It’s become a heartbreaking ritual at Angel Stadium.
Another young baseball player is gone in his prime, leaving fans to mourn and wonder why this franchise has been hit with another tragedy.
Within hours after Angels left-hander Tyler Skaggs was found dead in his hotel room in Texas on July 1, fans responded as they have so sadly and emotionally before. They made the mournful pilgrimage to Angel Stadium, where a plaza in front of the main entrance began to fill with an impromptu memorial. They left hats, flowers, balloons, stuffed animals, baseballs and even a red foam finger that was pointing skyward.
Messages were scrawled on poster board, including one from what appeared to be a young fan, based on the uneven handwriting. “You will be missed No. 45,” it read. “Thank you Tyler Skaggs for being our starting pitcher. You will be missed.” It was signed with a heart and the name Zeke.
There were even messages written in marker on car windows. One, written on the back window of a car that had a Boston Red Sox decal, said: “RIP Skaggs 4ever an Angel.”
Near a giant mural of superstar Shohei Ohtani, an electronic signboard that earlier had advertised a beach umbrella giveaway day was covered with a banner that read: Tyler Skaggs 1991-2019, with a picture of the young pitcher in action.
Any loss of a teammate hurts, but this franchise seems to have suffered more than its share of tragedies. Pitcher Nick Adenhart was killed by a drunk driver 10 years ago. Infielder Luis Valbuena died in a car crash in Venezuela along with former major leaguer Jose Castillo in December. Donnie Moore killed himself three years after giving up a momentum-changing home run to Dave Henderson in the 1986 AL Championship Series. Outfielder Lyman Bostock was cut down in the prime of his career in 1978 when he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But this one involved a homegrown talent. Skaggs, 27, grew up an Angels fan in Santa Monica. He was drafted by his favorite team in 2009, in the same draft as Mike Trout. He was traded away and reacquired. He bounced back from Tommy John surgery. He was married in December.
The Angels’ game against the Texas Rangers was postponed the day the pitcher died. When they returned to action the next night, it was with raw emotions and with Skaggs’ No. 45 jersey hanging in their dugout. Trout fought back tears as he addressed the media after the Angels’ 9-4 win.
“When you lose somebody like him, it’s tough. My first at-bat, I get up there, and all I do is think about him, you know?” he said.
When Cole Calhoun hit a two-run homer, he raised his arms above his head and pointed skyward as he approached home plate.
“We know we’ve got an angel watching over us now,” he said afterward. “When I got to the plate, it felt right to pay some respect to him, and like I said, we know we’ve got somebody watching over us up there.”
Baseball truly is like a family. Including spring training, the players are together practically every day for 7 ½ months, longer if there’s a playoff run.
When baseball players cry, you know they’re hurting.
“We lost a member of our family,” general manager Billy Eppler said. “Tyler Skaggs was a teammate, a brother, a friend, and most important of all, he was a husband and a son. He was an exceptional young man with an entire life so full of promise yet to live. For some reason that is incomprehensible to all of us, he lives on now only in our minds and in our hearts.”
The pain will last through the season, and beyond. Players are wearing a black No. 45 patch on their jerseys. Skaggs’ locker will likely remain untouched the rest of the season. At the All-Star Game, Trout and Tommy La Stella wore Skaggs’ No. 45 rather than their own numbers. All the other players wore a black No. 45 patch on their jerseys, and there was a moment of silence before the game.
It will no doubt be emotional Friday night, when the Angels play their first home game since Skaggs died. Skaggs’ last start had been at home, two days before he died.
On the field, the Angels are dealing with the loss of catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who suffered a concussion and broken nose when Jake Marisnick slammed into him at home plate on Sunday. Marisnick was called out for violating the home plate collision rule, a decision that was upheld after a crew chief review. Angels manager Brad Ausmus said MLB should consider suspending Marisnick.
Here’s a look at other tragedies that hit the Angels over the decades:
The right-hander was 22 when he killed after making his first start of the 2009 season. He was a passenger in a car that was struck when a drunk driver ran a red light. Two of his friends died at the scene. Adenhart and another friend were taken to a hospital where the pitcher died. The other friend survived. A man who was on probation for felony drunken driving was sentenced to 51 years to life in prison. Prosecutors said the driver’s blood-alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit.
At a news conference the next day, agent Scott Boras, normally steely and composed, cried as he talked about “a great kid” who was gone before his career really got started. Adenhart made only four starts in parts of two seasons, going 1-0 with a 6.00 ERA.
After they clinched the AL West title that season, the Angels remembered Adenhart in their celebrations. They poured beer and champagne on one of his No. 34 jerseys and then jogged out to the mural of the pitcher on the outfield wall.
“Nick Adenhart should be here celebrating with us,” center fielder Torii Hunter said. “But the good Lord took him. Now, we’re just celebrating in his name. He’s a very important part of the team. We’re playing hard for him. Trust me, he’s here in spirit and in love.”
The Angels were one strike away from going to the World Series for the first time in 1986 when Moore left a pitch up and Boston Dave Henderson drove a two-run home run to left field. The Red Sox went on to win that game in 11 innings and the next two to reach the Fall Classic.
Moore’s career ended when he was released by the Angels late in the 1988 seasons. On July 18, 1989, Moore had an argument with his wife, Tonya, and shot her. He then killed himself. He was 35. His wife survived.
Moore’s agent said he was haunted by that home run pitch.
“Ever since he gave up the home run to Dave Henderson he was never himself again,” Dave Pinter told the Los Angeles Times. “He blamed himself for the Angels not going to the World Series. He constantly talked about the Henderson home run.
“It was that important to him that the Angels make it to the World Series,” Pinter said. “He couldn’t get over it. I tried to get him to go to a psychiatrist, but he said, ‘I don’t need it, I’ll get over it.’ “Even when he was told that one pitch doesn’t make a season, he couldn’t get over it. That home run killed him.”
His former teammates were stunned when they heard of his death. “The guy was just not the same after that,” Brian Downing said, lashing out at the media and fans for remembering Moore for basically just that one fateful pitch.
The outfielder was 27 when he was shot and killed on Sept. 23, 1978, in Gary, Indiana, while visiting his uncle just hours after the Angels played at the Chicago White Sox. Bostock was in the wrong place at the wrong time, sitting in the back seat of a car with a group of acquaintances that included a woman who was estranged from her husband, Leonard Smith. As the car was stopped at a traffic signal, Leonard Smith pulled up alongside them and fired one shotgun blast into the back seat of the car. Smith said that it was intended for his estranged wife, but it hit Bostock in the head. He died two hours later at a hospital. Smith was sentenced to a psychiatric hospital and released after seven months.
The 33-year-old infielder was killed in Venezuela with former major leaguer Jose Castillo, 37, in a car crash caused by highway bandits. Valbuena had most recently played for the Angels and had been a free agent since the end of the 2018 season. He also had played for the Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners from 2008 to 2016.