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The Forgotten Man

Posted on June 21, 2012 at 12:37 PM
Filed Under: St. Louis Cardinals
With all of the remembrances of Darryl Kile and Jack Buck, it made me want to check up on another Cardinal that left us too soon.  What I found was that this was the fifth anniversary of the passing of Josh Hancock.

This year is, I mean.  Hancock's tragedy happened in April, April 29 to be exact.  Somehow the notation of that day slipped past us in the excitement of a strong opening month and a World Series defense being started.  It's always been that way, though, I think.  For one reason or another, Hancock doesn't quite strike the same cord as Kile does, even though they were both active players at the time of their early deaths.

For those that don't remember, Hancock was a part of that bullpen that came out of nowhere in 2006 to be the surprising backbone of a World Series winner.  He joined the Cards at the beginning of that season and, while he didn't pitch in the Series, did contribute down the stretch and in October.  He returned in 2007 and pitched effectively until his death, throwing three innings in the game before his passing.

There are reasons that Hancock's passing and his number 32 don't reverberate like Kile's passing does.  For one, you have the difference between the ace of the staff and a middle reliever.  Starters stick with you more, you see them more often.  They get the big bucks, the middle relievers get the rest.  Relievers come and go, often in the same season, especially if they aren't the closer.  We just don't get as attached.

There was the fact that Kile's death is so inextricably linked with the passing of Buck.  Two deaths that close together are inevitably going to be remembered, especially when one of them is possibly the highest star in the nation's firmament, at least outside of Stan Musial.  If Jack Buck had passed away a year or so before Kile, I'm sure that Kile's death would still reverberate, but perhaps not as strongly as it did coming on the heels of Buck's passing.

I think one of the big reasons, though, is the difference in the situations.  We saw the Kile family, we felt their pain, we couldn't understand DK falling asleep and not waking up.  (I'll talk more about Kile and what that meant tomorrow.)  Hancock, though, was a single man, no kids to see, no grieving wife.  Added to that was the fact that Hancock's death was avoidable.

The ugly facts are that it was a perfect storm of problems that night.  Hancock was legally drunk, he was on his cell phone, he didn't have his seatbelt on, and he was speeding.  On some level, while you never want to see such a result, there's a mitigation of sympathy when you have all of those factors.  Perhaps that's the biggest reason that Hancock's death has been less remembered.

He's not been completely forgotten, of course.  There's still a marker similar to the famous Kile circle in the bullpen, bearing his initials and number.  No one has yet worn 32 since he passed and I'm not sure anyone will, making that and 57 effectively retired.

But there are very few that were on the team that April morning that are still there today.  Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, Skip Schumaker.  Is that it?  Are they the only ones that remember getting that call or having to put that patch on their shoulder?  Institutional memory can be long, but the emotions, they can't be passed down.

So as we spend some time thinking about that awful week in June of 2002, let's not forget the third point of loss as well.  Hancock's death may have been avoidable, may have been due to his own choices, but that doesn't make it any less tragic.

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1 Comment | Leave a comment

Agreed! Though it may be because Kile played for a lot longer than Hancock did. A lot of people probably felt more sorry for the Cardinals in '02 since the deaths in one organization were 4 days apart. The Hancock tragedy wouldn't have happened if he wasn't drinking and driving and someone sober being with him. Though Jack Buck's death was expected and the players weren't so that's also a bigger shock, not too many young guys fall asleep and never wake up. Though, sadly there are many drunk drivers out at night.

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