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Cardinals' Hancock dies in car accident

April 30, 2007|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

Josh Hancock, a St. Louis Cardinals pitcher who rode from the unemployment line in February 2006 into a World Series championship parade in October, was killed in a car accident Sunday. He was 29.

For the second time in five years, tragedy touched the Cardinals. Another St. Louis pitcher, Darryl Kile, died in his hotel room in 2002 of a heart attack.

"The pain our organization feels today is unspeakable," Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. said at a news conference at Busch Stadium.

The Cardinals postponed Sunday's game against the Chicago Cubs. The team plans to honor Hancock by wearing memorial patches on its uniforms starting today and attending his funeral Thursday.

Hancock was driving on a St. Louis freeway, alone in his Ford Explorer, when he slammed into a tow truck that had stopped ahead of him in the left lane, according to police.

He died at the scene. The driver of the tow truck, who had stopped to assist another motorist, was not hurt.

The crash occurred at 12:35 a.m. The tow truck had its lights flashing. Hancock appeared to be driving at or slightly above the speed limit, and no alcohol containers were found in Hancock's vehicle, St. Louis Police Chief Joe Mokwa said.

"It appears he just merely didn't see the tow truck," Mokwa said.

Authorities said an autopsy would take place.

Hancock won a World Series ring with the Cardinals last season. He played for three teams in four seasons before earning a job in the St. Louis bullpen -- his first spot on an opening-day roster -- and led Cardinals relievers by pitching 77 innings. He appeared in the division series and National League championship series but not in the World Series.

He made his last appearance Saturday, pitching three innings and giving up one run, hours before his death.

In Chicago, where the Angels played the White Sox on Sunday, the game was preceded by a moment of silence in memory of Hancock.

Angels reliever Chris Bootcheck, who played with Hancock at Auburn in 1997-98, remembered him as a fun and hospitable guy.

"He was not a guy you could say anything bad about," said Bootcheck, who appeared shaken by the news. "It's got to be real tough for his family."

The Boston Red Sox selected Hancock in the 1998 draft. As he ascended through their farm system, he befriended Dave Jauss, then the Boston minor league field coordinator and now the Dodgers' bench coach.

Jauss said he admired Hancock for his lively spirit and overcoming a broken home to succeed in his chosen profession.

"He had a tough upbringing, but the last couple years he finally seemed at peace with things," said Jauss, who last spoke with Hancock during spring training.

"He was happy to have a role and be in the big leagues."

Derek Lowe, who pitched with Hancock briefly in Boston in 2002, found solace in perspective.

"I guess that one hanging slider is something we don't need to concern ourselves with today," Lowe said.

Hancock was single. He grew up in Mississippi, but he made his year-round home in St. Louis.

"In this town, his family was his teammates," Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa said.

Hancock overslept Thursday, before a day game. When he did not show up at the ballpark on time, teammates called to check on him, and Hancock finally arose on what he said was the "20th call."

"It's so different here because of what happened with Darryl" Kile, pitcher Jason Isringhausen told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after Hancock finally arrived. "So everybody worries. That's got more to do with it than oversleeping.

"We were a little nervous. We don't care if you're late. That happens. We want to know that you're OK."

Hancock bounced through several organizations, with a live arm but an occasional inability to stay in shape.

The Cardinals invited him to camp last spring for a look but no guarantees, and he made the team.

Times staff writers Kevin Baxter and Steve Henson, Times librarian Robin Mayper and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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