WASHINGTON, D.C. — You’d have to see them together, Tim Mead and Eric Kay, Mead the heartbeat of the Los Angeles Angels and Kay his devoted protege, going back years, even decades, to understand.
Mead grew into middle age and Kay into adulthood in all the places baseball team public relations men grow old and weary — on buses, in airplanes, in press boxes, in locker rooms, on the phone, fighting the fights from above and below, drawing and redrawing the lines between huckster and gatekeeper.
The stories would come and go, as would those who told them. The Angels would be good or bad. The players would be kind and agreeable or not, but they, too, were interchangeable, today’s generation becoming tomorrow’s ceremonial first-pitch throwers, base coaches, special advisors and spring visitors. Victory in the public relations department looks like calm — the owner happy, the field manager unruffled, the players accountable, the press not too cranky. It often would last as long as several minutes.
That is the place where Tim Mead and Eric Kay lived, together, in the never-ending tumult of a baseball season, of a career’s worth of baseball seasons, and what they did best together was laugh. Tim’s is deep, as though it arrives straight from his soul. He loves the old stories about how crazy and fouled up life can get, because he believes goodness is just a good thought away. A good thought isn’t so hard. Eric’s laugh comes as more of a tenor, and the two of them would get going on a bit of silliness spurred by exhaustion or frustration or both. In those moments, away from the darker conversations of Eric’s well-being or an organization’s missteps, they were what they were intended to be — Tim the father figure, Eric the light-hearted, charismatic and wholly likable young man who’d learned the business at Tim’s knee.
Opioids came for that, too.
They’d killed Tyler Skaggs and if that’s all you knew about opioids and addiction, that it killed a 27-year-old man with a wife and a mom and a room filled with friends and a prosperous life ahead, then that would be plenty. But, that’s not all you know. It kills plenty like Skaggs, some younger, some older, some richer, some poorer, some stronger, some weaker. It smashes plenty of families, soaks tens of thousands of funerals, ends even the lives of those who keep on breathing and that’s only the toehold.
Kay was in business with Skaggs, a “You fly, I buy” relationship that kept them both in oxycodone for several years, ESPN reported this weekend. According to that report, Kay told DEA agents from Dallas and Los Angeles that he’d helped supply five other Angels players with the drug. He also told those agents, according to ESPN, that Mead was aware of Skaggs’ drug use as long ago as April, because he — Kay — told him.
Mead was named president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in late April and left the club in June. He has denied knowing Skaggs was using opioids, that others might have been and that Kay was allegedly their mule.
So Mead sits in Cooperstown with a heart almost unbearably heavy. And Kay sits in Orange County, an outpatient and a witness with an almost unbearable burden.
What hangs between them — maybe, after all those years, the only thing that hangs between them anymore — is a thread that says again of addiction, the dead man is not the only victim. The ugliness, the sorrow, the pain, does not die with him. We must know who knew. We must know who could have stopped it. We must know who facilitated the end. Who followed protocol, who did not, and who made the choices that led to the choices that led to the choices ...
The cleanup. The wretched, aching, tear-stained cleanup.
The details are terrible, and maybe the least of those is a relationship between a boy who lost his father years ago and the mentor he discovered in his boss, how Eric needed a friend once and came to learn Tim would be so much more. They mourned the loss of Tyler Skaggs together. And now there are lawyers and federal agents and investigators and a franchise reeling from the consequences of all that came — or might have come — on its watch. The days are sure to become more trying, even more punitive. The questions more pointed. The accusations louder. The fall-out more damning. The anxiety and dread and regret stretched further.
For Eric Kay. For Tim Mead. For them all.
And that’s the next play for addiction, right? When it comes time, everybody will be alone.
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