The death of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock in an auto accident early Sunday was felt throughout the baseball world, leaving the Cardinals organization reeling from a second player death in five years.
Hancock, 29, died when his Ford Explorer rammed the rear of a flatbed tow truck as he drove along a St. Louis-area highway at 12:35 a.m. Sunday.Manager Tony La Russa and the Cardinals were forced to relive the nightmare of 2002, when pitcher Darryl Kile died after suffering a heart attack in a downtown Chicago hotel room.
"There's a big hole that's going to be there," La Russa said.
Sunday night's game between the Cubs and Cardinals was postponed and will be rescheduled later. The news hit the team hard, and there was no possibility of the Cardinals playing after hearing of Hancock's death.
"Obviously, this is very difficult for all of us, especially those of us who were here five years ago when we lost Darryl Kile," general manager Walt Jocketty said.
"There's no way we could have played [Sunday night]."
Jocketty said the Cardinals would charter a plane to Tupelo, Miss., for the funeral Thursday, an off day. They also will wear commemorative patches with Hancock's number, 32, for the rest of the season.
Cardinals pitcher Braden Looper called Hancock a "great teammate, a great friend. We just ask, as we try to get through this as a team, to keep Josh's family in your prayers and thoughts."
Cubs manager Lou Piniella said baseball is a "tight-knit fraternity" and that the death of a player affects everyone in it.
"On behalf of the Chicago Cubs organization, I'd like to express my deepest sympathies to the Hancock family and the entire Cardinals organization," Piniella said. "Especially my good friend Tony La Russa. It's a terrible, terrible thing that happened."
Cubs general manager Jim Hendry called Piniella on Sunday morning to inform him of Hancock's death. Piniella recalled getting a similar phone call in August 1979, when his friend and Yankees teammate Thurman Munson died in a plane crash.
"So in a way I know what those kids in that clubhouse are going through, and it's really a tough thing," Piniella said. "A baseball team, that's really your second family."
St. Louis Police Chief Joe Mokwa said the tow truck was in the left lane of Interstate Highway 64 with its lights flashing when Hancock's vehicle plowed into it, killing Hancock instantly. The driver of the tow truck was in his vehicle but was uninjured. His name was not released.
An autopsy has been scheduled. Mokwa said early indications are that Hancock did not appear to be speeding, and no alcohol containers were discovered in his vehicle.
"We may never know what occurred," Mokwa said. "It appears that he just didn't see the tow truck."
La Russa praised Hancock, who was single, as a consummate team player who would move into any role and not complain. In a town where baseball is a significant part of the culture, a Cardinals player has thousands of relatives.
"It's really an extended family," La Russa said. "One of the things that's really painful here is Josh, in this town, his family were his teammates. He was a very strong part of the family here at the ballpark."
Cubs pitcher Jason Marquis, a friend of Hancock's and his teammate last season in St. Louis, was shocked by the news. Hancock was one of several Cardinals who attended Saturday's pregame ceremony in which Marquis received his World Series ring.
"It was a nice gesture on the part of the team, and he was one of the guys out there," Marquis said. "I happened to see him walking out of the ballpark after the game. He was like, 'Hey, I'll see you tomorrow.' It's a tough situation."
Marquis described Hancock as a fun-loving, generous person, liked by everyone on the club.
"Playing with Josh last year was a treat, especially the season we had," Marquis said. "He's a friend and will always be in my heart. My thoughts and prayers are not only with him but with his grieving teammates."
Piniella said he couldn't imagine going through such a terrible episode twice, as La Russa and Cardinals veterans Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter and Jason Isringhausen have done with the loss of Kile and now Hancock. La Russa was the one who called Hancock's father to notify him of the news.
"You've got to be a strong person," Piniella said. "Listening to Tony have to make the phone call ... it's a really tough thing to do."
The Cardinals will face a difficult time recovering, just as Piniella and the Yankees did in '79 after the loss of Munson, their captain, whose locker was left empty after he died.
"Every time you walked into that home clubhouse, it was a constant reminder," Piniella said. "But you know you have to go forward. It's something that people have no explanation for, but it goes to show you how dear and fragile life can be.
"We all worry so much about wins and losses, and when something like this happens, it puts things in perspective rather quickly."