Cards coping with tragedy again

April, 30, 2007
ST. LOUIS -- What happened to Josh Hancock was tragic, and it is so random that it is virtually unimaginable in a world of men who envision themselves as bulletproof and invincible. They have to, by the nature of their work.

"What makes something like this so difficult for players to comprehend is that we tend to think of ourselves as invincible," Jim Edmonds said. "For most of the players on this team, this is a shocking reality wake-up call. And for a couple of us, it isn't incomprehensible, because we went through this five years ago when Darryl Kile passed away. You know what? Now that I've gone through this twice, I have less idea what to think than the first time."

Edmonds, Albert Pujols, Jason Isringhausen, Tony La Russa and the Cardinals' coaches were all there in Chicago when Kile, who died overnight in his hotel room, did not show up for work that Saturday. Which is why five days ago they were even more sensitive to the fact that Hancock did not arrive on time for a day game with the Reds.

Hancock had thought the game was scheduled for that night, not noon, and when he awoke, there were more than 20 messages on his phone. "We don't care about whether you can pitch; we care that you're alive and OK," was one of the messages.

"Things around here," Isringhausen says, "have never been the same since Kile died."

Now Hancock. "Brutal" is the word La Russa kept repeating. It was La Russa who had to make the call to Hancock's father in Tupelo, Miss., around 3 a.m. to tell him that his 29-year old son was dead.

"People say, 'You went through this once,'" La Russa said Sunday afternoon. "But every person is different. Every situation. That call was a brutal experience."

In some ways, this is a different clubhouse experience because three of the veteran leaders vividly remember Kile's death, and often pay homage to the "DK-57" on the bullpen wall. Kile was a team leader. Hancock was a hod carrier, but he was an important one. He was the dirt-stained middle reliever who pitched three innings in Saturday's blowout loss to the Cubs, and would have been ready to pitch Sunday.

"He never refused the ball," GM Walt Jocketty says. "That really stands for something. He was a big part of our world championship."

"You don't do what we did and not have major contributions from players who aren't stars," Cubs pitcher Jason Marquis said. Before Saturday's game, the Cardinals held a ceremony in which Marquis received his World Series ring for being a member of the 2006 champs.

"One of the first persons who came over and gave me a hug was Josh," Marquis recalled Sunday. "He was a really good person. Funny. Tough."

Hancock knew what it was like to move around. He pitched for four teams. He knew what it was like to be singled out, like when he was released by the Reds in spring training last year when he showed up 17 pounds overweight. But he persevered.

No one knows how this will affect the Cardinals, who are struggling, who don't know whether Chris Carpenter is coming back, who look old in many places, and who are 44-52 in the regular season dating back to last July.

Lou Piniella stopped in Sunday to see La Russa, his childhood friend in Tampa, Fla.

"This is horrible, terrible," Piniella said. "I remember when I got that call in 1979 telling me that Thurman [Munson], one of [my] closest friends, had died. It took me a long time to get back my focus."

La Russa was asked whether the Kile experience would help him when the Cardinals play in Milwaukee.

"I don't know; honestly, I have no idea," La Russa said. "I don't know how I'll react if we have a nice four-run ninth-inning rally. I don't know if the coaches and I can get on a player if something happens that ordinarily we don't like.

"Pray for us. More important, pray for the Hancocks. Pray for the humanity of it all."

Because La Russa, Jocketty and the Cardinals know the fragility of flesh and blood in a world of numbers and bling.


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