Nightengale’s Notebook: From the Tyler Skaggs trial to continued labor strife, MLB just had an awful week – USA TODAY

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Surely, there have been worse weeks in Major League Baseball history, but considering the tragic, sordid, scandalous, and infuriating events that just unfolded, it could have a prominent place on Baseball’s Mount Rushmore of horrific weeks.

Let’s see, we had a drug trial that resurrected memories of the infamous Pittsburgh one  in the 80’s.

Former New York Mets star Matt Harvey was one of five players on the Los Angeles Angels who admitted to using opioids, not only privately, but in the Angels clubhouse and even in the dugout.

Harvey, who also admitted to cocaine use during his days with the New York Mets, faces a potential  suspension from Major League Baseball for distributing the opioids – if he decides to continue his playing career.

The sixth Angels’ player was unable to testify in the trial.

Tyler Skaggs died on July 1, 2019.

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The man responsible for the death, the jury determined, was Angels media relations manager Eric Kay. He was found guilty of providing the fentanyl-laced pill that killed Skaggs and immediately placed in custody.

He will be sentenced on June 28 where he’ll be in federal prison from 20 years to life.

The Angels now will be on center stage with the family of Skaggs’ filing wrongful death suits in California and Texas.

“The trial showed Eric Kay’s drug trafficking was known to numerous people in the Angels organization, and it resulted in the tragic and unnecessary death of one of their most popular players,” attorney Rusty Hardin said in a statement. “We have no doubt that the Angels knew what Eric Kay was doing, and the team is morally and legally responsible for his conduct. In the upcoming civil cases, we are looking forward to holding the team accountable.”

Here are some other things that happened this week in the baseball world:

– The parents of former Minnesota Twins prospect Ryan Costello filed a lawsuit against the doctor on the Twins’ medical staff for not informing their son that he had a heart abnormality.

“If his (condition) had been appropriately diagnosed and treated,” the suit states, “he would be alive today.”

Costello was found dead in his New Zealand hotel room on Nov. 18, 2019.

– A Chicago ticket broker was sentenced to 1 ½ years in prison for conspiring with two Chicago White Sox employees to illegally sell about 34,000 fraudulent complimentary game tickets on StubHub, earning $868,369.

Bruce Lee, 35, was convicted by a jury last year of wire fraud. He was ordered to pay the White Sox $74,650 in restitution while forfeiting $455,229 to the government.

The two White Sox employees who were part of the scheme who pleaded guilty in the scheme, James Costello and William O’Neil, cooperated with the investigation and have yet to be sentenced.

– MLB asked in its comprehensive 130-page proposal to the union for the right to slash the minor leagues from 180 players to 150, further infuriating the players.

– In only their second negotiating meeting in 16 days, the Major League Baseball Players Association ripped MLB’s latest proposal. Five days later, MLB was infuriated by the union’s counter-proposal, leaving the negotiating session after 15 minutes.

– MLB announced that the first week of spring training games were officially canceled until at least March 5.

Starting Monday in Florida, MLB negotiators and the union will be huddled for a week trying to determine if they can reach an agreement by Feb. 28 to preserve the start of the regular season. There will be at least two owners on hand, Dick Monfort of the Colorado Rockies and Ron Fowler of the San Diego Padres, while the union is expecting several dozen players to attend the meetings.

The union, of course, argues that the season could easily start on time. All MLB has to do is lift the lockout.

MLB argues that it would gladly lift the lockout if the players promise not to go on strike during the season or postseason.

TRIAL: Ex-Angels employee Eric Kay convicted in death of pitcher Tyler Skaggs

LOCKOUT: MLB cancels first week of spring training games

That’s not happening.

The nightmare of 1994-95 is still fresh in MLB’s memory bank.

They tried playing without an agreement in 1994, the players went on strike in August, the World Series was cancelled, and it took the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run race in 1998 before baseball could recover.

The two sides realize they are dangerously playing with fire again.

If MLB tries to dock players’ pay for a shortened season, the union could simply refuse to have an expanded playoff system, stripping $100 million of potential revenue for the owners.

Really, the most important treacherous risk to a delay is a further erosion to their fan base. Attendance has declined each of the past four years. TV ratings have plummeted. Too many games are painfully dull.

So, go ahead, you want to take the chance of losing baseball fans forever?

More on the Kay sentencing

While Eric Kay will now be imprisoned for his role in Tyler Skaggs’ death, Maritza Perez, the director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, argues that the sentencing is grossly unfair.

It wasn’t as if Kay was a drug pin or trafficker, but a man with a drug problem himself.

The sentencing, she said, is counterproductive.

“We support drug policy,’’ she told USA TODAY Sports, “we do not support criminalization. We’re seeing more and more people charged with murder and homicide providing a substance that proved to be fatal. People supplying those drugs don’t know its fatal. We’re criminalizing without engaging science or evidence.’’

The Drug Policy Alliance is opening overdose prevention centers and providing testing strips to determine whether any drug is laced with fentanyl.

“We need to do something,’’ Perez said, “instead of just throwing people in jail. They need our help.’’

There were 10 million who illegally used prescription opioids in 2019, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Around the basepaths

– Just how long is needed for the players to get ready in a shortened spring?

In an informal survey of executives, managers and coaches, they insist that the position players can be ready in just a couple of weeks, but that starting pitchers need to make at least four starts in spring training, and preferably five, while still holding their breath.

The biggest concern, they say, is that without being able to communicate with their players, they have no idea what kind of regiment or throwing program they’re on.

– It’s fascinating how differently organizations are handling spring training with just minor league players.

