NASHVILLE, Tenn. — When Taylor Hooton died in 2003, his father, Don, decided to take matters into his own hands.
Taylor, then 17, was a pitcher for the Plano (Texas) West High School baseball team. And when his coach told him to get bigger, Taylor, a nephew of former Major League pitcher Burt Hooton, began following in the footsteps of his teammates.
“Taylor walked back into the dugout, and what the coach didn’t know was that half of the boys were already using steroids,” Don Hooton said on Tuesday. “Taylor figured out that’s how the other guys did it, so he started doing it, too.”
Depression from the use of performance-enhancing drugs caused Taylor to commit suicide in the upstairs bedroom of the family’s Plano home.
“You never get over it, but you can do something about [it],” his father said some 12 years later.
In 2005, Don Hooton testified in front of the Congressional House Committee on Government Reform, the same committee that heard the testimonies that day of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and so many others.
Then Commissioner Bud Selig was so moved by Taylor Hooton’s story that he called Don Hooton the next day and offered assistance. Borne from that call was the Taylor Hooton Foundation, one of the nation’s leading advocacy groups warning youngsters about the perils of steroid use.
Major League Baseball became one of the foundation’s greatest benefactors, and on Monday, Don Hooton was at the Winter Meetings to announce that its advisory board now includes at least one active player from each of MLB’s 30 teams.
That group is a who’s who of MLB’s best and brightest: Clayton Kershaw
of the Dodgers,Joe Panik
of the Giants, Brett Gardner
of the Yankees, Brian Dozier
of the Twins andDustin Pedroia
of the Red Sox, just to name a few.
“Baseball was, is and continues to be our primary supporter,” Don Hooton said.
The foundation’s message to youngsters is that we play the games clean, so you should, too. The campaign is called “What Inspires Me?” and is bolstered by T-shirts and printed public service announcements emblazoned with the images of many of these players.
“The kids that look up to me. The ones that see me as their role model, their hero. They want to be where I’m standing today,” one PSA reads beneath a picture of Dozier. “Training hard, eating right, playing fair — that’s what got me to the big leagues. Not appearances or performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). I’m PED-free because they deserve the best me I can give, every single day.
“Join Brian Dozier and pledge to be PED free. Take the All Me Challenge at www.allmeleague.com.”
Members of the advisory board take part in the foundation’s educational activities in their local communities and the print PSAs have appeared this year in MLB-produced programs for the All-Star Game, playoff games and World Series.
“Major League Baseball has been a proud partner of the Taylor Hooton Foundation since 2005,” said Dan Halem, MLB’s chief legal officer. “During the last decade, we have appreciated the foundation’s significant impact on educating kids about the dangers of performance-enhancing drug use. We are delighted that so many Major League players have stepped forward in support of the ideals of competing with integrity and setting a positive example.”
The advisory board was adopted in 2014, and it took a solid year to assemble the 30 players with the help of support staff from each of the Major League teams. The players not only give the foundation clout, Don Hooton said, but they also give it voices in the community that youngsters may respond to.
“We’ve been solely in the education business, but a year ago, we went to the Commissioner’s Office and said, ‘You know what we ought to do is post up some role models,'” he said. “We weren’t necessarily looking for permission, but certainly needed some support to approach some of baseball’s biggest players.
“This time last year, we would have considered it a success if we could have finished up the first year with five or six players. But we’re standing here today knowing that we have player reps from all 30 teams. This is really incredible.”
For Hooton, it will never take away the pain of losing his son, but he moves forward with the knowledge that others may not have to suffer the trauma of that same type of loss.
“It’s therapeutic. You heal. I feel guilty about that sometimes,” Hooton said. “Time is the best friend we’ve got.”
Here is the complete list of players on the foundation’s advisory board as of the end of the 2015 season:
Elvis Andrus (Texas Rangers)
Jake Arrieta (Chicago Cubs)
Jose Bautista (Toronto Blue Jays)
Jay Bruce (Cincinnati Reds)
Matt Carpenter (St. Louis Cardinals)
John Danks (Chicago White Sox)
David DeJesus (Los Angeles Angels)
Dozier (Minnesota Twins)
Logan Forsythe (Tampa Bay Rays)
Charlie Furbush (Seattle Mariners)
Gardner (New York Yankees)
Dillon Gee (New York Mets)
Ken Giles (Philadelphia Phillies)
Alex Gordon (Kansas City Royals)
J.J. Hardy (Baltimore Orioles)
Kershaw (Los Angeles Dodgers)
Dallas Keuchel (Houston Astros)
Jason Kipnis (Cleveland Indians)
Nick Markakis (Atlanta Braves)
James McCann (Detroit Tigers)
Mark Melancon (Pittsburgh Pirates)
Justin Morneau (Colorado Rockies)
Panik (San Francisco Giants)
Pedroia (Boston Red Sox)
Josh Reddick (Oakland Athletics)
Anthony Rendon (Washington Nationals)
Tyson Ross (San Diego Padres)
Logan Schafer (Milwaukee Brewers)
C.J. Wilson (Los Angeles Angels)
Christian Yelich (Miami Marlins)
Brad Ziegler (Arizona Diamondbacks)
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.