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Nightengale: Skaggs’ Death Still a Tragedy Despite Drug-Related Cause

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An autopsy report said Tyler Skaggs had fentanyl, oxycodone and alcohol in his system when he died in a Texas hotel room. Photo: Kelvin Kuo/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

By Bob Nightengale |

This was the news we feared, confirming the worries of teammates, friends, and peers in baseball, that Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs’ toxicology report could be disturbing.

Still, the news hit hard Friday.

Fentanyl. Oxycodone. Alcohol.

It was all found in Skaggs’ system.

This wasn’t a blood clot, stroke or heart attack.

It was simply an overdose, with his life ending when he choked on his own vomit.

It was a horrific tragedy Skaggs was found dead on July 1 in Dallas.

It’s still a horrific tragedy today.

The heartbreak for the Skaggs family, his teammates and friends, is knowing that those sentiments and feelings expressed for Skaggs at the time of his death, may dramatically change now.

There is less compassion and sympathy, and the condolences disappear.

It’s the way our society operates.

The Miami Marlins grieved and talked about building a statue and retiring Jose Fernandez’s uniform number when he was killed Sept. 25, 2016, in a boating accident near Miami.

Those plans were halted when the autopsy report a month later revealed cocaine and a blood alcohol content of .147 was found in his system, with two friends, Jesus Macias and Eduardo Rivero, also being killed.

The St. Louis Cardinals and baseball world mourned when 22-year-old outfielder Oscar Taveras and his 18-year-old girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo was killed Oct. 27, 2014, in a car crash. Two weeks later, the sympathy waned when toxicology reports revealed his blood alcohol level was .284, more than five times the legal limit in the Dominican Republic.

Now, we are faced with our own emotions, knowing the death wasn’t an act of God or a suicide, but self-induced by the careless use of pain killers.

The Skaggs family hired a renowned attorney, Rusty Hardin, to get to the bottom of it. They released a statement indicating they believe an Angels employee may have been involved.

“We are heartbroken to learn that the passing of our beloved Tyler was the result of a combination of dangerous drugs and alcohol,’’ the family said in a released statement . “That is completely out of character for someone who worked so hard to become a Major League Baseball player and had a very promising future in the game he loved so much.

“We are grateful for the work of the detectives in the Southlake Police Department and their ongoing investigation into the circumstances surrounding Tyler’s death. We were shocked to learn that it may involve an employee of the Los Angeles Angels. We will not rest until we learn the truth about how Tyler came into possession of these narcotics, including who supplied them.’’

Maybe it’s only a desperate search for answers, wondering how a recently-married, 27-year-old athlete earning $3.7 million could risk ending it so soon.

It’s possible we’ll never know the full answer, but instead will be left dealing with our own emotions.

So how do we feel now? Do we still have that gut-wrenching anguish? Do we still have the same sympathy for his family? The Angels? The baseball community?

The Angels and teams have been honoring Skaggs since his July 1 death, with the Angels wearing No. 45 patches, All-Stars Mike Trout and Tommy La Stella wearing his uniform number instead of their own, and on Players Weekend players wore the same 45 patches and some showed their love in personalized messages.

If Skaggs had a significant, and enduring drug problem, do his friends who knew this carry that guilt? Were there ever signs, or symptoms that could have been detected by his performance or preparation?

It’s too late now to save Skaggs, but his memory should never be forgotten, and neither should our sympathy.

This was a young main in pain. Perhaps more physical than even the doctors and trainers knew. Maybe more mental than even any team therapist knew.

It’s a tragedy that he is gone so soon.

It will be a bigger tragedy if we never understand why. Prescription painkillers are a scourge in this country, and professional sports – with catastrophic injuries and the expectation to play through the pain they cause – are ripe for potential abuse.

A greater understanding of Skaggs’ circumstances could, perhaps, save the next young adult who’s in pain and permitting those demons to erode his soul.

Rest in peace, Tyler Skaggs.

This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter and Facebook.

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