Hancock's death stuns former teammates

Cardinals reliever killed in car accident in St. Louis

(Tom Gannam/AP)

April 29, 2007 2:35 PM

There aren't many words that can explain away a tragedy.

The baseball world was rocked Sunday morning when news spread of the death of St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Josh Hancock.

The 29-year-old was killed in a car accident in St. Louis, leaving behind family, friends and stunned teammates, struggling to find the right thing to say.

"The Lord has a plan for all of us, but sometimes we don't understand that plan," said Indianapolis Indians right-hander Marty McLeary, who played with Hancock in 2001 and '02 in Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Pawtucket.

"Here you have a Major League pitcher in his late 20s, and his life is cut short. A lot of us are asking why. This is a really difficult time for anyone who knew Josh. It makes you appreciate every day to its fullest."

McLeary and Hancock came through the Boston organization around the same time, with McLeary taken in the 1997 draft and Hancock going in the fifth round in 1998. The two were on the same pitching staff at Class A Augusta, helping the GreenJackets to a South Atlantic League championship in 1999.

Hancock was a key cog in that Augusta rotation, starting 25 games and going 6-8 with a 3.80 ERA.

"I just remember Josh being a great competitor," McLeary said. "He located his fastball really well and threw a 12-to-6 curveball."

Jim Rushford, an outfielder with the Triple-A Ottawa Lynx, also recalled Hancock as being a steady presence on the starting staff. He played with Hancock at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after Hancock was traded from Boston to the Philadelphia Phillies before the 2003 season.

"He was a very good pitcher," Rushford said. "He was part of a pitching staff that was the best in the league most of the [2004] season. We had the best record at the All-Star break in the International League, and he was one of the main components."

Echoing Rushford's sentiments on Hancock's pitching ability was Marc Bombard, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's manager from 1997-2004. But aside from the skill that eventually got him to the big leagues, Bombard remembered being impressed by his clubhouse presence and the steps he took to break into the Majors.

"Josh was just an easy-going, free-wheeling kind of kid," Bombard said. "He always had a great arm, was always generous and everything -- he was good for the club, good for the clubhouse. But sometimes he would just do what he had to do, and sometimes that's not enough. But to his credit, he realized what was in front of him and got up to the big leagues. He really grew up mentally."

Hancock spent two seasons in the Red Barons' rotation, posting a 3.86 ERA in 2003 and a 4.01 ERA in 2004, before being traded to Cincinnati on July 30 of that year. He spent most of the rest of his career in the Major Leagues, stopping briefly in Triple-A Louisville in 2005.

"He knew what he had to do to get to big leagues," Bombard said "The light came on. It's just a tragic, tragic loss of life."

Kristen Zimmerman is a staff writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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