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Cardinals reliever Hancock killed in car crash

4/29/2007

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Cardinals are mourning a teammate
for the second time in five years, and it isn't any easier this
time.

Josh Hancock, a relief pitcher who helped the team win the World
Series last season, died early Sunday when his sport utility
vehicle slammed into the back of a tow truck, bringing back painful
memories of Darryl Kile's death in June 2002.

"There's a big hole that's going to be there," St. Louis
manager Tony La Russa said. "This is brutal to go through."

The Cardinals postponed their home game Sunday night against the
Chicago Cubs. La Russa informed Hancock's family of the accident.

"What words can you give somebody in a situation like this?"
Cubs manager Lou Piniella said.

Police said the 29-year-old Hancock was alone in his 2007 Ford
Explorer when the SUV struck the rear of a flatbed tow truck at
12:35 a.m. The tow truck was in the left lane with its lights
flashing while assisting another car that had crashed, Police Chief
Joe Mokwa said.

Hancock died upon impact, Mokwa said. The driver of the tow
truck, whose name was not released by police, was in the truck at
the time of the crash but was not injured. Mokwa said the truck
driver saw Hancock's SUV swerve just before it hit the tow truck.

Mokwa said it appeared Hancock was driving at or just above the
speed limit, and there were no alcohol containers in his vehicle.

"We may never know what occurred," Mokwa said. "It appears
that he just merely didn't see the tow truck."

The medical examiner's office said an autopsy had been
scheduled. Services were planned for Thursday in Tupelo, Miss.,
where Hancock's family lives. Hancock was single.

"All of baseball today mourns the tragic and untimely death of
St. Louis pitcher Josh Hancock," baseball commissioner Bud Selig
said. "He was a fine young pitcher who played an important role on
last year's World Series championship team."

The Cardinals will wear patches with Hancock's No. 32 on their
sleeves for the rest of the season. The team also planned a
memorial for the bullpen, which already features a tribute to Kile,
found dead in his hotel room in Chicago. The 33-year-old pitcher
died of a coronary artery blockage.

General manager Walt Jocketty said the Cardinals, who are off
Thursday, plan to charter a plane to the funeral. The team begins a
three-game series in Milwaukee on Monday and returns to St. Louis
on Friday.

"Obviously, this is very difficult for all of us, especially
those of us who were here five years ago when we lost Darryl
Kile," said Jocketty, his eyes red. "There's no way we could have
played tonight's game."

La Russa met with players shortly before a news conference
Sunday afternoon to provide details of the accident and share
memories. Late in the afternoon, two Cardinals jogged together in
the outfield in a nearly empty Busch Stadium.

"This has obviously been a very difficult time," St. Louis
pitcher Braden Looper said. "Josh was a great teammate and a great
friend to everybody, and he was a key part of our success."

News of Hancock's death began to circulate around the majors on
Sunday morning. Seattle Mariners pitcher Jeff Weaver, who won the
World Series clincher for St. Louis in October, got a call from
Cardinals reliever Randy Flores.

"I never really had a phone call like that before. It's kind of
mind-boggling. Just a few days ago I had talked to him on the
phone, touching base again because we were pretty good friends at
the time," Weaver said. "We spent a lot of time together. It was
just hard to believe."

Weaver said Hancock called him three or four days ago just to
chat, and asked if Weaver had received his World Series ring yet.

"He was quiet, kind of soft-spoken, but definitely a good
guy," said Brewers pitcher Jeff Suppan, the NL Championship Series
MVP with St. Louis last year. "It's a sad day. Your feelings go
out toward his family and his teammates now. That's tough to get
through."

Atlanta Braves ace Tim Hudson played with Hancock at Auburn.
They helped lead the school to the 1997 College World Series.

"It feels like being punched in the stomach right now," Hudson
said. "Josh was such a good person. I saw him a few times a year
going back to Auburn for football games. It's really a shock."

Hancock was remembered at ballparks around the country. The
Cleveland Indians observed a moment of silence before their game
against the Baltimore Orioles, with Hancock's picture displayed on
a giant scoreboard. There also was a moment of silence for Hancock
at Yankee Stadium.

"It's terrible, another terrible event," said Rockies manager
Clint Hurdle, who was the Colorado hitting coach when Kile was a
part of the Rockies' staff in 1998 and 1999. "The young man had
done so well last fall and had a promising career. It's just
terrible."

Hancock, who pitched three innings of relief in Saturday's 8-1
loss to the Cubs, played for four major league clubs. He went 3-3
with a 4.09 ERA in 62 regular-season appearances for the Cardinals
last season and pitched in three postseason games. He was 0-1 with
a 3.55 ERA in eight games this season.

La Russa said Hancock's final outing was typical of a reliever
whose role frequently called for mop-up duty.

"We didn't get embarrassed because of him, and that was said
several times," La Russa said.

Three days before Hancock's death, the Cardinals got a scare
that some teammates said reminded them of Kile -- Hancock overslept
and showed up late for a day game in St. Louis. Hancock told the
St. Louis Post-Dispatch he thought the starting time was later and
didn't get up until the "20th call" from anxious teammates.

"We were all a little nervous," closer Jason Isringhausen said
earlier this week. "We don't care if you're late. That happens. We
want to know that you're OK."

Hancock made his offseason home in St. Louis. He was the only
player to attend the premiere of a DVD documenting the Cardinals'
unlikely run to their 10th World Series championship after winning
only 83 regular-season games.

Hancock joined the Cardinals in spring training last season
after Cincinnati released him for violating a weight clause in his
contract. He had been a starter the previous year with the Reds,
but missed 133 games because of groin and elbow injuries. He also
pitched for Boston and Philadelphia.