Some managers and coaches are staying home until the major leaguers arrive. Some teams have their managers and entire coaching staffs on hand. Some GMs and managers are freely talking to the media during the workouts.

Others have them off-limits.

Some managers aren’t even talking to their minor leaguers. Others are fully engaged.

The one constant is that for the managers and coaches who are in spring training, none are in uniform, simply wearing workout clothes during the practices, not wanting to give the appearance that it’s business as usual.

– The Washington Nationals offered Juan Soto a 13-year, $350 million contract, that did not include any deferred payments, two people with direct knowledge of the offer told USA TODAY Sports.

The deal would have started this year and taken him until he was 36.

Instead, he plans to go through the salary arbitration process three more times and hit free agency at the age of 26.

If he stays healthy, it’s quite possibly he will not only become the first $400 million player in baseball history, but even $500 million.

– The Yankees have traditionally never been particularly concerned about letting their players reach free agency, believing if they want them back, they can simply out-spend any other team.

So it stands to reason that they’ll adapt the same stance with All-Star right fielder Aaron Judge.

Judge hardly seems worried, either.

“Whatever happens, if we get an extension done at some point before the season starts, that’d be great,” Judge said on CC Sabathia’s R2C2 podcast. “I’d be completely honored to wear pinstripes a couple more years. But if it doesn’t happen and this is my last year, I had a lot of great memories.’’

It’s hard to imagine that Judge will be playing anywhere but New York for the rest of his career.

– Colorado Rockies first baseman C.J. Cron was the only former player in the Eric Kay trial that still is in the big leagues. He signed a two-year, $14.5 million deal in October.

Now, four months later, he admitted on the witness stand to buying oxycodone pills from Kay on eight occasions.

Cron can’t be suspended, but is expected to be placed in an MLB drug counseling program.

– It’s unknown how prevalent the problem of opioid use is among players, but since Major League Baseball began testing after Skaggs’ death, there have been no positive tests the first two years.

MLB is expected to launch an investigation on whether there is an opioid problem in baseball. Considering the testimony in the Kay trial, it would be naïve to believe it’s an isolated to the Angels’ organization.

“The players’ testimony was incredibly difficult for our organization to hear,” Angels President John Carpino said in a statement, “and it is a reminder that too often drug use and addiction are hidden away.”

– Former Mets COO Jeff Wilpon asked former Mets star Dwight Gooden to meet with Harvey nearly five years ago to discuss his behavior, but it never happened, Gooden told the New York Post.

Harvey testified that no Mets official ever asked him whether he used cocaine, although former manager Terry Collins told the Post that they certainly had their suspicions.

“There were accusations that were being thrown around the clubhouse, for sure,’’ Collins said, “but I had no proof of it at all. I can just tell you what guys were saying.

“There was a time I addressed an off-the-field issue with one of the other guys on the team and his statement was, ‘Well, I’m not doing what Matt Harvey is doing.’ I said, ‘This isn’t about Matt Harvey, this is about you.’ I tried to get off that subject as fast as I could. Was there knowledge in the clubhouse? Without question.”

– Tampa Bay Rays minor leaguer Tyler Zombro still doesn’t remember being hit by the line drive that fractured his skull on June 3, suffering a seizure.

Now, after undergoing surgery that required 16 titanium plates and 32 screws to stabilize his skull and reduce pressure on his brain, temporarily losing motor skills on the left side of his body, and needing speech therapy, he is back and plans to report Feb. 28 to minor-league spring training camp.

“I definitely view it as an accomplishment for myself,” he told the Tampa Bay Times. “On my end, the neurological components of getting back to how my brain was functioning prior, to do the work that I do, that’s a little more important for my long-term life quality.

“But at the same time, I think, honestly, on the physical side, it’s more of a testament to my wife, family, certainly teammates. …I certainly could not play baseball ever again and be very fine with where I’m at in life. But they’ve certainly motivated me to take advantage of the window I have, get back out there.

“They’ve instilled a lot of that passion really back into me.”

– Kudos to classy Ryan Zimmerman, who announced his retirement after 17 years in the organization.

“I’ll go to the grocery store, and everyone stops me and says, like, ‘Thank you for this,’ or, ‘Thank you for that,’ or, ‘Thank you for being a good role model,’ ” Zimmerman told the Washington Post. “I feel like I don’t know why you’re thanking me, all I did was play baseball. I got to play baseball for a job. That’s the best way to put it.

“I shouldn’t be being thanked. I feel like I should be thanking them.”

– New York Mets manager Buck Showalter says there has been a Florida panther hanging around the Mets’ spring training complex, with groundskeeper finding huge paw prints near second base.

“I’m going to tell whoever is playing center, that if they hear anything ruffling behind them,’’ Showalter said, “run.’’

– Former Detroit Tigers All-Star second baseman Lou Whitaker isn’t in the Hall of Fame like his double-play partner Alan Trammell, but it’s pretty cool that the Tigers are retiring Sweet Lou’s No. 1 jersey this season.

– Now that baseball plans to adopt a universal DH, pitchers no longer will be hitting unless used as a pinch-hitter.

It diminishes Diamondbacks starter Madison Bumgarner’s bid in becoming the 11th full-time pitcher to hit 20 career homers.

Carlos Zambrano (24) is the only pitcher in the last 50 years with more homers.

– Former Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson and photographer Jean Fruth are launching their new book, “Grassroots Baseball: Route 66’’ in April. The 256-page book will celebrate players who grew up close to the historic highway, including Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, George Brett and Jim Thome.