ago, the MLB community and sports world were shocked to hear news about the tragic death of LA Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs. The 27-year-old was found unresponsive in his Texas hotel room as the Angels were in town to face the Texas Rangers in a four-game series. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Skaggs’ death was an indictment on the nation and its expanding opioid crisis as the coroner’s report revealed he died after consuming a deadly cocktail of fentanyl, oxycodone, and alcohol. Here’s a look back at what has happened since that day including the Angels’ storybook first game back in California following his death, as well as the federal investigation that uncovered who supplied the drugs that killed Skaggs.

Tyler Skaggs had a solid MLB career

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After the LA Angels selected Tylers Skaggs with the No. 40 overall pick as a supplemental pick in the 2009 MLB draft, the left-handed pitcher from Santa Monica reported to Cedar Rapids and single-A baseball in the Midwest League. Skaggs didn’t make it through the season before the Angels traded him to the Arizona Diamondbacks

After two seasons working his way up through the Diamondbacks system, Skaggs made his MLB debut in August 2012. In six starts with Arizona that year, he compiled a 1–3 record and a 5.83 ERA. In 2013, Skaggs finished with a 2–3 record and a 5.12 ERA in seven starts. Skaggs, however, was feeling like a tennis ball as he was traded back to the Angels.

In LA, Skaggs had a solid start in 2014 before an injured arm and subsequent Tommy John surgery sidelined him for the entire 2015 season. He returned late in 2016 and pitched just 16 starts each in 2017 and 2018, respectively, due to various injuries. 

In his 15 starts during the 2019 campaign, he posted a 7-7 record, a 4.29 ERA, and 78 strikeouts. He was the Angels’ pitching staff leader in wins and strikeouts for the season. For his career, he had a 28–38 record, a 4.41 ERA, and 476 strikeouts in ​520 2⁄3 innings pitched.

Skaggs’ death mid-season rocks MLB

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On July 1, 2019, Carli Skaggs knew something was wrong the morning she woke up, and there wasn’t a “good morning” text from her husband. Tyler’s mother, Debbie, desperately tried to contact her son with no success. Then, early that afternoon, Angels general manager Billy Eppler called Carli and delivered the devastating news. 

Two weeks shy of his 28th birthday, Tyler Skaggs was dead. The MLB family was shocked. The Angels and Rangers postponed the game that day. LA played three games in both Arlington and Houston before returning home for a game on July 12, 2019.

In the home contest, each Angels player wore Skaggs’ number 45 jersey. His mother threw the ceremonial first pitch, a perfect strike. Most amazingly, Angels pitchers Taylor Cole and Félix Peña combined for a no-hitter against the Seattle Mariners, winning 13–0. It was the first combined no-hitter in California since July 13, 1991, the day Tyler Skaggs was born. After the game, the players removed their Skaggs jerseys and laid them around the mound to honor his memory.

What really happened to Tyler Skaggs?

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In late August, the coroner’s report was made public, and it indicated Tyler Skaggs choked on his own vomit. They found evidence of fentanyl, oxycodone, and alcohol in the pitcher’s system. The presence of fentanyl in Skaggs’ system caught the attention of federal investigators. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

A DEA official told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” the agency gets involved in fentanyl cases to track the drug source. Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid sometimes found in counterfeit oxycodone, has been identified in a number of high-profile deaths, including musicians Prince and Tom Petty. 

Eric Kay, the former director of communications for the Angels, told federal investigators he was the one who provided oxycodone to Skaggs and abused it with him for years. Kay also indicated two team officials knew about Skaggs’ drug use long before his death. The final results of the investigation are still pending.

While the legal investigation is ongoing, MLB made its own ruling by implementing a significant change to its drug policy. Starting in the 2020 season, players will be tested for opioids, in addition to PEDs. Players who test positive for opioids will enter a treatment program, with discipline coming only if they fail to follow the treatment.

MLB’s decision to institute opioid-specific drug tests was a big change but a necessary one. And one that unfortunately resulted from the death of Tyler Skaggs. Now his family knows he didn’t die in vain.