Father Of Fallen Teen Feels Cooperstown Got It Right

Nine Years After Loss of Son Taylor, Don Hooton Sr.Feels Baseball Hall of Fame Sent Right Message

Written by: on 17th January 2013

New York City- Debates about the Baseball Hall of Fame were a wildfire last week, after the ballot was returned blank. No one got in and everyone knew why.

There was quick reaction and understandable outrage. Some players were left out because they were 'suspected' of steroid use, others were left out because there was little doubt.

But no matter what your feelings about steroids, or any player that used them in the past, no matter how you square it in your mind, or feel one of your favorite players was robbed or thrown into a bin marked 'guilty', it's likely you can't relate to it from Don Hooton Sr.'s point of view.

In 2004, Hooton lost his son Taylor, a high school baseball player with hopes of catching the eye of major league teams, when the seveneen-year-old took his own life, after a battle with steroid addiction.

The pain and confusion of that loss, led the Hooton family to a new destiny. They decided that they would do something that helped other kids tempted to use steroids or who were already using. They also hoped to facilitate change, and hoped that sports, not just baseball, would bear down and take real action to end steroid use.

Hall of Fame voters spoke volumes by leaving that envelope blank, and Hooton Sr., thinks they made loud and clear, that a change has begun.

"We hope a message is being sent to our nation's young people," he said by telephone Wednesday. "Our hope is that they begin to get the message that even if taking PED's in the short term helps you, in the long run, the price is too high."

Eligible players included Barry Bonds, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, and Roger Clemens. While the typical debate ensued about who was deserving based on numbers and career achievement (Dale Murphy was in his final year of eligibility), it was largely considered 'The Steroid Ballot'. Many people felt that if several of those players were inducted - particularly Bonds and Clemens- that voters would be saying 'cheating' was acceptable.

The superstars were punished. But some may have been punished unfairly.

"That's one of the saddest consequence of this. So many of those guys used, but stood in front of cameras and denied it, like Rafael Palmeiro waving his finger at Congress. Only to test positive later. What that's done is lead you to feel, 'Who do you believe?'"

Taylor Hooton had gone through his own denial, after his father, and mother, Gwenn, discovered large pills in his room. His high school coach had told him he needed to get bigger, but never suggested steroids. Though the Hooton's were also unsure whether he suggested any diet or fitness plan to help get him there. Regardless, Taylor decided he had to do something. The results, according to a friend in a story for CBS News, were obvious and he was able to work out longer at the gym and lift heavier weights. But the negative side effects also began to show. His mood swings and rages, known as 'roid rage' were exhibited in front of his parents, and that led to psychiatric counseling. He seemed to get better after being on an anti-depressant, but later, he stole for a second time in order to buy steroids. A month later, Gwenn found her son in his bedroom, and he was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

What the Hooton's experienced might sound familiar. It's what families everywhere go through with drug addicts. When we think of steroids, perhaps we don't think of drug addiction. The heroin junkie and the major league millionaire can't be the same, so we think.

"Steroids, particularly anabolic steroids which are so strong, are very addicting. They're addictive psychologically. And, also, if a player is hitting a lot of home runs or is a better pitcher, the question is, 'How does he stop?' That's got to be a very difficult challenge. Once they're on that path, how do they turn back?"

He also points out that the accolades are also addicting, and mentioned Lance Armstrong. Armstrong will reportedly make a full confession tomorrow night to Oprah Winfrey.

Confessions have become more normal. As players have begun to face their demons, they've then faced the public, as Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte did. In his press conference, he made clear he wanted forgiveness. Teammates stood nearby in support. Like any person that's made a mistake, he deserved understanding. But the damage was done to his reputation. And whether players come out and say they've used PED's or not, may not matter. The public will be angry. The Hall of Fame will likely not induct you.

But Hooton Sr. isn't particularly interested in degrading the superstars of the game. He doesn't see the value in that.

"Instead of focusing so much emotional energy on those big time players, we need to focus on our kids. Eighty five percent of kids polled said no one, not a coach, not a parent, spoke to them about the dangers of steroid use and that they shouldn't use them. Our focus as a nation has to be on that."

The Hall of Fame punishing those players is 'part of the reform', Hooton Sr. Said. "But there must be a call to education. Wake up America."

Putting the Hall of Fame into a larger context, that includes a boy with a dream taking his own life, makes the problem of steroids not just about baseball or any sport, but makes it a youth problem. By establishing the Taylor Hooton Foundation, the Hooton's have made an indelible mark on the game. Their contribution isn't hits or strikeouts. What they've given goes far deeper.

Which might make you reconsider a well-known, and much celebrated time in our National Pastime's history. When people say that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa'saved baseball', and you look at lost lives or ruined careers, erased in the halls of the Hall of Fame, it's not unfair to ask, 'Did they really?'

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