As is being mentioned in most obituaries of Tony Gwynn, he blamed his longtime use of smokeless tobacco for the mouth and salivary gland cancer which eventually took his life. Which makes it a really good time to tell anyone you know who uses the stuff to stop immediately and to tell any kids you know — especially ones who play baseball, where so many develop the habit — not to start.
It’s also a good time to look back to the story Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe wrote back in March about baseball players’ use of chewing tobacco and snuff. In it he notes that, even though Major League Baseball has tried to discourage its use for the last few years, a lot of ballplayers still use it. In Abraham’s own survey of the 58 Red Sox players invited to spring training, he found 21 who admitted to using it.
Like so many things in baseball, use of tobacco is done out of habit and tradition and the sport’s particular culture. But unlike everything else which follows that pattern, tobacco kills. It may very well have killed Tony Gwynn.
The Los Angeles Times reports that federal agents have interviewed at least six current and former Angels players as part of their investigation into the death of Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs.
Among the players questioned: Andrew Heaney, Noé Ramirez, Trevor Cahill, and Matt Harvey. An industry source tells NBC Sports that the interviews by federal agents are part of simultaneous investigations into Skaggs’ death by United States Attorneys in both Texas and California.
There has been no suggestion that the players are under criminal scrutiny or are suspected of using opioids. Rather, they are witnesses to the ongoing investigation and their statements have been sought to shed light on drug use by Skaggs and the procurement of illegal drugs by him and others in and around the club.
Skaggs asphyxiated while under the influence of fentanyl, oxycodone, and alcohol in his Texas hotel room on July 1. This past weekend, ESPN reported that Eric Kay, the Los Angeles Angels’ Director of Communications, knew that Skaggs was an Oxycontin addict, is an addict himself, and purchased opioids for Skaggs and used them with him on multiple occasions. Kay has told DEA agents that, apart from Skaggs, at least five other Angels players are opioid users and that other Angels officials knew of Skaggs’ use. The Angels have denied Kay’s allegations.
In some ways this all resembles what happened in Pittsburgh in the 1980s, when multiple players were interviewed and subsequently called as witnesses in prosecutions that came to be known as the Pittsburgh Drug Trials. There, no baseball players were charged with crimes in connection with what was found to be a cocaine epidemic inside Major League clubhouses, but their presence as witnesses caused the prosecutions to be national news for weeks and months on end.